An Air Tractor 802 crashed January 17 in Utah about eight miles west of Vernon while reseeding an area that had previously burned. The pilot, who had minor injuries, told police the aircraft lost power and was unable clear terrain in the Sheeprock Mountains.
It occurred at about 5 p.m. after which the pilot walked for about two and a half hours until he was found by crews flying Utah National Guard Apache helicopters equipped with infrared sensors who happened to be training in the area.
Air Tractors are often used as air tankers, but this one was dropping seeds instead of retardant.
Lawmakers in Utah have passed a bill that would allow authorities to disable drones that are flying close to wildfires. While the legislation would allow the aircraft to be shot down, it is more likely that they would be disabled by electronic devices that would jam the radio signal or force them to land. Violators could be fined up to $15,000 or be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Below is an excerpt from an article at the Star Tribune:
…Bill sponsor Sen. Evan Vickers told The Associated Press that the state highway patrol and National Guard already have the technology.
“The redneck in me is just to shoot the damn thing,” Vickers told lawmakers, adding that it was much more “humane” to jam the drone’s signal.
He said the technology allows officials to target a specific drone and can be used without hurting other nearby aircraft or technology.
[Senator Vickers said] before the vote that the costs of fighting a small wildfire burning about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City would have been several million dollars if five drone flights hadn’t interfered.
“Now we’re way past, north of $10 million because we had to ground aircraft all because of a drone,” Herbert said.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating drones flying near the fire, which is burning on a rocky ridge above the town of Pine Valley, but no arrests have been made or suspects identified. The sheriff’s office has offered a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest…
On Saturday, June 3, families, friends, and coworkers gathered at the Bureau of Land Management’s Interagency Fire Center at the Cedar City Airport in Utah. They were there to honor the two pilots who died June 3, 2012 when the air tanker they were flying, Tanker 11, a P2V, crashed on the White Rock Fire near the Utah-Nevada border west of Cedar City. Killed that day were Captain Todd Tompkins and First Officer Ron Chambless, pilots for Neptune Aviation.
A year ago firefighters in Utah began raising funds to purchase and install two 5-foot tall granite obelisks engraved with the names of the two fallen comrades and featuring a color image of Tanker 11. They were designed to be placed at the crash site, along with an interpretive sign detailing the events.
Saturday after the ceremony at Cedar City, nearly 100 people traveled to see the finished product. The following four photos were provided by Kris Bruington.
This video was shot from a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) military C-130 aircraft operated by Lt Col Todd Davis and his crew as they dropped on the Rockport Fire near Park City Utah, July 25, 2014. You can clearly hear the radio conversations between the lead plane and the other aircraft.
The MAFFS C-130 crew was attempting to land at Hill Air Force Base, Utah after conducting aerial firefighting missions in southern Utah Aug. 17, 2014 when Maj. Jack Berquist, aircraft commander, and George, co-pilot, realized the nose landing gear was not functioning properly.
“As we were approaching to land, Maj. Berquist, who was flying, asked for the gear down. After lowering the landing gear we got an unsafe gear indication in the nose,” said George.
The crew stayed in the traffic pattern at Hill and started on their emergency procedures. There are three ways to get the nose landing gear down but none of them worked. They called a Lockheed Martin engineer and test pilot but neither call fixed the problem. The U.S. Forest Service sent a lead plane to see if that pilot could determine what was wrong from flying underneath the aircraft, but again, nothing helped. After more than three hours of circling the airfield, the crew determined they had no other choice but to attempt a landing.
“At that point we said, ‘well, we are out of options, we are just going to land with the nose gear up.’ We called the tower, and they were able to put foam on the runway, that way it would arrest any fire that might start. We ran our checklists again, making sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. Jack Berquist was flying, he did a fantastic job. I don’t think he could’ve done any better. He held the nose up as long as possible and was able to get the nose on the ground in the foam,” said George.
The aircraft came to a stop and the tower let the crew know a small fire started under the nose. The crew shut everything down and egressed to a safe area. The emergency crews on the ground quickly put the fire out.
“The most rewarding thing of the whole day was how well the crew worked together,” said George, who has nearly 1,500 C-130 and more than 3,700 total flight hours. “The navigator was Active Duty, I was a Reservist. The other four crew members were Wyoming Air National Guard. It was very seamless. Everybody knew exactly what to do. MAFFS crews are some of the most highly experienced and best trained crews in the Air Force.”
The efforts by the MAFFS 3 crew resulted in the safe return of six airmen and only minor damage to a $37 million aircraft.
“Other than the fact that there was a mechanical malfunction, which is pretty rare, there was nothing that surprised me about this event. We look for top notch people, we train hard. They tried ‘A,’ they tried ‘B,’ they tried ‘C,’ and they ended up having to do ‘D,'” said Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd AW chief of aerial firefighting. “It all worked, just the way it should have.”
Besides Berquist, Goebel and George, the other crew members were flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Damian Hoffmann, and load masters, Master Sgts. Brandon York and Christian Reese.
Four C-130 wings perform the MAFFS mission, each providing two MAFFS-capable aircraft and the air and ground crews needed to operate them. They are the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard; 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, in Colorado.
The National Transportation Safety Board probable cause report on the June 3, 2012 crash of Tanker 11 concluded that while preparing to drop retardant on the White Rock fire near the Utah/Nevada state line, the flight crewmembers “did not properly compensate for the wind conditions while maneuvering”. The aircraft impacted the ground before it reached the location for the intended drop, causing the death of pilots Todd Tompkins and Ron Chambless.
