Memorial for MAFFS 7

A few days ago I stopped by the memorial to MAFFS 7 on Highway 18 in South Dakota. It honors the four people that died when the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 air tanker crashed in South Dakota exactly exactly four year ago today. MAFFS 7, from the 145 Airlift Wing in North Carolina, was dropping retardant to slow the spread of the White Draw Fire when it encountered turbulent air and crashed, killing Lt. Col Paul K. Mikeal, 42; Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36; Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, and Senior Master Sgt. Roberts S. Cannon, 50. Two crew members survived but were seriously injured, Loadmasters Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt, and Master Sgt. Joshua Marlowe.

The memorial is still in good shape three years after it was installed. It is approximately 6 miles northeast of Edgemont, SD on Highway 18 near the point of origin of the fire (map) where the motor home that started the blaze caught fire while pulling the grade between Edgemont and Hot Springs. The memorial consists of a gravel parking area with room for about six vehicles and has two interpretive panels — one describing the White Draw Fire and the other covers the accident and the four victims.

memorial MAFFS 7

memorial MAFFS 7

Photos by Bill Gabbert.

Tanker 161 on the Crow Peak Fire

On Monday at 4:56 p.m. we shot this photo of Tanker 161, an RJ85, dropping on the Crow Peak Fire southwest of Spearfish, South Dakota. From a distance we saw several air tanker drops by P2V and RJ85 tankers, but only got decent photos of Tanker 161.

At  one point on Monday there were four air tankers working out of Rapid City Tanker Base. By the end of the day one had been sent to a fire near Billings, one was relocated somewhere else, and another was down for maintenance.

Two scooping air tankers positioned at Rapid City

Two of the scoopers flew in today from an assignment at Gaylord, Michigan.

Above: Air Tanker 262, a CL-415, on the ramp at Rapid City Regional Airport, June 3, 2016. @BlackHillsNF photo.

Two air tankers with water-scooping capabilities are now positioned at Rapid City Regional Airport following an assignment at Gaylord, Michigan. Tankers 261 and 262 can skim the surface of a lake scooping up to 1,600 gallons of water into their tanks. If a scoopable lake is near a fire they can put large quantities of water on the blaze, helping the firefighters on the ground (who actually put out the fire). The CL-415 aircraft typically work in pairs, one following the other as they refill the tanks and make the drops.

CL-415 scoop
The water scoop on another CL-415, Tanker 260, that is lowered into the water as the aircraft skims over a lake. Photo by Bill Gabbert, March 23, 2016 at McClellan Air Field, Calif.

The agencies have previously scouted the lakes in the Black Hills and identified locations for the tankers to scoop, including Angostura Reservoir, Keyhole Reservoir, and Deerfield Lake.

The Black Hills National Forest (@BlackHillsNF) sent out a Tweet today asking recreationists to give them a wide birth:

Please allow CL 415 Scooper Planes using a lake or other body of water room to do work in wildfire suppression.

The air tankers are a national resource and are frequently moved around depending on wildfire potential. The assignment at Rapid City is only temporary.

It has been a fairly quiet fire season in the Black Hills so far, but the dispatch center has logged 69 wildland fires this year. Most were less than an acre but three of the more recent were 18, 20, and 193 acres. I imagine the firefighters working on the Storm Hill Fire near Hill City, South Dakota in April would have appreciated a little aerial support.

Storm Hill Fire
Storm Hill Fire near Hill City, South Dakota. Photo at 4:40 p.m. April 23, 2016 by Jim Burk, SDWF

Wildfire training and certification for South Dakota national guard helicopter crews

Above: South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Four blackhawk helicopters and seven South Dakota National guard helicopter crews were put through their paces Friday at Hot Springs Municipal Airport and Angostura Reservoir. The flight crews were evaluated on dipping water from the lake, dropping it across, up, and down slopes, communication with firefighters, and hot refueling.

Firefighters on the ground practiced radio procedures with aviation resources, describing where water drops were needed.

This annual certification is required by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior and allows South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to respond to wildland fires.

In the video below, Ray Bubb of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division describes the annual wildfire training.

blackhawk helicopter fills bucket
South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter fills its water bucket at Angostura Reservoir. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
hot refueling Blackhawk helicopter
Hot refueling a South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter at Hot Springs Municipal Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
hot refueling Blackhawk helicopter
Hot refueling a South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter at Hot Springs Municipal Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Blackhawk helicopter drops water
South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. Photo provided by South Dakota Wildland Fire Division.

Three helicopters and one air tanker available for the Cold Fire

The Incident Commander ordered two large air tankers but only one was available.

Above: a Sky Aviation Bell 206L4 (N482TJ) lands at Custer Airport near a Central Copters K-MAX (N115).

