P2V gets stuck in the muddy prairie near Greybull, WY

In moving a retired P2V aircraft from the boneyard area at the Greybull, Wyoming airport to the nearby air tanker museum, it got stuck in the soft ground last weekend. Their plans are to let it sit there until either the soil dries out or the ground freezes.

More information about this new addition to the museum.

A passerby stops at the air tanker museum in Greybull

Above: Tanker 127, a PB4Y-2, at the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting, Greybull, WY. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The classic air tankers parked next to the rest stop on highway 20/14/16 just west of Greybull, Wyoming look incongruous sitting in the weeds. Most people drive on by the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting, but Zach Bowman didn’t — he wrote about the retired Hawkins & Powers aircraft for Yahoo News. Here are some excerpts from his article:

We see them from the road, a scattering of old birds, their fuselages bright under the Wyoming sun. Their liveries are simple. Just a few splashes of blood orange on cowl and wing tip, the rest left to bare and brilliant aluminum. We don’t know what they are, or why they’re so close to the road, nosed up to a rest area like big, gleaming cows at a trough. Brandon comes over the CB:

“Do you want to go back and check it out?”

The answer should be, “No.” We’ve strung a week’s worth of long days together, pushing hard for the west coast, and spent most of the morning tending to necessaries in Ten Sleep. We’re barely an hour down the road, and we’ve got plenty more ground to cover before the day’s over.

“Absolutely,” is what I say.

[…]

Standing there among what’s left, most of it privately owned and on loan to the museum, it’s hard not to feel a pang. For a second, these planes were still in the air. Not parked and rotting. Not cut up for scrap. Working, as they were built to do. Not destroying the world beneath their wide wings, but preserving it. Not taking men’s lives, but buying them precious seconds. Enough to evacuate a home or dig a fire line. Enough to matter.

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

Update on USFS HC-130H’s and other air tankers

four CL-415 cody wy
Four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Some of them had been working the nearby Whit Fire and scooping out of Buffalo Bill Reservoir six miles from the fire. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

Ten additional air tankers brought on temporarily

In the last few weeks the U.S. Forest Service has brought on ten additional air tankers on a temporary basis. This includes CL-415 water-scoopers, CV-580’s, and Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130’s. Two of the aircraft were acquired through Call When Needed (CWN) agreements; four via agreements with Alaska and Canada; two MAFFS through an agreement with the Department of Defense; and two water scoopers through other contracts.

HC-130H’s

The U.S. Forest Service expects to have two HC-130H aircraft at McClellan Air Field in September. These are part of the seven aircraft fleet of HC-130H’s that the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard.

Tanker 118
Tanker 118, an HC-130H, at McClellan Airport. Photo by Jon Wright, July 25, 2015.

Last year one of the HC-130H’s worked out of McClellan using a MAFFS, a slip-in 3,000-gallon pressurized retardant system that pumps the liquid out the left side troop door. That was aircraft #1721 designated as Tanker 118, still painted in military colors. T-118 is now undergoing scheduled depot-level maintenance and should be replaced in September of this year by #1708 designated as Tanker 116. It will also use a slip-in MAFFS unit, one of the eight owned by the USFS, but should be sporting a new USFS air tanker paint job. After T-118 left, another former Coast Guard aircraft took its place, #1706. It is being used for training the contracted pilots and will not serve as an air tanker.

Early in 2015 the plan was to have two HC-130H’s at McClellan. One would be used as an air tanker, and the second would be used as a training platform. Below is a portion of that early 2015 plan which we covered February 9, 2015.

Forest Service C-130H schedule
The USFS plans in early 2015 for incorporating the seven HC-130H aircraft into a Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated fleet of air tankers. Click to enlarge.

Eventually the USFS hopes to have all seven converted to air tankers with removable retardant tanks. A contract for the installation of the retardant delivery systems was awarded to the Coulson Group in May. There is also much other work that has to be completed on the aircraft including programmed depot maintenance, painting, and wing box replacement on most of them. The work is being done or coordinated by the U.S. Air Force. They were directed by Congressional legislation to use their own funds, up to $130 million, so it is no surprise that the schedule keeps slipping as delays continue to occur in awarding contracts and scheduling the maintenance.

In 2014 Tom Tidwell, Chief of the USFS, said all seven aircraft would be completely converted by 2018. In early 2015 the USFS changed that to 2019. Now, a year and a half later, it’s anybody’s guess when or if this project that started in December of 2013 will be finished.

