Fire Traffic Area, September 24, 2022

San Diego County Sheriff helicopter drops on a wildfire
San Diego County Sheriff helicopter 12 drops on a wildfire in Oceanside, CA June 29, 2022. Photo by Ryan Grothe.

Today we are continuing an occasional weekend feature called Fire Traffic Area. This post serves as the beginning of an open thread where readers can leave comments about issues not yet covered — or maybe they have been covered. This is literally an off-topic thread. What do you think needs to be pointed out, asked, or discussed within the fire aviation community? You have the floor.

The usual rules about commenting apply. And remember, no personal attacks or politics, please.

De Havilland to build large aircraft manufacturing complex east of Calgary, Alberta

They will produce the DHC-515 water scooping air tanker, DHC-6 Twin Otter, and Dash 8-400 (Q400)

Artist concept of De Havilland Field
Artist concept of De Havilland Field, with construction scheduled to be begin in 2023. De Havilland image.

In a discussion Wednesday about the numerous massive wildfires in France this year, and what that may portend for fire seasons to come, Gérald Moussa Darmanin, Minister of the Interior, said, “We want to increase the number of Canadair [water scooping air tankers] in our own fleet from twelve to sixteen. But the problem is not to buy them, it is to produce them. Today there are no longer any factories that do so.”

France is also in the process of replacing their S-2 air tankers with six Dash 8-400 (Q400) air tankers.

The De Havilland CL-215 and CL-415 water scooping air tankers are no longer in production. But in March the company announced that a new modernized variant, the DHC-515, first teased in 2018, will be assembled in Calgary, Alberta with deliveries beginning by the middle of the decade.

De Havilland has facilities in Calgary where work on the existing CL-215, CL- 415, and CL-415 EAF aircraft currently takes place employing about 1,000 people at six buildings.

Introduction of De Havilland Field
Introduction of the planned construction of De Havilland Field, September 21, 2022. De Havilland photo.

The same day Mr. Darmanin said production of new firefighting air tankers is not occurring, De Havilland made a grand announcement at the Calgary airport. The company has acquired nearly 1,500 acres of land east of the city on which they expect to build a very extensive complex of aircraft manufacturing facilities. It will include a runway and will be known as De Havilland Field with construction beginning as early as 2023 with the first buildings operational by 2025.

“De Havilland Field, like Rome — I have to warn you — won’t be built in a day. We anticipate the full build-out will take somewhere between 10 and 15 years,” said company co-owner Sherry Brydson. “We’re planning to take it slowly and seriously, and we’re going to make sure it works.”

The company expects to employ 1,500 workers to produce at least three lines of aircraft — DHC-515, DHC-6 Twin Otter, and Dash 8-400 (Q400).

Work on the Twin Otter and Dash 8-400 paused at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

In February, the company announced the consolidation of Viking Air, Longview Aviation, Pacific Sky Training, and De Havilland Canada under the operating brand De Havilland Aircraft of Canada.

The European Union coordinates and funds the deployment of 12 fixed wing firefighting airplanes and one helicopter pooled by EU countries. We reported in July that the EU plans to purchase additional air tankers.

“European customers have signed letters of intent to purchase the first 22 aircraft pending the positive outcome of government-to-government negotiations through the Government of Canada’s contracting agency, the Canadian Commercial Corporation,” an announcement from De Havilland read. “De Havilland Canada expects first deliveries of the DHC-515 by the middle of the decade, with deliveries of additional aircraft to begin at the end of the decade, providing other customers the opportunity to renew existing fleets or proceed with new acquisition opportunities at that time.”

Firefighting helicopter crashes in Turkey killing two

The Interior Ministry of Turkey reported that two people were killed and five were injured when a firefighting helicopter crashed as it was en route to the Turkish port of Marmaris.

Personnel on the helicopter included two Russians and five Turkish citizens but the ministry did not give the nationalities of the deceased.

An official at the General Directorate of Forestry told journalists the helicopter had flown in from the northern province of Kastamonu to join others at Marmaris, a resort town on the Aegean Sea.

No cause was given for the crash which occurred in a field in the Çardak district, Denizli province.

