Report: U.S. may give armed SEATs to Yemen

Air Tractor AT-802U
Air Tractor AT-802U

Aircraft that are frequently used as crop dusters and single engine air tankers (SEATs) may be given to the government of Yemen to battle terrorists. BuzzFeed reports that models being considered are the Air Tractor AT-802U and Thrush. The two-seater aircraft would be equipped with laser-guided missiles and high-tech electronic intelligence equipment, as well as armor to protect the crew.

Wildfire Today reported on the armed AT-802U back in 2009 when it was a hit at the Paris Air Show.

The U.S. considered using drones, but they are getting a bad reputation. Officials apparently decided on sending up to ten of the single engine aircraft to Yemen, at least in part because “even poorly trained Yemeni pilots could learn to fly them”.

BuzzFeed reports:

According to a Central Command memorandum dated Feb. 3 and obtained by BuzzFeed, the “Precision Strike” program for Yemen would “greatly enhance counter terrorism (CT) objectives to support action against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” The U.S. government says AQAP is a Yemeni-based group that has tried to launch terrorist attacks against the U.S., including the infamous failed effort by the “underwear bomber,” Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in 2009.

One choice for Yemen’s “Precision Strike” plane, according to documents and the sources, is a version of an “Air Tractor” plane called a 802U. It’s a hardy airplane, manufactured in Texas. The fuselage resembles a World War II Spitfire fighter plane, though it flies more slowly.

Asked about the Yemen project, Air Tractor Inc.’s president, Jim Hirsch, said, “I’m not at liberty to discuss that program.” Although the Air Tractor is widely used as an agriculture plane for crop spraying, the company makes a version it says is for “counterinsurgency operations,” and Air Tractor’s website bills it as “a true irregular warfare aircraft.”

The other plane in the running is a Thrush, which looks similar to the Air Tractor and is also usually used as a crop duster. It is manufactured in Georgia by Thrush Aircraft.

Air Tractor AT-802U
Air Tractor AT-802U

Problem with the Fire Boss prevents some from being used

single engine air tanker

A problem detected on Air Tractor Fire Boss AT-802F amphibious Single Engine Air Tankers is preventing some of them from being used by federal land management agencies. Cracks in the tail support structure were found on two Fire Boss aircraft.

The Bureau of Land Management’s exclusive use contracts with the Fire Bosses have expired for this year, but the agency has made a decision not to use them on call when needed contracts until they are satisfied the problems have been corrected. However Don Smurthwaite of the BLM emphasized to us that the aircraft are not grounded and they believe the issue is not widespread. The contractor is working to solve the problem.

Since the BLM administers the single engine tanker program for all the federal agencies this has stopped the use of the Fire Boss aircraft on all fires where a federal agency has operational control.

One Fire Boss under contract to the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), Tanker 851, has been inspected and given a clean bill of health and will continue to fly on fires where the IDL has operational control.

 

SEAT base at Valentine

SEAT base in Valentine Nebraska
SEAT base in Valentine, Nebraska.

The new reload base for Single Engine Air Tankers in Valentine, Nebraska is nearing completion. Thanks to the Nebraska legislature’s passage this year of the Wildfire Control Act, a single-engine airtanker (SEAT) and three airtanker bases are now available in the northwest part of the state. The contracted SEAT came on duty July 15 and SEAT bases will be managed by the Nebraska Forest Service (NFS) at Valentine, Chadron, and Alliance.