Southwest Airlines Jet Aborts Landing To Avoid Hitting LAFD Helicopter

The string of near-misses in U.S. airspace continues, this time involving a Southwest Airlines 737 and a fire department helicopter at Hollywood-Burbank Airport in southern California; reported that a SWA flight on Saturday aborted its landing to avoid a collision with a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter. SWA flight 353 was on approach for landing at BUR when Air Traffic Control noticed an LAFD Bell 505 helicopter practicing takeoffs and landings — right where the Southwest flight was headed in to land.

NBC Los Angeles reported that just before 10 a.m., a 737 from Phoenix was on approach to Runway 8 for a landing; it was about a mile out when air traffic control noticed the LAFD helicopter doing touch-and-go’s on the same runway. The controller told the helicopter to remain in place and directed the Southwest pilot to go around. Ed Whisenant Aviation has a related video online.

This is yet another incident at Burbank; on January 22 two aircraft were cleared to use the same runway at the same time (a Mesa Airlines CRJ900 operating for American Airlines and a SkyWest Embraer 175 operating for United Airlines). In that incident, an automatic alarm onboard the CRJ900 sounded, which may have prevented a tragedy.

Fire Boss fleet ready for season

Minnesota-based aerial firefighting company Dauntless Air recently announced that it’s starting the 2023 wildfire season with 17 Fire Bosses — nearly double the size of its fleet five years ago. The AT-802F Fire Boss is a water-scooping airtanker equipped with amphibious floats that is purpose-built for aerial firefighting. The company’s Fire Bosses are outfitted with thermal imaging to target hotspots, onboard gel mixing systems, and a custom fire gate to increase water load and match drop pattern to the fire type.

Fire Boss amphibious tanker
Fire Boss amphibious scooping airtanker

When near a water source, the Fire Boss can repeat continuous scoops and drops on a fire for 3½ hours.

The company used nine of its water-scooping planes during its 2-week annual training in Cleburne, Texas. Training involved every person in the company, and pilots new to the Fire Boss logged three times the industry standard for pre-season flight hours, flying roughly 25 hours each solo and with an experienced pilot in the company’s two-seat training aircraft. Company pilots completed 844 scoops and dropped over a half million gallons of water.

Pilots trained on radio communications with an Air Attack platform that flew above a training area; they also practiced initial attack on a simulated fire with the Texas Forest Service (TFS). Dozens of TFS incident commanders, along with a pump truck and dozers, participated in training.

U.S. Hotshot Association (USHA) representatives presented a session on the history of the hotshot community and its ties to aerial firefighting. Aviation Medicine Advisory Service (AMAS) President Quay Snyder led a workshop on pilot fatigue, mental health, and fitness for duty, and other training was conducted by the U.S. Office of Aviation Services (OAS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Montana aims to down drones over fires

New legislation proposed to add criminal penalties for those who fly drones over wildfires and interfere with operations is making progress in Montana. Senate Bill 219 to “revise wildfire suppression laws,” with Democratic Sen. Willis Curdy as its primary sponsor, had its third reading on February 10. The vote was 37 YEA and 10 NAY with 3 other legislators excused.

Senate Bill 219 would designate flying a drone over a wildfire as a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,500 and six months in jail. Those charges could be made in addition to civil penalties, according to the Helena Independent Record.

Curdy described incidents near Helena last year in which drones interfered with firefighting operations and prosecutors said the drone pilots could not be prosecuted. The bill passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee unanimously after an amendment from Republican Sen. Barry Usher that would allow law enforcement to “use reasonable force” to disable a drone — including the authority to shoot down a drone.

Sen. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings cautioned that drone pilots unaware of the law and without the intent to interfere with operations might be unjustly punished, and the law wouldn’t stop all drone incursions into restricted airspace.

“We work really hard to fly safely,” Curdy told the Senate Natural Resources Committee. “We work really hard to keep our firefighters safe on the ground, and I think this bill’s intention is to move it in that direction.”

