Air tankers at Rapid City

An MD-87 and an RJ85 were at Rapid City for the Legion Lake Fire in the Black Hills

Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, at Rapid City December 12, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:15 p.m. MST December 13, 2017)

When the Legion Lake Fire broke out in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota December 11 it grew quickly in strong winds. The Incident Commander didn’t hesitate to order additional resources, including two large air tankers. Tankers 101, an MD-87, and 163, an RJ85, responded from Southern California, arriving late in the afternoon. They were not used that day since the lead plane did not arrive until much later. The tankers also were not used the following day. But the fire blew up the night of the 12th, expanding from 4,000 acres to over 40, 000 acres. As this is written around noon on December 13, the Incident Management Team said they will be used if needed.

On December 12 we visited the Rapid City Air Tanker base while the tankers were parked there. We talked with MD-87 pilot Brent Connor who told us Erickson Aero Tanker expects to have their fifth MD-87 in service by the 2018 fire season. Tanker 101 was the first they built; the others are 102, 103, 105, and 107.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the Legion Lake Fire are tagged “Legion Lake Fire”.

Each of the recently developed jet-powered air tankers have unique retardant delivery systems, and the MD-87 is no exception. As you can see in the photo gallery (click on the photos to see larger versions) it has two imposing tubes (for lack of a better term) in addition to a tank under the cabin floor and a pod under the plane’s belly. Those three reservoirs hold 3,000, 1,000, and 700 gallons, respectively, for a total of 4,700 gallons.

To mitigate the issue of retardant dispersing over the wing, which introduced the possibility of it being ingested into the engines, they had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, lowering the release point by 46 inches.

Mr. Connor said that at this time they are limited to dropping 3,100 gallons, and they never have to download due to density altitude. After modifications are made to the system, they expect to be cleared to carry 4,000 gallons. He said that to get to the present stage of development the FAA required 80 hours of  flight testing.

MD-87 makes water drops in South Dakota

In these videos by Terry Nelsen, Erickson’s MD-87 air tankers are seen dropping water on the Rankin Fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Both Tankers 101 and 103 were used on the fires in the area.

One of the firefighters told us that after the Rankin Fire had been burning for a while an MD-87 en route to drop water on the fire in the park was diverted to a new fire just starting, the Beaver Fire between Wind Cave NP and Pringle, South Dakota

Wind Cave NP has a policy that the Park Superintendent can on a case by case basis decide if retardant will be banned on individual wildfires. In the case of the Rankin Fire, he decided he did not want retardant used, so the air tankers were using plain water.

Fire engines are allowed to drive off the road to suppress fires in Wind Cave National Park but in some cases retardant is banned.

Aircraft used on the Beaver Fire in South Dakota

Incident Commander Todd Hoover provided information about the Beaver Fire east of Pringle, South Dakota, September 14, 2017. We asked him about how aircraft were used, and we also have video and still photos of firefighters, air tankers, and helicopters.

The fire has burned approximately 400 acres between Wind Cave National Park and Pringle, South Dakota. On Friday, September 15, it was slowed by rain in the area.

We apologize for wind noise in the recording.

Articles tagged Beaver Fire and the Rankin Fire on Wildfire Today.

Excellent photo of MD-87 dropping on the Beaver Fire

Above: An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

(Originally published at 10:46 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017)

Herb Ryan of the Custer Free Press gave us permission to use these excellent photos he took September 13 at the Beaver Fire which is burning west of Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota.

(More information about the Beaver Fire and the nearby Rankin Fire.)

The photo above is spectacular. It is a close-up of one of the most recently converted air tankers, an MD-87, dropping on the fire.

This is how he described getting the shot:

I was waiting for this and it broke out [of the] heavy smoke and this is the one full image I shot. Was on the back side of the fire with a Canon 7D and a 70-200 f2.8 on the camera cranked all the way down to 70mm.

The photo below of a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter on the Beaver Fire is also courtesy of Mr. Ryan.

Aircraft over the fires at Wind Cave National Park

Above: N137BH, a Sikorsky 70A or “Firehawk”, flies to refill its water bucket after dropping on the Rankin Fire September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 12:08 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017)

A handful of aircraft were working to fires in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota on Wednesday, two MD-87 air tankers, and two helicopters, a Bell 407 and a Sikorsky 70A “Firehawk”.

