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.

Videos of single engine air tankers in Colorado

These videos of retardant and water drops by single engine air tankers were published by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

Below is the description for the above video provided by the CDFPC, and following that is the description for the second.

“Bitter Creek Fire, July 26 and 27, 2015: DFPC received dispatch at 1700. The fire was located half way between the border of Colorado and Rock Springs. The video was taken by Mike Miller, DFPC Pilot (contract) from Tanker 831 (T831). There were 5 SEATs working on the the fire when this video was taken.The objective was to contain this fire as soon as possible.”

“Video taken from T831 aircraft in Craig, CO. DFPC crew dropped water to assist firefighters on the ground fighting the Keystone Fire on July 24, 2015. Video taken by: Mike Miller, DFPC Pilot.” (The action starts at about 2:55.)

And here is a bonus — a short video from one of Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft demonstrating the two cameras, visual and infrared.

Single engine air tanker en route to Australia

Air Spray SEAT
File photo of one of Air Spray’s Air Tractor 802s. They acquired this one earlier in 2015. Air Spray photo.

As we are writing this Saturday evening, a single engine air tanker (SEAT) is en route from the United States to Australia. An Air Tractor 802, Tanker 849, N30723, departed from Santa Maria, California on September 30 at 8:33 a.m., and after stopping in Honolulu and the Marshall Islands is now on the way to Honiara, Guadalcanal with an expected arrival time of 9:12 p.m. MT, October 3.

On the 13-hour leg to Honolulu it flew at 5,000 to 8,000 feet at a ground speed of 175 to 219 mph.

We have heard but can’t confirm that fuel can put in the hopper (retardant tank) on a SEAT to extend the range. Obviously extra fuel is stored somewhere to enable the 13-hour flight.

You can track the SEAT at FlightAware.

(UPDATE October 5, 2015)

We found out today that the SEAT was operated this summer by Aero Spray, a company headquartered in Appleton, Minnesota that operates several Air Tractor aircraft for spraying crops and fighting wildfires. They were the first company in the United States to operate an Air Tractor on floats. Laura at the company told us that they leased the Air Tractor Fire Boss, Tanker 849, from Pays Air Service in Australia, and it is being returned to the owner.

In an earlier comment on this article, Bean said the Air Tractor website mentions a ferry kit that enables 800 gallons of fuel to be carried in the hopper. And at Airliners.net a person identified as “AT502B” wrote:

AT 802’s are available with a ferry kit, which enables you to fill the water tank-or Hopper- up with fuel, thus giving you an additional 800gal of fuel. Add this to the standard fuel tank size of 336us gal- gives you some serious fuel capacity for a single engine aeroplane. An AT 802 burns approx. 75-85us gal per hour at a ferry speed of 200mph- so it gives you a pretty good range as well.

The aircraft arrived in Queensland, Australia Sunday, October 4 at 7:53 p.m. MT according to Flight Aware, after a flight of almost seven hours from Guadalcanal.

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

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.

USFS has 34 large air tankers currently activated

CV-580
A CV-580 spotted at Boise recently. Photo by Steve.

The U.S. Forest Service has 33 large air tankers currently activated in the United States; 15 on multi-year, full time exclusive use contracts, 9 on call when needed contracts (part time), 6 borrowed from Canada, and 4 military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130s.

This is the highest number of air tankers we have seen working in the United States at the same time in recent years — especially the 23 that are under some sort of U.S. Forest Service contract, full time exclusive use or call when needed part time. In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts but that number declined over the next 12 years to a low point of 9 in 2013.

Here is the breakdown:

USFS Multi-year full time exclusive use (14)
T-118 HC-130H U.S. Forest Service
T-105 MD-87 Aero Air, LLC
T-101 MD87 Aero Air, LLC
T-161 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-160 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-260 CL-415 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-912 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-131 C-130 Coulson
T-10 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-43 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-06 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-45 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-05 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-07 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-44 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.

USFS Call When Needed (part time) (9)
T-911 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-910 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-02 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-01 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-41 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-40 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-162 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-163 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-164 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.

Canadian government (borrowed) (3)
T-154 CV580 Alberta
T-173 CV580 Saskatchewan
T-174 CV580 Saskatchewan

Canadian companies (3)
T-155 CV580 Conair
T-142 C-440 Conair
T-152 CV580 Conair

MAFFS C-130s (4)
MAFFS 2 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base
MAFFS 5 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base
MAFFS 1 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard
MAFFS 9 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard

It is interesting that Aero Flite has five RJ85s converted, certified, staffed, and actively fighting fires, and Neptune has five BAe-146s doing the same. A few days ago three DC-10s began working at the same time, which is a first for 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

Department of the Interior air tankers

Until a few years ago the Bureau of Indian Affairs had two water scooping air tankers on contract, but now there is an agreement in place between the DOI and the USFS whereby the USFS will handle contracts for all large air tankers, including scoopers. Now there is just one scooping air tanker on contract with the federal government, a CL-415 operated by Aero Flite. Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told us that the USFS does not consider the CL-415 to be an air tanker (or an “airtanker” as the agency calls them). To them it is a “scooper”.

The agreement also specified that the BLM would manage contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers and this year there are 33 SEATs, according to BLM spokesperson Randall Eardley.

More next-generation air tankers on the way?

Months ago the USFS issued a solicitation for “up to seven” additional next-generation air tankers. It was protested by two vendors before the solicitation even closed but those were both denied by the GAO. We checked, and Mrs. Jones told us that they are still working through the contracting process. After they make a decision about awards, then there is a 30-day waiting period while Congress is notified, after which the agency can actually award contracts — which could be protested again at that point.

Mrs. Jones said:

While we are working diligently to complete the contracting process, there is no estimated timeframe for completing that, notifying Congress, announcing awards, etc. at this time.

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

SEATs in Nebraska and South Dakota to start later than normal due to green conditions

Wind Cave National Park
The High Bridge over Beaver Creek in Wind Cave National Park, June 13, 2015. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) in South Dakota and Nebraska will have later starting dates than usual due to the abundance of moisture and very green herbaceous vegetation, as you can see by this photo taken in Wind Cave National Park a week ago.

For the last year or two South Dakota has brought on a contract SEAT July 1 but Jim Strain, the Chief Fire Management Officer for South Dakota’s Division of Wildland Fire, told us that it will start sometime after that, depending on how quickly things dry out. In 2012 they had a SEAT working out of Hot Springs in March. But, he said, this year it will definitely be on board before the start of the Sturgis motorcycle rally the first week of August. That event brings HUGE numbers of visitors to the Black Hills, and this year’s gathering is expected be larger than normal, since it is the 75th annual rally.

The Nebraska SEAT usually is based at Chadron, but the runway at the airport is being resurfaced this summer, so this year it will be either at Alliance or Valentine starting July 15.

SEAT hot springs
Tanker 466, a Dromader, at Hot Springs, South Dakota, March 14, 2012, operated by New Frontier Aviation. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Tanker 873 makes the news in Pennsylvania

In this video WTAJ introduces a Single Engine Air Tanker, T-873, to the public. The aircraft is based near Black Moshannon State Park in Pennsylvania but will migrate west this summer.

Last year I photographed that ship at Chester, California and talked to the pilot who was flying it that day, Fred Celest.

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