The Independent Record also noted that federal law prohibits interfering with firefighting aircraft, but this bill is specific to state and county jurisdiction. It has drawn universal support from firefighters and law enforcement personnel, who cited numerous incidents in which drones have required suspension of aviation operations, including incidents last year on both the Matt Staff Road fire east of Helena and the late summer fire on Mount Helena.

USFS graphic

Matthew Hall, fire protection bureau chief with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said that on the Mount Helena incident, six aircraft were working to keep the fire from residential areas when a drone was spotted.

“Because of the life-safety impacts drones pose to low-flying aircraft, the aerial initial attack operations were immediately suspended,” he said. “Not only was this a significant risk to aviators, but it severely limited our capabilities in fire suppression when they were needed most.”

Aerial Fire Magazine reported that Sen. Curdy is a former wildland firefighter and air attack supervisor; his facebook profile notes he spent 38 years as a wildland firefighter, 30 as a smokejumper — with additional creds as Former Pilot, Light Fixed Wing Manager, and Supervisory Pilot at U.S. Forest Service.

Lockheed looks ahead to advancing capability in wildland firefighting

James Taiclet, CEO of Lockheed Martin, says “21st Century Security” means that large defense contractors can quickly deliver mission-focused defense capabilities to complex problems outside the traditional defense sphere. Taiclet is focusing on wildland fire, addressing the tough challenges recently highlighted by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Lockheed Martin has considerable expertise as an integrator of complex technologies, but the company is oriented toward selling big things to a small number of big federal customers. Lockheed’s now shifting to focus on developing systems for big markets like F-35 Lightning II fighter jets or naval combat systems, while firefighting represents the civil component of the 21st Century Security initiative. But as Forbes recently reported, the wildfire marketplace offers no simple route to a big sale.

“Wildfire is one of the toughest national challenges in America,” wrote Craig Hooper, senior contributor at Forbes. “Chronically underfunded, subjected to brutal operating conditions and operating under the constant specter of death, wildfire fighters have little time for gimmicks, ineffective gear, and wasted funds. It is a no-nonsense business, with buyers scattered throughout local, state, and federal governments. If something doesn’t work or is too costly, America’s wildland firefighters won’t buy it.”

On February 13 detailed the federal Wildland Fire Commission’s first report to Congress, which focused on the aviation sector after the federal legislation creating the commission prioritized aerial firefighting as key.

HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 Anaheim helicopter Firehawk
San Diego Fire Rescue’s Firehawk at HAI 2020, January 2020 photo by Bill Gabbert.

“We’re sitting at a point now where we can actually predict where fires might start, and start moving assets there,” said Taiclet. In a joint project with NVIDIA, Lockheed is working with the USFS and the Colorado Division of Fire to use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict and simulate fire behavior. Lockheed’s Cognitive Mission Manager system will integrate a range of sensor- and AI-informed inputs to recommend courses of action. Ultimately, says Taiclet, these would feed into “things that we make that actually do fight fires today.” Those things include the Sikorsky FIREHAWK® helicopter and C-130 airtankers.

“The Department of Defense is only beginning to engage America’s wildfire fighting community,” wrote Hooper for Forbes. “Lockheed has sufficient access to Pentagon decision-makers that the company could, essentially, write up the Defense Department’s strategy for supporting civil authorities during wildfire season, setting the foundation for a national-level NORAD-like early wildfire detection and response capability.”

Aerial Firefighters Association to promote safety, standards, innovation

The launch of the United Aerial Firefighters Association adds a unified industry voice to help shape changes in fire aviation practices, policies and funding.

As noted in their launch release on February 16, the UAFA was founded in “an effort to respond to the ever-growing wildfire challenge” and unites “leading aerial firefighting companies … to form a powerful industry association that will serve to foster safety and standardization in the aerial firefighting community.”

United Aerial Firefighters Association

The UAFA identifies as “the only association dedicated to aerial firefighting and is a unified voice advocating for safety and standardization on the local, state, and federal levels.” Membership is open to those who own, operate or lease wildland firefighting aviation assets, and companies supporting the aerial firefighting industry. Additionally, free memberships will be available to nonprofits and state and national agencies engaged in the wildfire community.