The Rankin Fire in Wind Cave National Park has burned about 1,192 acres while the Beaver Fire just outside the park on the Black Hills National Forest covered approximately 140 acres just a few hours after it was reported

(Click on a photo below to see larger versions. The caption is at the top.)

 

For more information about the Rankin Fire, visit Wildfire Today.

SEAT assists firefighters on Sheps Canyon Fire in South Dakota

Above: Tanker 475 reloading at Hot Springs, SD, during the Sheps Canyon Fire, September 4, 2017.

(Originally published at 10:24 p.m. MDT, September 4, 2017)

A New Frontiers Aviation Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) assisted firefighters on the Sheps Canyon Fire near Lake Angostura in the Black Hills of South Dakota Monday. According to the FAA registry Air Tanker 475 is a WSK-PZL MEILEC. The aircraft came out of the Valentine, Nebraska SEAT base since the SEAT stationed at Hot Springs five miles northeast of the fire was not staffed today. T-475 reloaded with retardant at Hot Springs, but had to go to Rapid City to refuel since the Hot Springs Airport does not have Jet-A fuel.

Sheps Canyon Fire
Sheps Canyon Fire at 2:02 p.m. MDT September 4, 2017.

The original dispatch for the Sheps Canyon fire was a camper vehicle fire. It spread into the vegetation burning about 13 acres before firefighters were able to knock it down.

Sheps Canyon Fire
Fall River County Sheriff’s Office photo, at the Sheps Canyon Fire.
Sheps Canyon Fire air tanker
Steve Ipswitch reloads Tanker 475, flown by Pilot Andy Taylor, at Hot Springs, SD, during the Sheps Canyon Fire, September 4, 2017.
Sheps Canyon Fire air tanker
Tanker 475 reloading at Hot Springs, SD, during the Sheps Canyon Fire, September 4, 2017.
Sheps Canyon Fire air tanker
Tanker 475 reloading at Hot Springs, SD, during the Sheps Canyon Fire, September 4, 2017.

AStar at the Prairie Dog Fire

I cruised through Wind Cave National Park today while firefighters were dealing with the Prairie Dog Fire that burned a couple of acres (at last count) more or less in the center of the park. It was burning in timber and grass, slowly, since there is still a lot of greenness left in the herbaceous vegetation. There was a great deal of lightning yesterday, and this little blaze was a result.

The Eurocopter AS350 B3, assigned to Custer, SD and operated by Trans Aero LTD was on scene parked near the intersection of US Hwy. 385 and State Highway 87. I grabbed a few pictures of it, and a grainy shot of the fire that was a mile or more away. Trans Aero names all of their ships, and since this one was in Italy when they purchased it, the name that stuck was “The Italian Job”, registered in the US as N357TA.

Almost exactly a year ago we shot photos of the same helicopter and many other aircraft at the Red Canyon Fire southwest of Pringle, South Dakota.

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SEAT base at Hot Springs, SD was busy in July

By Ed Jensen, Airport Manager, Hot Springs Municipal Airport, South Dakota

Hot Springs Single Engine Air Tanker Base
File photo of SEAT Base Manager Wes Cadotte at Hot Springs operating the reloading equipment for Air Tanker 466 that was working the Sheep Wagon Fire near Newcastle, Wyoming, August 20, 2011.

The Hot Springs Municipal Airport has been a busy place this last month. The single engine air tanker (SEAT plane) based out of the Hot Springs Airport during the summer months has been especially busy. Just in the month of July alone, the Wildland Fire Division crew operating it has flown over eighty fire missions within western South Dakota. Wildland Fire was also quite busy with the Indian Canyon Fire by Edgemont, having four planes flying out of our airport to assist in putting that fire out. We are really glad to have them based here in Hot Springs for immediate the fire protection of our area.

Switching gears from firefighting operations at our airport, we also saw an increase of recreation users this last week during the Oshkosh, WI fly-in. Many planes traveling to Oshkosh for the fly in chose to land in Hot Springs for fuel with some renting hangar space for the night. Many also stopped again on their way home to refuel their planes. Separate of the fly-in, we were lucky enough to see a 7/8 scale P-51 Mustang land here on July 30th. For those familiar with aircraft, you know this was a sight to see.

Hot Springs Single Engine Air Tanker Base
File photo of Tanker 466 at the Hot Springs Single Engine Air Tanker Base, August 20, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.