CL-415’s

The USFS has two water-scooping CL-415 air tankers on exclusive use contract. As noted above they recently temporarily brought on two more on a call when needed basis. All four are operated by AeroFlite and as seen in the photo above were together at Cody last week.

Air Spray

There was some discussion in the comment section of another article on Fire Aviation about the status of the BAe-146 aircraft being converted to air tankers by Air Spray. The company has five of the 146’s; two are out of the country and the other three are at the company’s Chico, California facility. Ravi Saip, their Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told Fire Aviation that they expect to begin flight testing one of them in air tanker mode around the first of the year. After they receive a supplemental type certificate from the FAA, work on the second one would shift into high gear. Then conversion of the other three would begin.

T-241
Air Spray’s T-241 finishing its amphibious conversion at the Wipaire facility in Minnesota. Air Spray photo.

Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 single engine air tankers that they have purchased since 2014. Five of them have received the amphibious conversion by adding floats, and the other three are stock, restricted to wheels.

Air Spray’s Tanker 498, an L-188 Electra, is currently in Sacramento being inspected and carded by CAL FIRE so that it can be used in a Call When Needed capacity.

747 SuperTanker

Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, told us that the FAA has awarded a supplemental type certificate for their reborn 747 SuperTanker — a major and sometimes very difficult barrier to overcome. Within the next two weeks they expect to receive the airworthiness certificate.

air tanker 747 T-944 colorado springs
T-944 at Colorado Springs May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Beginning next week representatives from the USFS will observe some additional static tests and then there will be an airborne descent test, a new test added in 2013, releasing retardant in a downhill drop. That test was not required when Version 1.0 of the 747 was certified. It may have been added after it was discovered that the first BAe-146’s that were converted and issued contracts still retained hundreds of gallons of retardant after downhill runs.

These steps should take less than two weeks, Mr. Wheeler said, after which they will submit the results to the Interagency AirTanker Board.

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told Fire Aviation that the company was offered an opportunity to submit a proposal for a call when needed contract solicitation in 2015, along with numerous other companies, but declined to do so. Their next opportunity to obtain a contract will be when another general solicitation is issued in 2017, or perhaps sooner, Ms. Jones said. The agency issued a Request for Information a few weeks ago, which is usually followed some months later with an actual solicitation.

Judging from the list of CWN air tankers with contracts, apparently it is possible to submit a proposal and receive a USFS CWN contract even if the aircraft exists mostly on paper and could be years away from being FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board certified.

In the meantime Mr. Wheeler realizes that the USFS is not the only organization that hires air tankers and has been talking with a number of other agencies in various states and countries as well as companies involved in marine firefighting.

Global SuperTanker is in the process of finishing repairs on the 747 in Arizona after some of the composite flight control surfaces (flaps, spoilers, elevators) and engine cowlings were damaged by golf ball sized hail at Colorado Springs several weeks ago. There was no windscreen or fuselage damage.

Mr. Wheeler said that was the first severe hailstorm within the last seven years at the Colorado Springs airport. But, after the aircraft left to be repaired in Arizona a second hailstorm struck the airport that some have said was a 100-year event and did much more damage than the first one.

Permanent base for the HC-130H air tankers

On September 2, 2015 the USFS formally requested information from facilities that could support the seven-aircraft HC-130H fleet (Solicitation Number SN-2015-16), with responses due September 16. The agency was only asking for information from interested parties, and will not award a contract based on the Request for Information. A few politicians fell all over themselves arguing that the aircraft should be based in their state.

Since then no decisions have been made. Ms. Jones told Fire Aviation:

The U.S. Forest Service continues to cooperate with the Department of Defense to identify potential federal facilities, which must be considered first.

It is unlikely that more than one or two of the seven HC-130H’s would be at the new base at at any one time, except during the winter when they would not have to be dispersed around the country to be available for firefighting. While the base might not be a huge expansion of the aerial firefighting capabilities in an area, the stationing of the flight crews, maintenance, and administrative personnel would be a boost to the economy of a small or medium-sized city.

Worker on helicopter installs hardware on powerline

Yesterday while traveling down US Highway 16 in eastern Wyoming near Osage I saw a helicopter hovering near the top of a powerline pole. There was crewman standing on a skid who appeared to be installing hardware.