“We’ve seen tremendous change occur in wildland fire aviation over the last twenty years,” says John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, who is one of the founding members as well as the UAFA’s first president. “As we look ahead, these challenges will only become more significant. While individual organizations within the industry will always be competitive, we believe the collective expertise represented within UAFA membership will help to ensure our industry continues to grow with the innovation, safety, and standardization necessary to deliver the best service possible to our customers.”

The UAFA’s entry into policy and planning occurs at an opportune moment. With the initial report on fire aviation released this week by the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, the need and value of a focused industry-expert voice becomes more apparent. Though the phrase “private aviation” only occurred three times in the commission’s report, some variation of “contract,” “contracting” or “contractor” appeared 132 times, including in the second recommendation: “Efforts should be made to include contractor perspectives in any future strategy development given that, at this time, the majority of aviation resources in the federal fleet are owned and operated by contractors.”

And in the third recommendation: ”A national strategy should consider all ownership models, including contracting and government ownership of aviation resources.”

Recommendations 5, 6 and 7 focus specifically on the contracting and financing of fire aviation, all seeking to resolve an interconnected set of concerns summarized in Finding 4: “Agencies’ current budget structures and contracting constraints have incentivized the use of contracts that are seasonal, shorter term, and, while incorporating best value considerations, ultimately favor short-term budget expediency over long-term value.”

(For more on the Commission, see “First Wildland Fire Commission report focuses on aviation” in Wildfire Today.)

As Gould observed in an interview with Wildfire Today/Fire Aviation, the initiative for founding the UAFA preceded the Wildland Fire Commission – so board members were able to meet with the commission and “were gratified to see that some of the points we discussed made it in to the report,” even though the UAFA was still in its founding phase.

“It’s the right time, right place” for the industry to come together, Gould said. While many of the members have met individually in the past with members of Congress and the US Forest Service and related agencies to share their perspectives, they were often asked “what does the industry think? We see the advantages of speaking as a single voice, a unified voice. We realized that within our individual companies we have an expertise and experience yet there’s nobody that really speaks for our industry, to get the messages to our customers and to the Hill.”

UAFA has opened an office in Washington, D.C., and is planning to hire an executive director this spring. One of their first charges will be “to discuss what our organization can do. The breadth of experience you find in UAFA reaches back into into 20, 30 years of experience and innovation. And innovation comes in a lot of forms, so the challenge is how do you integrate it into fire … with the association, we bring experience across all aspects of innovation, safety and standards.”

Founding UAFA board members include:

  • President: John Gould, 10Tanker
  • Vice President: Bart Brainerd, Firehawk Helicopters
  • Secretary/Treasurer: Brett L’Esperance, Dauntless Air
  • Director: Tim Sheehy, Bridger Aerospace
  • Director: Jennifer Draughon, Neptune Aviation Services

For more information about the UAFA, visit or email

Coulson tanker down in Western Australia, pilots okay

Two pilots walked away from an airtanker crash on Monday while fighting bushfires in Western Australia. Initial reports indicate that Coulson’s 737 took off from Busselton about 3:25 p.m. and went down about 4:40 p.m. in Fitzgerald River National Park, about 460 kilometres southeast of Perth. According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) detected an emergency beacon activation from the airtanker approximately 185 kilometres west of Esperance. The agency issued a statement saying there were no other crew aboard the airtanker when it crashed. Both pilots were transported by helicopter to Ravensthorpe Health Service, and news reported that the pilots were not seriously injured. The Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) are conducting separate investigations into the crash.

The Alberni Valley News (in British Columbia, where Coulson is based) reported the investigators will interview pilots and then examine the wreck. “Initially, investigators will interview the pilots and witnesses to understand the circumstances of the accident, and determine the accessibility of the accident site with the aim of conducting an on-site examination of the aircraft wreckage,” said the ATSB in a statement.

This is the second incident for Coulson Aviation during firefighting operations in Australia, after a C-130 heavy airtanker crashed in 2020, killing all three on board.

