Additional resources arrive in Alaska

Smokejumpers in Alaska
Smokejumpers from BLM Boise, Idaho, board a CASA-212 to make their practice jump Saturday afternoon, May 23, 2015, at the BLM Alaska Smokejumpers Base on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright.

Because of the recent high fire danger, additional resources, including three air tankers and 16 smokejumpers, have arrived in Alaska to bolster the aircraft fleet and jumpers already in place. These photos were taken and portions of the captions were written by Sam Harrel of the Bureau of Land Management/Alaska  Fire Service.

Smokejumpers in Alaska

Smokejumpers in Alaska
Smokejumpers from BLM Boise, Idaho, log their chutes as they prepare to make their practice jump Saturday afternoon, May 23, 2015, at the BLM Alaska Smokejumpers Base on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright. Because of high fire danger in Alaska, 16 additional smokejumpers were brought to the state. Once the crews from Boise have completed their orientation to Alaska they will enter into the fire assignment rotation.
BAe 146and CL-415
Neptune’s Tanker 10, a BAe-146, and Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415 water scooper, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at BLM Alaska Fire Service at Fort Wainwright. The two aircraft are new to fire suppression efforts in Alaska.
T-260 CL-415
Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415 water scooper, sits on the BLM-Alaska Fire Service tarmac at Ladd Field on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at Fort Wainwright. T-260 is less than a year old.
BAe-146 and Convair CV580
A BAe-146 and a Convair CV580 at the BLM- Alaska Fire Service retardant tanker base Tuesday, May 19, 2015, on Ladd Field at Fort Wainwright. The Convair turboprop tankers have been used in Alaska for several years. This is the first season in Alaska for the jet propelled BAe 146.
BAe-146 and RJ85
A BAe-146, T-10, and an RJ85, T-160, on the BLM-Alaska Fire Service Tanker Base tarmac Saturday morning, May 23, 2015, on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright.

Former USFS pilots criticize the retirement of the last DC-3

C-23B Sherpa
One of the fifteen C-23B Sherpa aircraft that were transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Forest Service. They will be used for hauling smokejumpers and cargo, replacing the 70-year old DC-3 and four C-23A aircraft. USFS photo.

They argue that it is no longer a DC-3 and became a BT-67 when new engines were installed, but retired pilots Barry Hicks and Dick Hulla feel strongly that the last DC-3 the U.S. Forest Service still uses for transporting smokejumpers is not too old at the age of 70 and should not be retired. This is scheduled to be the last fire season for the last remaining DC-3 in the USFS fleet. In an article in the Missoulian, Mr. Hulla said, “It’s going to be flying for 50 years.”

Below is an excerpt from the article:

…Hulla and Hicks argue that while Jump 15 was built in 1945 and has been flying for 18,800 hours, its critical parts are just 5,800 hours old. That makes it younger than most of the other smokejumper aircraft currently in service.

And they add that its larger passenger capacity, stronger airframe and longer flying range make it a better choice than the more recently built Sherpa paratrooper planes the Forest Service plans to replace Jump 15 with.

The two Missoula men bring some extensive credentials to the table. Hulla retired in 2008 as the supervisory pilot for Forest Service Region 1 after a career jumping out of and then flying the BT-67.

Hicks retired in 2003 as regional aviation officer for the Forest Service, with a smokejumping career that goes back to the Ford Tri-motor…

The USFS intends to use some of the fifteen C-23B Sherpa aircraft they recently acquired from the Army to replace the DC-3 and the four C-23As they have had for a while. Compared to the C-23A, the C-23B has a rear cargo ramp that can be opened during flight, inward-opening paratroop doors, and stronger landing gear.

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

The last smokejumper DC-3 to retire this year

DC-3 smokejumper
Jump-42, a U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TP at its retirement ceremony at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012. USFS photo.

The last DC-3 smokejumper aircraft will retire this year, a few months after its 70th birthday. Jump-15 as it is known, came off the assembly line two months after the end of World War II but it will be making its farewell tour as it drops smokejumpers during its final fire season. The second to the last smokejumper DC-3 retired a couple of years ago.

The Missoulian has an article highlighting the history of Jump-15. Here is an excerpt from the article:

…Douglas Aircraft Co. started building the tail-dragging DC-3s in 1935. TWA director Charles Lindbergh reportedly made the requirement that it should always be able to fly with just one of its two engines. That’s a feature smokejumpers loved too.
The DC-3 was the first to be wide enough for side-by-side sleeper berths – a first-class requirement for the propeller-age jet set. It could fly across the United States in 15 hours with three refueling stops, the first commercial plane to make that trip entirely in daylight.