The helicopter, a McDonnell Douglas 369E, is registered to Winco Powerline Services. The company “provides a complete range of both helicopter-assisted and traditional electric transmission line construction and maintenance services”, including “specialized wire stringing, line maintenance and repair operations”.

Sky Aviation’s CH-46 on the Lava Mountain Fire

Sky Aviation purchased four CH-46 helicopters in 2015.

Sky Aviation CH-46E
Sky Aviation’s CH-46E at the Lava Mountain Fire

Alyssa Gaulke of Sky Aviation sent us some photos of one of their CH-46E that is assigned on the Lava Mountain Fire 17 air miles northwest of Dubois, Wyoming — and we found more at their Facebook page.

This CH-46E is one of four that the Worland, Wyoming-based company acquired last year.

Sky Aviation CH-46E
Sky Aviation’s CH-46E at the Lava Mountain Fire
Sky Aviation CH-46E
Sky Aviation’s CH-46E. A screen grab from a video on the company’s Facebook page posted about a month ago.

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

Wyoming politicians ask USFS to base HC-130H tankers in their state

MAFFS air tanker at Cheyenne, Wyoming
A Wyoming Air National Guard C-130 MAFFS air tanker during annual training at Cheyenne, Wyoming, May 7, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Representative and the two Senators from Wyoming have asked the U.S. Forest service to base their seven-aircraft fleet of HC-130H air tankers in the state. Cheyenne and Greybull were two airports suggested by the politicians as possible locations for the aircraft that are in the process of being converted into air tankers after being discarded by the Coast Guard.

Below is an excerpt from an AP article:

The Cheyenne airport and the airport in Greybull, in particular, are eager to have the HC-130H search-and-rescue/reconnaissance planes the Forest Service has begun acquiring from the U.S. Coast Guard, Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis wrote Tuesday to U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Robert Bonnie.

At the airport in Greybull, B&G Industries LLC has a new runway and a hangar facility with room for two aircraft, the delegation wrote.

Cheyenne Regional Airport has a move-in-ready facility and can offer the government fuel incentives and cost-sharing in snow removal and de-icing, they added.

“We ask that you consider all viable Wyoming facilities in your search for a long-term facility for the Forest Service aircraft,” they wrote…

On September 2, 2015 the USFS formally requested information from facilities that could support the seven-aircraft fleet (Solicitation Number SN-2015-16), with responses due September 16. The agency was only asking for information from interested parties, and will not award a contract based on the Request for Information.

Below is an excerpt from the RFI:

The USFS would like to analyze current and potential air tanker bases to determine infrastructure capabilities and deficiencies, specifically the adequacy of airtanker base design, airtanker base operations, geographic/range efficiency, and airtanker base personnel staffing, qualifications and training regarding the utilization of commercial grade jet aircraft as “Next Generation” Airtankers. Part of the assessment will include travel to the air tanker bases, interviews with key stakeholders, review of Agency handbooks and Operational guides, providing recommendations and cost estimates (for improvements).

It is unlikely that more than one or two of the seven HC-130s would be at the new base at at any one time, except during the winter when they would not have to be dispersed around the country to be available for firefighting.

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

Sky Aviation’s CH-46E

CH-46

Sky Aviation, based in Worland, Wyoming, posted this message June 24, 2014 on their Facebook page:

Sky Aviation purchased four CH-46 helicopters and this week, we are taking official possession of them in Tucson! Stay tuned for pictures. At least one will be transformed immediately into civilian paint. We are hoping to support both fire fighting and construction with our Phrogs.

In June 2014 they flew one of them to Sabreliner Aviation in Perryville, Missouri to begin the demilitarization of the aircraft.

And on April 9, 2015:

Sky Aviation's CH-46.
Sky Aviation’s CH-46E getting the final touches in the paint booth. Photo by Sky Aviation.

 

Wyoming Air Guard prepares for another MAFFS season

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The sweat droplets on the faces of the Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems crew members were in a tight race to hit their jaw line and fall to the floor of the flight deck.

MAFFS
Master Sgt. Kevan Johnson, 153rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Cheyenne, Wyo., prepares to load a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Firefighting System II onto a Wyoming Air National Guard C-130, June 24, 2012. The Wyoming Air National Guard MAFFS unit has been activated to support the Rocky Mountain area fires, they will base out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo by Staff Sgt. Natalie Stanley.