Tanker 139 — the 737 — had just been awarded a contract last month. This flight was the airtanker’s third drop of the day.

737 flight path
737 flight path, FlightRadar24 image.

A news report by said the 737 flew for more than 40 minutes before it crashed in the Fitzgerald River National Park. According to, its last recorded altitude was 675 feet (205.7 meters) at 4:13 local time (UTC +8). A report by indicated the ATSB was assembling a team from its Perth and Canberra offices with experience in aircraft operations and maintenance, human factors, and data recovery to conduct the evidence-collection phase of the investigation.

Coulson 737 flight path
Coulson Flight Path: Twitter/ @flightradar24

This airtanker is a Coulson Flying Tankers 737-300 Fireliner registered as N619SW. The 737 was delivered new to Southwest Airlines in 1995 and was acquired by Coulson in 2019. It entered firefighting service in the U.S. after conversion in summer 2022, and it flew to Australia in December 2022.

Helicopter crash kills 2 in Chilean fires

A Bolivian pilot and a Chilean mechanic died when their helicopter crashed while firefighting in the commune of Galvarino, in the region of La Araucanía, 700 kilometers south of Santiago, Chile.

In statements reported on February 4 in MercoPress, Mauricio Tapiaby, deputy director of the Chiliean National Service for Disaster Prevention and Response noted that the pilot had “many years of experience in aeronautics and firefighting” and that 11 others, including a firefighter, had died on February 3 in a “swarm” of at least 50 uncontrolled fires. Tapia reported that 22 had suffered burns and 95 houses destroyed.

A Constitutional State of Emergency has been declared for the central-south regions of Biobío and Ñuble.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric activated Armed Forces and Carabineros for prevention patrols. “It is much easier to prevent a fire than to fight it,” he said, while adding that fire control activities were progressing with an estimated 75 aircraft and 2300 firefighters.

Temperatures of 40 C (100 F) are being recorded, with moderating temperatures by next week but gusty afternoon winds continuing, and the recent Fire Weather Index in the 75th percentile.

Resource Watch: Fire Weather Index and Recent Fires

Additional reports shared via Twitter by @hotshotwakeup ( includes shared footage of communities being overrun by fire.

An official helps guide evacuees as a wildfire burns through houses in Chile.
An official helps guide evacuees as a wildfire burns through houses in Chile.

In one video, a public official walks toward the fire and chaos to help guide the evacuees to a safety zone.

Updates can be monitored at ReliefWeb at

A jumper to remember

William Dinwiddie Tucker, a smokejumper in the early decades of the program, died on January 18, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia, at the age of 94.

William Dinwiddie Tucker
William Dinwiddie Tucker

His obituary included stories of fires he jumped and his commitment to his smokejumper colleagues.

“One such fire was immortalized in the article ‘I Jump into Hell,’ published in the October 1955 issue of Cavalier magazine, where he was part of a team struggling to get their wounded colleague out of the forest.”

Stills of smokejumpers and Richard Widmark from "Red Skies of Montana."
Stills of smokejumpers and Richard Widmark from “Red Skies of Montana.”

“Bill can also be seen in the 1952 film Red Skies of Montana, working alongside Richard Widmark and Jeffrey Hunter. Until recently, Bill would return periodically to Montana for smokejumper reunions where he would work on clearing trails and reminisce over cold bottles of Moose Drool beer with his friends.”

After three seasons as a smokejumper, Tucker “joined the USAF Reserves, transitioning to active duty in 1961. He served as a USAF Military Pilot and Aircraft Commander with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (Hurricane Hunters) at Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico. In Vietnam, Bill served as a pilot and instructor flying C-123s and C-130s on transport and defoliation missions. After the war ended, Bill went back into the USAF Reserves, working at Andrews AFB with the 459th Congressional Wing until he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1979.”

His citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross noted “how Bill successfully completed a high priority mission despite his aircraft sustaining significant damage.”

The family requests that donations be made to the National Smokejumper Association,