Interesting aircraft at Burns Air Tanker Base

A Blackhawk and a Homeland Security surveillance aircraft are staged at Burns.

Above: file photo of Department of Homeland Security’s Beechcraft Super King Air 350 (N50056). FlightAware photo.

As we reported on January 10, the FBI has been staging equipment at the Single Engine Air Tanker Base at Burns Municipal Airport four miles east of Burns, Oregon. Initially a large truck with numerous antennas showed up that is probably used as an incident command post.

The airport is 21 air miles north of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge where armed domestic terrorists broke into and seized the facilities at the site.

In the last few days additional equipment arriving at the tanker base included about half a dozen armored vehicles, a Blackhawk helicopter, and a Beechcraft Super King Air 350 surveillance aircraft (N50056) with very obvious external accoutrements, sensors, and communications gear.

The King Air, registered to the Department of Homeland Security, has a logo that appears to be “U.S. Customs and Border Protection”. According to FlightAware records it flew in from Boise on January 27 after having been at St. Augustine, Florida on January 25. 

The Bureau of Land Management operates the SEAT base independently of the city-owned airport which remains open. The base, which cannot handle air tankers larger than a SEAT, has one pit for loading aircraft and parking for three.

The FBI’s Blackhawks are rarely seen. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia about aircraft operated by the agency’s Hostage Rescue Team:

The HRT’s Tactical Aviation Unit is staffed by FBI special agents. The Tactical Helicopter Unit, a sub-unit of the Tactical Aviation Unit, contains a variety of specially modified helicopters. These helicopters include military converted Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk tactical transport helicopters and tactically enhanced Bell 412 and Bell 407 helicopters. The HRT’s tactical aviators are required to fly daily.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt.

FBI stages at Burns Air Tanker Base

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is staging equipment at the Air Tanker Base at Burns Municipal Airport four miles east of Burns, Oregon. The Oregonian reported that FBI personnel were blocking the entrance to the Bureau of Land Management’s Single Engine Air Tanker Base and that “… a large vehicle sat equipped with FBI signage, numerous antennae, a satellite dish and other gear.” Law enforcement officers have been seen at the site for several days.

Burns Air Tanker Base
Burns Air Tanker Base. File image from Google Earth.

The airport is 21 air miles north of the Headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge where armed domestic terrorists have broken into and seized the facilities at the site.

The BLM operates the base independently of the city-owned airport which remains open. The general aviation airport, with two runways a little less than a mile long, began as a military air base in the 1940s. The SEAT base, which cannot handle air tankers larger than a SEAT, has one pit for loading aircraft and parking for three.

Reuters has photos of the FBI agents at the airport.

The BLM had two popular air tanker videos in 2015

On Twitter, @BLMOregon described the following Vine video of a Single Engine Air Tanker, like this:


It was taken from the 5:33 minute video below, which they described as:


The entire video is below:

In August we posted another video of a SEAT dropping on what we believe is the same fire, named Windy Ridge.

Two SEATs in Oregon dropped almost 200K gallons of retardant in 2015

Two Single Engine Air Tankers operated by Air Spray and contracted to the state of Oregon dropped 195,906 gallons of retardant in 2015. That is about a fourth of the 838,000 gallons dropped by all air tankers working for the state this year. The two SEATs were primarily based in Prineville.

Air Spray Air Tractor
A new Air Tractor 802 that was added to the Air Spray fleet earlier in 2015. It worked under contract for the state of Oregon. Air Spray photo.

Below is an excerpt from an article in The Bulletin:

…The planes were part of a $5 million program to beef up the firefighting fleet in Oregon this past year. The agency was able to move the small tankers around the state when needed. Over the course of the fire season, they reloaded in John Day, Medford, Roseburg and The Dalles. But primarily they flew in and out of Prineville and Redmond, carrying 71,784 gallons of retardant from Prineville and 48,977 from Redmond.

Contracted with the state, the planes that flew out of Prineville belong to Air Spray, a Chico, California, company. Built by Texas-based Air Tractor, they cost $1.7 million each.

Blue Mountain Rappellers

From the Blue Mountain Rappellers website:

“The Blue Mountain Rappel Crew is a 14-18 person crew of aerially delivered wildland firefighters. We host a Bell 205A++ Helicopter that can deliver 4 rappellers to remote areas anywhere in the nation that has the need. Formerly the Frazier Rappel Crew, the Blue Mountain Rappel Crew has recently moved locations from Ukiah OR, to La Grande OR in 2012. The Base is located at the La Grande airport near the Blue Mountain Interagency Fire Center and the Union and La Grande IHC fire shops. The Base organization consist of a Base Manager, two Assistant Foremen, Two Squadleaders and Two permanent Senior Firefighters in addition to 6 to 10 seasonals. Since 1997 the crew has been delivering firefighters via ropes and helicopters to incidents around the country. As a National fire resource, we respond locally to Initial Attack in North East Oregon as well as mobilize to large fire support and Initial Attack in the lower 48 and Alaska.”

Blue Mountain Rappellers
Blue Mountain Rappellers, 2015. Photo provided by the crew.

Ride with a SEAT pilot on the Windy Ridge Fire

Fred Johnson of AirRailImages sent us a link to this video that captures images through the windshield and audio from the radios as a Single Engine Air Tanker prepares to drop retardant on the Windy Ridge Fire. The Cornet/Windy Ridge Fire, four miles west of Durkee, Oregon, has burned over 102,000 acres of BLM and Oregon Department of Forestry protected private lands. The fire was turned back over to local units on August 26, probably as a result of this successful SEAT drop.  😉

And below is a unique viewpoint of a crew at Ontario, Oregon loading retardant into a seat. The video is from Aug. 14, 2015, by Larry Moore, BLM Vale.

Colorado sends multi-mission aircraft to assist oregon with large wildfires

One of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12s.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) sent one of its two Multi-Mission Aircraft to the State of Oregon yesterday to assist with the current wildfire situation in that state.

The national structure for combatting wildland fires is a cooperative, interagency system involving local, state, and federal agencies.  “When Colorado needs help to fight wildfires in our state, we rely on other states to send resources,” said State Fire Director Paul Cooke. “We were fortunate that Colorado’s wildfire season has been fairly light thus far,” said Cooke, “so we can afford to help out others with their needs.”

The situation in Oregon now is much like what Colorado experienced in 2012; significant amounts of dry lightning contributing to ignitions and abundant very dry fuels coupled with high temperatures and erratic winds have resulted in extreme fire behavior and rapid spread.

“With the threat of dry lightning and even more fire starts feared, Colorado’s aircraft will be of tremendous benefit”, Cooke said.  The State of Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA) program is unique to the country.  The program is comprised of two Pilatus PC-12 airplanes outfitted with state-of-the-art infrared (IR) and color sensors operated by Division of Fire Prevention and Control personnel.  The primary mission of the aircraft is the early detection of wildfires and providing important information to ground forces during initial attack.  However, the aircraft can also provide persistent surveillance of large wildfires, providing real time information, including live video, to incident commanders to assist them in making tactical decisions and improving the safety and efficiency of firefighting efforts.

Cooke says that since their arrival late yesterday, Colorado’s aircraft has been providing updated intelligence on Oregon’s two largest wildfires.  The Stouts fire, burning in southwest Oregon quickly grew to over 15,000 acres since it started on Thursday, and is only 3 percent contained.   The Cable Crossing fire, also in southwest Oregon, has burned more than 1,100 acres since it started on Tuesday, and is currently 15 percent contained.

Cooke says that even though the assistance is reciprocal, Colorado will be reimbursed by the State of Oregon for the use of the resources on loan.

More information about Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.