A photographer got some pictures of the tanker as it was attempting to make the drop (below). It is likely that the pilots jettisoned the retardant when it became obvious they were too low.
The P2V, operated by Neptune Aviation, was about to make its second drop on the fire that day. Shortly before the crash it made a dry run over the target area, then when lining up for the drop on the next pass took a different path, which was lower, and made a wider right turn, according to the report.
The same day that Tanker 11 crashed, another P2V, Tanker 55 operated by Minden, had a mechanical failure and landed at Minden, Nevada with a main landing gear not fully extended. The aircraft was heavily damaged, but there were no serious injuries. The landing was recorded on video.
On June 26, 2010 air tanker 44, a P2V operated by Neptune Aviation also experienced a hydraulic failure upon landing, had no brakes, and went off the runway at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JeffCo) in Colorado (map). Both pilots self-evacuated and were walking around when the fire apparatus arrived to put out a fire in one of the engines. Neptune repaired the aircraft and put it back into service.
The NTSB released a nine-page Factual Report on the crash of Tanker 11. Below is the complete text of the one-page probable cause report, released September 24, 2014:
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Sunday, June 03, 2012 in Modena, UT
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/24/2014
Aircraft: LOCKHEED P2V-7, registration: N14447
Injuries: 2 Fatal.
NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this public aircraft accident report.
Tanker 11 departed the tanker base to conduct its second fire retardant drop of the day in the same location. Upon arriving in the fire traffic area, Tanker 11 followed the lead airplane into the drop zone, which was located in a shallow valley 0.4 mile wide and 350 feet deep. The lead airplane flew a shallow right turn onto final and then dropped to an altitude of 150 feet above the valley floor while approaching the intended drop zone. While making the right turn onto final behind the lead airplane, Tanker 11’s right wing tip collided with terrain, which resulted in a rapid right yaw and subsequent impact with terrain. The wreckage created a 1,088-foot-long debris field, and a postimpact fire ensued.
Two witnesses took photographs of the accident sequence photos, and an examination of these photographs showed that the lead airplane was positioned ahead of the tanker throughout the flight; however, the orientation of the lead airplane compared to the orientation of Tanker 11 indicated that Tanker 11 did not directly follow the lead airplane’s path to the final drop course. Rather, it was about 700 feet left of the lead airplane’s path and made a wider right turn as it attempted to align with the final drop course. The accident flight crewmembers had previously flown nearly the same exact drop and the lead pilot cautioned them about tailwind conditions during the flight; however, the wider turn suggests that they did not properly compensate for the wind conditions while maneuvering. In addition, the previous flight was conducted at an altitude above the ridgeline. GPS evidence indicates that the accident flight was conducted below the ridgeline, which would have made it more difficult to detect the rising terrain during the wider turn. A review of the airplane’s cockpit voice recorder audio information revealed that the flight crew did not recognize or attempt to correct the reduced clearance between Tanker 11 and the rising terrain until about 2 seconds before impact.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The flight crew’s misjudgment of terrain clearance while maneuvering for an aerial application run, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain. Contributing to the accident was the flight crew’s failure to follow the lead airplane’s track and to effectively compensate for the tailwind condition while maneuvering.
One of the military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 air tankers experienced a hard landing Sunday. The crew detected a potential malfunction with the nose landing gear and executed an emergency landing at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah. Upon landing at 2:53 MDT, there was a small fire and the aircraft, designated as MAFFS 3, sustained damage, but there were no injuries, according to the United States Northern Command.
The Fox 13 TV station in Salt Lake City reported that the air tanker was scheduled to “refuel and resupply” at Ogden when the problem was first detected.
Greg Brubaker sent us the photo below. He said he noticed the aircraft was flying in the area for over an hour and he observed that the nose gear was not visible.
In the photo, the doors that cover the nose gear appear to be partially, but not fully open. Click on the photo to see a larger version.
On July 19, two MAFFS C-130s, MAFFS 1 and 3, from the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard in Cheyenne were activated to assist with the firefighting effort and have been deployed ever since, working out of Boise and other bases while rotating fresh crews in and out.
There have been three other hard landing incidents involving privately owned contract air tankers with failed landing gear or brakes since 2010. No injuries were reported in these accidents:
2010, June 26: Neptune’s Tanker 44, a P2V, experienced a hydraulic failure upon landing, had no brakes, and went off the runway at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JeffCo) in Colorado.
2012, June 3: One of the main landing gears did not lower and lock on Minden’s Tanker 55, a P2V. The aircraft landed at Minden, Nevada and slid off the runway.
2014, June 15: Minden’s Tanker 48, a P2V, experienced a hydraulic failure, resulting in the nose gear collapsing while it landed at Fresno, California.
On July 1, 2012 a MAFFS C-130 air tanker, MAFFS #7 operated by the North Carolina National Guard crashed. The accident occurred July 1, 2012 as the aircraft was attempting to drop retardant on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota. There were four fatalities.
This video was shot from Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) 3 as Lt. Col. Todd Davis and his crew dropped retardant on the Rockport Fire near Park City, Utah, July 25, 2014. Lt. Col. Davis and the lead plane pilot can be heard discussing where the drop should go to most effectively assist the firefighters on the ground.