When America entered World War II in 1942, the civilian plane put on an Army uniform. The military redesignated it the C-47 Dakota and ordered more than 10,000 before 1945.

Dwight Eisenhower ranked it along with the Jeep, the half-ton truck and the bulldozer as the Allied Forces’ most effective tools in winning the war…

Other articles on Fire Aviation tagged “DC-3”.

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

Update on the USFS C-23B

C-23B Forest Service
C-23B. USFS photo.

It has been almost six months since we provided an update on the 15 Sherpa C-23B aircraft that were scheduled to be transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Forest Service. The expectation was that they would be used by smokejumpers and for transporting cargo, paracargo, and possibly firefighters.

We asked Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, for the current status of the transfer and transition. Below is her response:


“As of 9/11/14, a total of 10 C-23B+/SD3-60s have been transferred from the DoD to the U.S. Forest Service and the remainder are scheduled to be transferred within the next few weeks.

Three of the aircraft are in Redmond, Oregon and one of the aircraft is in Ogden, Utah. The remainder of the aircraft are at, or are in transit to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the  “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona where they will be stored until the U.S. Forest Service fields them.

The U.S. Forest Service will locate one aircraft in Ogden, Utah to serve as the prototype aircraft for FAA Civil Certification as an SD3-60 Sherpa and will then conform the rest of the C-23B+ aircraft to that standard. One of the three aircraft located in Redmond, Oregon will be used to complete the Smokejumper Aircraft Screening and Evaluation Board (SASEB) approval process and to develop pilot familiarity and training. The other aircraft will be progressively certified, configured for wildfire suppression missions, and brought into service.

The U.S. Forest Service expects to begin bringing the aircraft into service incrementally (two to four aircraft per year) beginning in 2016 due to the time that it will take to complete aircraft modifications; to equip the aircraft for smokejumper, cargo, and other wildfire suppression missions (for example, by installing radios, Aircraft Flight Following [AFF], and other wildfire mission specific equipment); and to contract with private industry for operation, pilot, and maintenance services.

While final decisions have not been made yet, initial indications are ten of the C-23B+/SD3-60s will be used to replace U.S. Forest Service owned and contracted aircraft used for smokejumping. The U.S. Forest Service is pursuing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) civil certification of the non-certificated C-23B+ aircraft as Short Brothers SD3-60 Sherpa aircraft. This would enable the agency to [use] these aircraft to perform several aerial firefighting missions in addition to delivering smokejumpers and cargo. These missions include transporting fire crews, incident management teams, and other overhead and support personnel to airfields and airports that larger transport planes could not use; transporting cargo and communications equipment; and supporting all-hazards incidents.”

When will the last USFS DC-3 TP retire?

USFS DC-3 retires
J-42, a U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TP at its retirement ceremony at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012. USFS photo.

Since one of the two U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TPs retired in 2012 and was sold in 2013, there has been speculation about how many years the last USFS DC-3 TP would continue to haul smokejumpers.

It has been 23 years since the two aircraft had their radial piston engines replaced with turbines in 1991 by Basler.

The remaining DC-3 TP is 71 years old. USFS spokesperson Jennifer Jones said, “Economic, operational and risk analyses have shown that the DC-3 TP has fulfilled its useful life as a smokejumper platform.”

When we asked if the rumors are true that the last DC-3 TP will retire in 2015, Mrs. Jones said it will be replaced by one of the 15 C-23Bs that the USFS recently acquired from the Army, “but no precise date has been set for that yet.”

The C-23B, due to begin transitioning into the USFS fleet in 2016, has issues with high density altitude, and some pilots have questioned how useful it will be at high altitude smokejumper bases such as West Yellowstone and Silver City. We asked Mrs. Jones about this, and she said the USFS owns two De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters and contracts for two others. After the transition to the C-23B the agency will retain the two Twin Otters they own, “to ensure the capability to perform short field/backcountry airstrip and high density altitude missions.”

Status of C-23B Sherpas transferred to USFS from the Army

C-23B. Department of Defense photo.

There is not a great deal of new information to report about the 15 Sherpa C-23B aircraft that were transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Forest Service. The expectation is that they will be used by smokejumpers and for transporting cargo, paracargo, and possibly firefighters. The aircraft are still at Fort Sill, Oklahoma after being transferred in February, but some of them will be moved to Tucson in the next month or two where they will be evaluated and tested by the Smokejumper Aircraft Screening and Evaluation Board (SASEB), an organization much like the Interagency AirTanker Board. The SASEB is the “focal point for all interagency smokejumper/paracargo aircraft and related aircraft accessories, initiatives, proposals and issues. SASEB will provide guidance for standardization, when evaluating new interagency smokejumper/paracargo aircraft and related aircraft accessories.”