The crew had flown this mission hundreds of times, but this flight was different. The flight deck on the C-130H aircraft was overwhelmingly stuffy as Maj. Jack Berquist informed his crew that their landing gear was malfunctioning – something that has never happened on a MAFFS mission or in the unit itself.

Moments after dropping slurry on fires in Utah last August, the crew circled the skies, hoping to land at Hill Air Force Base as they troubleshot the nose gear malfunction. As they prepped for an emergency landing, Berquist aimed the aircraft toward the foam that had been sprayed on the runway and landed, skidding hundreds of feet to the resonance of aircraft metal skidding on concrete, where the aircraft finally came to a stop.

All six aircrew members walked away without injury and only minor damage was sustained to the $37 million aircraft.

Less than a year later, today, the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard, is preparing to fly MAFFS for its 30th year.

The wing has flown the MAFFS mission since 1975; last year was the only major mishap the wing had while flying MAFFS. In fact, since the inception of the MAFFS program in 1970, the only significant accident occurred in July 2012, when a C-130 from the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard, went down in the Black Hills National Forest near Edgemont, South Dakota, tragically killing four airmen and wounding two others.

“Being involved in MAFFS is some of the most challenging, yet rewarding flying our crew members will ever be involved in,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jack Goeken, loadmaster supervisor at the 153rd Airlift Wing who has been flying the MAFFS mission for 23 years. “We are inside the rear of the aircraft and can’t visually see the terrain that we will be flying through while we are running our checklists and arming the system for the drops.

“You have to trust everyone on the crew to communicate quickly and effectively to accomplish the mission in a difficult flying environment.”

MAFFS units are portable fire retardant delivery systems that can slide into military C-130 aircraft to convert the transports into airtankers. The unit can hold 3,000 gallons of slurry which can be incrementally dropped or totally emptied in less than five seconds to cover an area a quarter of a mile long by 60 feet wide.

As one of four MAFFS-equipped military units across the nation, the 153rd is responsible for providing 25 percent of the Department of Defense’s MAFFS capability.

MAFFS also highlights the interagency coordination between the U.S. Forest Service and the DOD as the USFS owns the MAFFS equipment and supplies the fire retardant, while the DOD provides the C-130 aircraft, aircrew and aircraft maintainers.

“The Department of Defense is an important partner in wildland fire suppression,” said Robin Patterson, MAFFS liaison officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “The military C-130s that convert into airtankers provide the local, state and federal government agencies that suppress wildland fires with a surge capacity. This capacity is very important during the ‘shoulder seasons’ of late fall and early spring as well as during periods of high fire activity in the summer months. Airtankers are especially important in initial attack, or the early stages of responding to a wildfire, because they can help firefighters on the ground suppress fires while they are still small and keep them from growing into large, dangerous and costly fires.”

The annually-certified crews who fly the arduous MAFFS mission are highly experienced, averaging more than 3,500 flight hours in each aircrew position while also undergoing additional classroom instruction and flight training.

This year the commander for the Air Expeditionary Group, which oversees the MAFFS mission’s operations, is a pilot from the Wyoming Air National Guard. Col. Scott Sanders, who has been flying for 22 years, and has been MAFFS-qualified for six.

“The MAFFS mission is, in fact, very safe,” Sanders said. “However, every crew understands they must respect the performance limitations of the aircraft, maintain situational awareness of the fire activity, the terrain and the weather, and strictly adhere to published guidance, to ensure safety and mission success.”

In 2012 and 2013, Wyoming’s own MAFFS 1 and 3, flew almost 260 flight hours, on 166 sorties involving 54 incidents in nine states while dropping 732,575 gallons of retardant, providing one-fifth of the total support during these two seasons.

“MAFFS is by far the most challenging mission we fly here at the 187th Airlift Squadron,” said Chief Master Sgt. Raymond Arnold, flight engineer supervisor who has flown MAFFS for 27 years.

“Flying in mountainous terrain, unstable air and poor visibility added with flying low, slow and heavy requires great skill from the crews. With that said, MAFFS is on every C-130 operator’s wish list of missions to fly,” he said.

As the 153rd ramps up for their annual MAFFS training in May, the crews also hope they don’t have to utilize their skills and training this summer because that means that wildfires are actively burning somewhere. However, they take immense pride in doing so as past precedence has proven flying the mission saves those things whose worth cannot be measured: Wildlife, forests and homes.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to actively lead a mission that’s so vital to saving lives and infrastructure,” Sanders said.