On Saturday when the Cold Fire started 8 miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota, no firefighting aircraft were available. The Incident Commander requested an air attack platform, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters, two large air tankers, and one light helicopter. Sunday a P2V departed Chattanooga, Tennessee and most likely cruised at about 200 mph until it arrived in Rapid City at about 3 p.m.

ch-47d chinook billings flying service
One of Billings Flying Service’s CH-47D Chinooks, at Custer Airport, April 3, 2016.

The P2V was not used Sunday, in part because the winds were too strong and turbulent. Two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters dropped water Sunday morning. Three privately owned contracted helicopters became available at the Custer Airport: one K-MAX (Central Copters), one CH-47D Chinook (Billings Flying Service), and a Bell 206L4 (Sky Aviation), but only the 206L4 was used. It dropped numerous loads of water Sunday afternoon while we were there.

Chinook Custer airport
One of Billings Flying Service’s CH-47D Chinooks (N561AJ), at Custer Airport, April 3, 2016.

We wrote about the Billings Flying Service Chinooks in 2014 when they became the first civilian operator to obtain CH-47Ds. Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, and another pilot flew two of them from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River. Two of the company’s CH-47Ds are on federal contract through April 30, 2017.

chinook water bucket
The data plate on the water bucket used by the Chinook.

Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.

K-MAX custer airport
A Central Copters K-MAX at Custer Airport, April, 3 2016. N115.

We have seen that K-MAX paint job before, but it was on a different K-MAX operated by Central Copters, N414.

When the Chinook arrived at Custer, some of the cargo that was unloaded is in this photo. Can you guess what it was? Let us know in a comment.

Chinook
Cargo unloaded from the Chinook upon arrival at Custer.

Astar at Custer, South Dakota

Astar B3 at Custer
The Astar B3 at Custer, September 11, 2015. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

We stopped by the Custer, South Dakota airport recently and briefly visited with the helitack crew. Assistant Manager Corey Lewis said the helicopter and personnel spent quite a bit of time this summer in the western states.

Again this year the U.S. Forest Service has an Astar B3 on exclusive use contract.

Canadian firefighting aircraft visit South Dakota

A visit by Canadian aircraft to the Pierre, South Dakota airport on Wednesday helped illustrate some of the features of the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact. A new member of the organization, Saskatchewan, sent two of their firefighting aircraft to Pierre to be introduced to a crowd that included Governor Dennis Daugaard, members of South Dakota’s Wildland Fire Suppression Division, and representatives of the media.

Click on one of the photos below (provided by the South Dakota WFSD) to start a slide show of large images.

The Canadian province sent an air tanker, a CV-580A, and one of their Turbo Commander Bird Dogs, or lead planes as they are called in the United States. Saskatchewan has two CV-580As, which can hold up to 2,100 gallons of retardant, and two CL-215Ts, which can scoop 1,400 gallons of water by skimming over the surface of a lake.

One of the purposes of the Compact is to facilitate the sharing of ground and air fire resources among the member states, which include Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and now Saskatchewan. The Compact agreement allows the aircraft to be used in the six states and province more easily than if the compact did not exist.

A fun fact. The CV-580A in the photos, Tanker 475, was part of the U.S. government’s fleet four decades ago, when it was known as a C-131H and for a day was designated as Air Force One.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Air and Space Magazine:

…The hardy Convair has had a storied career of transport missions. Its 25,046 airframe hours include service with the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Department of State, and Marshals Service; the Peruvian National Police; and a Michigan cargo company. Among transports, it enjoys an exalted distinction: For at least a day, it was the presidential aircraft. On October 26, 1972, President Richard Nixon used it for a weekend campaign trip to Huntington, West Virginia, and Ashland, Kentucky. “I thought this airstrip was a little short,” Nixon told the crowd at the Huntington airport. “That is why we had to bring the Convair in.”

Its most frequent VIP customer, however, was Vice President Gerald Ford, who flew on it dozens of times from the fall of 1973 until he succeeded Nixon on August 9, 1974…

More information about the visit and the Compact are at the Capital Journal.

Interview with Jim Fournier, air tanker pilot

Jim Fournier of New Frontier Aviation flies a Dromader single engine air tanker (SEAT) for the state of South Dakota. On September 1, 2015 we caught up with him at the SEAT base in Hot Springs a couple of hours after he dropped a load of retardant on the Bitter Creek Fire which enabled the firefighters on the ground to tie in the last piece of open fireline, stopping it at 87 acres. Tanker 455 put one 550-gallon load on the fire, split into two drops.

Bitter Creek Fire
Bitter Creek Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
T-455 Bitter Creek Fire
Tanker 455 orbits, sizing up the Bitter Creek fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
T-455 Bitter Creek Fire
Tanker 455 descending on final to make a drop on the Bitter Creek Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert..
T-455 Bitter Creek Fire
Tanker 455 completing a drop on the Bitter Creek Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
T-455, Dromader
Tanker 455, a Dromader. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
T-455, Dromader
Jim Fournier with Tanker 455, a Dromader. Photo by Bill Gabbert.