Smokejumpers have used Army surplus C-23A Sherpas for years, but one of the main differences between the older C-23A and the newer C-23B is that while both have a rear cargo ramp, like a C-130, the ramp on the C-23A will not open in flight. The SASEB will evaluate and test the use of the rear ramp for paracargo and jumpers while in flght. Typically they will begin by tossing out small cargo items, moving up to human-sized dummies, and ultimately live human smokejumpers.

The Board will also evaluate the need for painting, avionics, and removal of any unneeded military equipment, but since they will not be used as air tankers, retardant tank systems will not have to be installed.

If C-130s are transferred to the USFS, they will have gravity retardant tanks

We were able to find documentation that if the seven Coast Guard C-130H aircraft are transferred to the U.S. Forest Service as required in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA), they WILL have gravity assisted retardant tanks, rather than a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) pressurized tank like is used on the military MAFFS C-130s.

The NDAA passed in the House on December 12 with a vote of 350 to 69. Its next stop will be the Senate, which is expected to take up the bill this week before they adjourn on December 20.

We found the retardant tank requirement in the 1,106-page NDAA bill along with some other interesting details. There are time elements mentioned, such as allowing 45 days after the act passes to begin the transfer of the C-130Hs. And “at the first available opportunity, promptly schedule” the “center and outer wing- box replacement modifications, programmed depot-level maintenance, and modifications necessary to procure and integrate a gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system in each such HC–130H aircraft”.

A maximum cost of $130 million of Air Force funds was established for all of the maintenance and modification work on the seven aircraft. The bill also specifies that no more than $5 million shall be spent on each HC–130H aircraft for the “gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system”. If the modifications exceed these limits, the additional funds will have to be provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa
Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.

The transfer of “not more than” 15 C-23B+ S Sherpa aircraft” is required to begin within 45 days of the passage of the bill. If they receive them, the USFS could use the Sherpas for smokejumping and for hauling cargo. In 1991 the agency acquired six Shorts 330 Sherpas and has used them as smokejumper platforms. The 330s are similar to the C-23B+ Sherpas but have smaller engines and a lower cruising speed. The military C-23B+ S Sherpas also have a rear drop-down cargo door which could be used by smokejumpers. The transfer of the Sherpas would allow the USFS to stop contracting for jumper aircraft such as the Twin Otters and have an all-Sherpa jumper fleet that is Government-Owned/Contractor Operated, bringing some standardization to the jumper fleet. The acquisition of 15 Sherpas might even make the retirement of the DC-3 more palatable.

C-27J used for first time on missions in the United States

C-27J assisting with recovery from Hurricane Sandy
C-27J assisting with recovery from Hurricane Sandy, delivering generators and other equipment to the New York area, November 3, 2012. National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. David Speicher.

A bill was introduced in the Senate in July to transfer 14 surplus C-27J Spartan aircraft from the Department of Defense to the U.S. Forest Service to be used as air tankers. Nothing has happened to the bill, S. 3441, except to be transferred to a committee, where only 3 percent of the bills introduced in 2009-2010 were enacted.

The Air Force no longer has any C-27Js in Afganistan, but recently they were used for the first time on a mission in the United States. Air National Guard crews from Ohio, Mississippi and Maryland flew the first-ever C-27J domestic operations missions transporting power generation equipment and Humvees to Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., to help provide needed power resources to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

According to 1st Lt. Ken V. McGee, a public affairs officer for the Ohio Army National Guard, the 1484th Transportation Company was convoying about 70 trucks and 118 soldiers to set up a food and water distribution point in New York City as part of Ohio’s response to assist neighboring states. An advance team was airlifted by three C-27Js: one each from Maryland, Ohio and Mississippi ANG units.

“This gets the equipment there faster than on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Gary Laubach, an aircraft commander from 135th ASQ.

The C-27J crew flew their plane to Macon, Ga., Oct. 27 – safely out of the path of Hurricane Sandy. On Wednesday, they returned and were immediately put on alert for disaster relief missions.

“It feels different when you are so close to home and closer to your state,” said Laubach while talking about the difference between this mission and past disaster relief missions. “One of our pilot’s mothers is in the affected area and will be out of power for a week. This mission was great – extremely satisfying. It feels good to get stuff to the people who need it; I only wish I could be there when the generators get plugged in where the people need the electricity. This is the best mission you could get.”

Another aircraft the military wants to stop using is the C-23 Sherpa. A Florida Army Guard C-23 transported 6,500 pounds of Meals Ready to Eat from Fort Belvoir, Va., to Farmingdale, N.Y., over the weekend. The U.S. Forest Service has at least one C-23 that they use for dropping smokejumpers.