First flight tests for Air Tanker 79

When in service hopefully later this year it will replace T-81 that crashed in 2014. Designated T-79, this aircraft will bring the number of CAL FIRE air tankers back up to 23.

Above: One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.

(Originally published at 4:19 p.m. MT January 31, 2018)

Sergio Maraschin sent us these photos of one of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted at Sacramento McClellan Airport to replace Tanker 81 that crashed near Yosemite National Park in 2014, killing pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. The work is nearly complete on what will become Tanker 79 and will bring the number of S-2T’s in the CAL FIRE fleet back up to their traditional number, 23. For the last couple of years T-12, a Neptune Aviation BAe-146,  has temporarily replaced T-81. CAL FIRE expects T-79 to be in service later this year.

Air tanker 79
One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.
Air tanker 79
One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.

And as a bonus, here’s a remarkable photo that Sergio took of T-80 in 2014.

Air tanker 80
Tanker 80 takes off for the last flight of the day while working the Butte Fire in 2015. Photo by Sergio Maraschin.

CAL FIRE begins work to replace the air tanker that crashed in 2014

Above: This S-2 was scavenged from the aircraft boneyard in Arizona and will eventually replace the CAL FIRE air tanker that crashed in 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert at McClellan Air Field, March 23, 2016.

The video covers work being done on an S-2 that will replace Tanker 81 that crashed in 2014 killing pilot Craig Hunt. 

NTSB has tentatively ruled out mechanical issues as cause of T-81 crash

CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott
CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott addresses the media on October 10, 2014, concerning the status of the investigation into the crash of Tanker 81 on October 7. On the left in the white shirt is NTSB investigator Josh Cawthra. Over Director Pimlott’s right shoulder is CAL FIRE Chief Pilot Bill Payne.

In a press conference on Friday an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board said they have tentatively ruled out mechanical issues as the primary cause of the October 7 crash of the air tanker on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite National Park in California.

Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was killed when the S-2T air tanker impacted the ground while he was attempting to make his second retardant drop on the fire.

NTSB investigator Josh Cawthra said that while it is early in the investigation which will take six to eight months to complete, mechanical or fatigue issues do not appear to be factors in the crash. In addition, he said they have received no reports of turbulence in the drop area. They expect to have a preliminary report available on the NTSB website within about five days.

The investigators began by conducting an aerial recon over the crash site to become familiar with the very steep terrain and the extent of the debris field. After the fire activity had diminished, they documented it from the ground.

The team has completed the on-scene portion of the investigation but they still need to recover, reconstruct, and examine some portions of the wreckage which are scattered over an area about 1/4 mile long. There is still some active fire in the area, and they will be working with CAL FIRE and the National Park Service to remove the aircraft parts after the fire has cooled down.

The investigators will be looking at “man, machine, and the environment”, Mr. Cathra said, and:

This accident is extremely tragic. We have a community that was threatened by a wildland fire, there were evacuations being done. These pilots put their life on the line. They were out there in a very — it’s a controlled environment, but yet there is also an amount of risk. And it is something that affects everybody as a whole. We get to know these pilots as well throughout the year. Our primary mission with the NTSB is to figure out what happened, why it happened, and how we can prevent this from ever occurring again.

Director Ken Pimlott said beginning today, Friday, CAL FIRE will start transitioning their tanker pilots back into their aircraft, after having been grounded since immediately after the accident. Each of them will be evaluated, but some, he said, will require more time to deal with the tragedy than others.

He recognized and thanked the U.S. Forest Service for providing air tankers to cover the state of California while the 22 remaining S-2Ts were not available. Providing that coverage was made less complicated by the lack of wildfire activity in the rest of the United States.

In the video of the press conference below, the people you will see, in the order of  appearance, are:

  1. Daniel Berlant, CAL FIRE Information Officer
  2. Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director
  3. Josh Cawthra, NTSB Investigator
  4. Bill Payne, CAL FIRE Chief Pilot, and
  5. Daniel Berlant, CAL FIRE Information Officer