The helicopter may have intended to assist with a large wind-driven fire in the Yalancıboğaz area of Marmaris. On Wednesday aircraft working on the blaze included 15 helicopters and 8 fixed wing aircraft assisting 500 firefighters on the ground. The fire is near a naval base which prompted the response of military personnel and equipment to assist in suppression.

Aviation Safety Network reports the helicopter was a Kamov Ka-32 operated by Avialift. It had departed from Kastamonu en route to Marmaris. Helicopter crash, Turkey, Sept 21, 2022


We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the deceased and injured.

Portugal to purchase six firefighting-capable Blackhawk helicopters

Blackhawk helicopter
Blackhawk helicopter. Photo by Arista Aviation Services.

The Portuguese Air Force has signed an agreement to purchase six Blackhawk helicopters outfitted for fighting wildfires. The aircraft will be supplied by Arista Aviation Services, a US-based firm which specialises in modernising surplus US Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

Delivery of the first two is scheduled for the first quarter of 2023.

The contract includes the supply of material and tools, plus technical maintenance support until 2026 and training for six pilots and 21 mechanics. The UH-60 Black Hawk will allow transport of 12 firefighters and their equipment and has the capacity to carry up to 780 gallons of water.

The Expresso publication reported that the terms of the contract allow for the helicopters to be up to 35 years old. While age of the body of the ships may be measured in decades, it is possible that the helicopters have been modernized with recent technology.

In recent years a number of agencies in the United States have purchased new S-70i Blackhawks, which are given the “Firehawk” name after adding a 1,000-gallon (3,785-liter) water tank system, a raised landing gear (to accommodate the tank), and associated integrated avionics — a process that typically takes six months.

But some agencies go the UH-60 route, taking a former military helicopter and performing a similar conversion to a firefighting machine. Ventura County Fire Department in California is an example.

When I was in Portugal in 2012 working on a fire consulting project, the aerial firefighting capabilities of the country were very, very limited. There was no significant air tanker fleet or a system for providing aerial platforms for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. A problem that confronted firefighters on a large fire was not knowing exactly where the fire was or how far it had spread, which made ordering evacuations a challenge.

Ka-32 helicopter Portugal
Kamov Ka-32A on standby at Loulé heliport in Portugal. Photo by Bill Gabbert August 29, 2012.

In 2006 the government spent €348 million to buy six Kamov Ka-32A helicopters which could transport personnel and drop water, but over the last 10 years have had difficulty keeping them airworthy. In January none of the six were operational. The Helicopter Investor reported that in April the Portuguese government expelled a team of Russian mechanics working on three of the Kamovs, and shut down the hangar in Ponte de Sor where the maintenance crew was working.

Embraer C-390 equipped with MAFFS II
Embraer C-390 equipped with a MAFFS II. Embraer photo.

Portugal was Embraer’s first export customer for the C-390 fixed wing aircraft when it ordered five in 2019 for $930 million. Recently Embraer has successfully completed the flight test certification campaign for the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS II), which provides the C-390 with the ability to drop up to 3,000 gallons water or retardant on wildfires.

Embraer tests the C-390 with a MAFFS II retardant delivery system

Embraer C-390 equipped with MAFFS II
Embraer C-390 equipped with a MAFFS II. Embraer photo.

Embraer has successfully completed the flight test certification campaign for the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS II), which provides the C-390 Millennium with the ability to drop water or retardant on wildfires. The tests were carried out at the Embraer facility in Gavião Peixoto, São Paulo State, in Brazil. After full certification, the firefighting capability will be available to the aircraft’s operators.

The MAFFS II can discharge up to 3,000 gallons. It is designed to interface with the aircraft’s Cargo Handling System and requires only aircraft power to operate. The conclusion of these tests, which included several in-flight water drops, proved the system’s ability to integrate with the aircraft, and demonstrated suitable aspects of flight quality and maneuverability at low speeds.

When the first C-390 or KC-390 rolled out of the factory in 2014 and had not yet completed its first flight, Embraer was comparing it to the American-built C-130, saying it would be multi-role, including serving as an air tanker. Their web site included an artist’s conception of the aircraft outfitted with a first generation MAFFS, with two nozzles exiting through the open rear cargo ramp. The MAFFS II pumps the water or retardant out the troop door on the left side, as seen in the recent photos from Embraer.

