San Diego will borrow a scooping air tanker

Above: Aero Spray’s Tanker 210 makes a demonstration drop in San Diego County on June 22. Screen grab from San Diego Fire-Rescue’s video.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department will have the free use of an amphibious Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss single engine air tanker for about six weeks this summer. They worked out a deal with Aero Spray to have the aircraft available through the end of July. (The Aero Spray company should not be confused with Aero-Flite, Aero Tech, or Air Spray — all are different outfits.)

Over the last 15 to 20 years the city of San Diego and the County of San Diego have both been criticized for fighting wildland fire on the cheap. In 2008 Wildfire Today covered the last time the City contracted for scooping air tankers, when they actually paid for two Bombardier CL-415 Superscoopers and a lead plane for three months. The City has at least two Type 2 helicopters with belly tanks for dropping water on fires. According to the department’s web site, they are also used for:

…hoist-air rescue, short-haul air rescue, shoreline rescue, helicopter swiftwater rescue, night vision goggle operations, patient transport, vehicle rescue, large animal rescue, fire mapping, infrared detection, disaster assessment, and have the ability to assist in high-rise fire incidents.

Joanna Clark, with Aero Spray’s communication firm, told us that three lakes have been approved as scooping sites, Lower Otay Lake, Sweetwater Reservoir, and Lake Hodges. 

The Aero Spray Fire Boss can carry up to 800 gallons of water it scoops from a lake. It has a thermal infrared system to assist the pilot in targeting hot spots. Jamie Sargent from the company said half of their nine Fire Bosses have blending systems for mixing gel into the water to increase its effectiveness.

The arrangement between the City and Aero Spray was announced June 22 at Lower Otay Lake where a Fire Boss made demonstration drops for the media, as seen in the video below.

San Diego to add a third firefighting helicopter

san diego county helicopter
San Diego County’s Bell 205 A-1 ++. Photo credit: San Diego County Sheriff Department.

San Diego County is adding a third helicopter to its firefighting fleet.

The Bell 205 A-1 ++ will be based at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California and flown by ASTREA, the Sheriff’s Department aviation unit. It will have a hoist that can rescue injured firefighters and includes a 375-gallon external belly tank for fire suppression. The Board of Supervisors called for the new helicopter in the wake of the May, 2014 wildfires.

ASTREA crew members work with CAL FIRE in the rescue role. While ASTREA deputy sheriffs pilot the helicopter, CAL FIRE personnel operate the hoist and deploy on the hoist cable to assist victims on the ground.

San Diego County already has two other Bell 205 A-1 ++, as well as other helicopters used for law enforcement, including an MD530F, an MD500D, and Two Bell 407s.

Southern California adds to its helicopter fleet

San Diego County will be adding a third firefighting helicopter to their fleet, implementing one of the recommendations in a report on the 14 fires that broke out in May in the northern part of the county. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday allocated $5.2 million for another helicopter to become part of the County Sheriff’s stable of aircraft.

Photo by San Diego County.

The Supervisors also approved contracting with the city of San Diego to use its night-flying helicopters for fighting fires or making rescues at night.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s office Astrea unit (Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies) currently operates the following helicopters:

  • One MD500D. This is the oldest in the fleet, the workhorse of ASTREA since the late 1980s. The “D” model will eventually be replaced with a more powerful helicopter.
  • Three MD500F, better suited for high altitude and high temperatures than the MD500D.
  • Two Bell 205 A1++, for fire and rescue
  • One Bell 407 equipped with a data-link antenna and associated hardware which makes it possible to pass a live video feed to ground personnel. It  is also equipped with a FLIR 8500 thermal imager with laser designator.