KC-390 air tanker
Embraer had this image on their website in 2014, showing an artists conception of the new KC-390 dropping on a wildfire. It is now known as the C-390.

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

How big does a short haul site need to be?

short haul extrication site
Example of a location that could serve as a short haul extrication site. (From the Rapid Lesson Sharing report)

While extricating an injured firefighter last month the firefighters on the ground were not sure how large a clearing was needed in order for a helicopter short haul rescue.

Short haul means moving people suspended from a helicopter on ropes or cable from the rescue location to some place where they can be safely unhooked from the rope or cable. The helicopter can land and the people who were unhooked are moved inside the helicopter to continue the flight.

A Rapid Lesson Sharing report was completed, along with a video. Here is the text, followed by the video:

Do You know what a Short-Haul Site Looks Like?

On August 10, 2022, Collin Hagan was struck by a tree while working to suppress the Big Swamp fire in central Oregon. Collin’s crew immediately requested short-haul. Crews hurriedly improved potential sites by falling trees and cutting brush to varying degrees but said they weren’t sure what was actually necessary for a short-haul site. When the helicopter arrived overhead, the short-haul crew noted that although Collin was in an unimproved site, it was suitable for extrication and moving Collin to the improved site was not necessary.

The short-haul crew described characteristics of a potential short-haul site:

Generally, zero improvement is required to perform a short-haul. With the right flight conditions, we need an opening in the canopy, about the size of a Volkswagen bug. If the terrain is steep, excavating a platform can make it easier once we’re on ground to package and depart smoothly with the patient.

The purpose of this learning product is to provide the field a general reference for what a short-haul site could be. Always remember that final site approval is ultimately up to the helicopter pilot and crew. An in-depth narrative from the perspective of the participants and other lessons learned are forthcoming as part of the Big Swamp Serious Accident Investigation.

The final narrative will be posted at:

Helicopter working on Fairview Fire crashes near Banning, California

The three on board sustained moderate injuries

Helicopter crash, Fairview Fire, Sept. 10, 2022
Helicopter crash, Fairview Fire, Sept. 10, 2022.

A Helicopter working on the Fairview Fire near Hemet, California crashed at about 3:30 p.m. today as it was returning to an airport at Banning. The pilot and two passengers were transported to a local trauma center for treatment of “moderate injuries”, according to fire officials.

The FAA said in a statement that the Bell 206L-1 Long Ranger crashed in a residential backyard while approaching the airport to land. The FAA and the NTSB will investigate.

From the description in the media it appears the helicopter may have been the platform for the Helicopter Coordinator.

The FAA registration number is N242BH.

The Fairview Fire has burned about 28,000 acres, but the spread slowed after rain moved into the area Friday afternoon.

Two military MAFFS air tankers activated to assist firefighters

Lead plane and MAFFS
Lead plane and MAFFS during annual training in Idaho, April, 2020. Still image from AIRAILIMAGES video.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has requested two Department of Defense C-130 aircraft equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) to support wildland firefighting operations in support of NIFC in the northwestern United States. One C-130H from the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing, Reno, Nev., and one C-130J from the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, Port Hueneme, Calif., will arrive at Boise Airport in Idaho today. The aircraft are standing by for flying on behalf of a DoD-approved US Forest Service Request.

“We greatly appreciate the assistance of our military partners,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for operations for the US Forest Service. “These aircraft will help provide additional capacity for aerial firefighting.”

Having military C-130s that can be converted into air tankers provides a critical “surge” capability that can be used to bolster wildfire suppression efforts when commercial air tankers are stretched thin or an inadequate number remain available for initial attack.

Nationally there are 35 large uncontained wildfires that are being managed by 26 Type 1 or 2 incident management teams. As of Friday morning 156 helicopters are committed to fires along with more than 17,000 personnel. The number of contracted large air tankers activated was 23, plus 6 water scooping air tankers, before the 2 MAFFS came on board.

MAFFS air tanker
A C-130 Hercules, equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, drops fire retardant April 27, 2011, above West Texas. MAFFS is capable of dispensing 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)