New Air-Crane for South Korea being tested prior to delivery

Korea Forest Service Air-Crane S-64
Ground and taxi test at the Medford airport 10/21/19.
Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin sent us these photos of a new S-64 Erickson Air-Crane that is being tested before it is delivered to the Korea Forest Service.

“Heard it is supposed to be delivered to them in the next week,” Tim said. “It’s temporary N- number registration is N915AC. It’s been doing plenty of flight testing the past few weeks around Southern Oregon.”

Korea Forest Service Air-Crane S-64 new
Dip testing at Erickson’s Whtstone Helipad in White City, OR 11/9/19. Photo by Tim Crippin.
Korea Forest Service Air-Crane S-64 new
Dip testing at Erickson’s Whtstone Helipad in White City, OR 11/9/19. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Thanks Tim!

S-2 air tanker used on wildfire in Kansas

It is believed to be the first time a large air tanker has been deployed on a non-federal wildfire in Kansas

Kansas S-2 air tanker
File photo of Bill Garrison’s S-2 air tanker. Screenshot from KWCH video July, 2019.

In what is believed to be the first time a large air tanker has been deployed on a non-federal wildfire in Kansas, a privately owned S-2 was used on a fire in Cheyenne County in the northwest corner of the state November 9.

The Kansas Forest Service said Air Tanker 95 and two aerial ag applicator aircraft helped firefighters on the ground by dropping water. The assistance to local agencies was made possible by state funding for fire suppression approved in the last legislative session.

Cheyenne County was under a Red Flag Warning Saturday for strong winds and low humidity.

KSN reports that the aircraft is stationed at Hutchinson Airport northwest of Wichita, becoming the state’s first permanent base for an air tanker.

Bill Garrison, owner of Ag Air Service out of Nikerson, Kansas, acquired the aircraft formerly operated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection from an aviation museum. CAL FIRE operated it as Tanker 81 and 93 with registration number N477DF. Later in its career the tanker number changed to 95, still used today, and was owned by Yesterday’s Flyers and then Cactus Air Force, both in Nevada. The current registration number is N508JR under the ownership of Mr. Garrison with a certificate issue date of February 14, 2019.

The aircraft can carry up to 800 gallons and still has the radial engines unlike the S-2s operated by CAL FIRE today that have been converted to turbine engines.

Mr. Garrison said he used one of the company’s aerial ag applicator planes in 2017 to drop 20,000 gallons of water on the Highlands Fire in Reno County, chipping in to help when the Kansas National Guard Blackhawk helicopter pilots ran out of duty time.

S-2 air tanker N477DF
CAL FIRE Air Tanker N477DF at Hemet, CA October 23, 2003. JD Davis Photos.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Human External Cargo in Alberta

Human External Cargo below helicopter Canada
Human External Cargo below a helicopter in Canada. Photo: Alberta Wildfire.

Alberta Wildfire published a series of three tweets showing training for helitack personnel. One of the two videos shows four firefighters being transported at the end of a long line below a helicopter.

This tweet comes shortly after the news that Alberta plans to eliminate their helicopter rappel program, affecting 63 firefighters.

Click on the tweet below to see two additional tweets on the topic, including two videos.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations receives Humanitarian Service Award

LA County Fire Blackhawk helicopter S-70
LA County Fire photo

Helicopter Association International (HAI) announced November 8 that the Los Angeles County (California) Fire Department Air Operations Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter teams are the 2020 recipient of the Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award. The award honors the person or persons who best demonstrate the value of helicopters to the communities in which they operate by providing aid to those in need. The award will be presented January 29 at HAI’s Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon at HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 in Anaheim, California.

As wildfires once again burn throughout Southern California in 2019, this award recognizes the efforts made by the flight and ground crews of the four S-70 Firehawk helicopters while battling the 2018 Woolsey Fire, the largest wildfire on record in Los Angeles County. The fire destroyed nearly 97,000 acres, with 1,643 homes lost and more than 295,000 people evacuated at its peak.

The Woolsey Fire began midafternoon on Nov. 8, 2018, just outside of Simi Valley near the borders of Ventura County, Los Angeles County, and the City of Los Angeles. The four S-70s joined multiple other aircraft and ground crews battling the conflagration over the next four days. While the flight and ground crews rotated as necessary, the helicopters themselves were shut down only for refueling and inspection. This resulted in the four LACFDAO helicopters totaling 119.4 flight hours in the first three days—equivalent to almost an entire month’s worth of flying and maintenance in one week—completing more than 350 water drops amid winds ranging from 40 to 70 knots.

Operating on the leeward side of the flames due to high winds, LACOFD helicopters and crews were often the only aircraft working the lines. The winds kept the smoke low across the terrain and homes, forcing the crews to fly and refuel within the smoke as they realized that the only way to attack the fire was to become engulfed in it. Flying conditions quickly became almost nightlike because of the reduced visibility.

In addition to the efforts of the flight crews, the maintenance and support crews worked tirelessly on the ground. Operating in 24-hour shifts, the maintainers kept the aircraft available for every launch, ensuring they were always safe and ready to go. A majority of the 20 people on the maintenance team volunteered into the night and weekend to ensure that routine maintenance was performed efficiently and safely.

From Helicopter Association International

Progression map Woolsey Fire
Progression map of the Woolsey Fire, November 17, 2018. Perimeters produced by the Incident Management Team. Adapted by Wildfire Today.

Alberta shuts down their rappel program and closes up to 30 fire lookout towers

The reductions will affect 63 firefighters who may be moved to other units. One air tanker group will also be cut.

Alberta Firefighters
Alberta firefighters in 2016. Alberta Wildfire photo.

5:42 p.m. MST November 7, 2019

The Canadian province of Alberta is eliminating their helicopter rappel program. Due to budget woes throughout the province the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is reducing its expenses by 9 percent, which translates to $23 million less funding for Alberta Wildfire this year.

Rappelers respond to wildfires in helicopters and if there is no suitable landing zone upon arrival, descend to the ground on a rope while the helicopter hovers. The concept is to arrive at a fire very soon after its reported and aggressively attack the fire while small to keep it from becoming large and endangering communities and private property.

Below are excerpts from an article at Globalnews:

The Wildland Firefighter Rappel Program — also known as the RAP program — has been in place for 36 years and employs 63 personnel each wildfire season.

According to [Minister Devin] Dreeshen, RAP firefighters spend only two per cent of the time rappelling from helicopters, and spend the rest of the time fighting wildfires on the ground — that played into the decision made in the budget.

“We found it’s better to utilize their ground work and that’s why we made the decision to have them on the ground fighting alongside the hundreds of other wildfire personnel that we have,” Dreeshen said.

According to the government, firefighters from the RAP program will be redeployed to different crews in Alberta Wildfire if they choose to return for the next wildfire season.

In 2016 Alberta had 64 four-person Helitack Crews, 2 eight-person Helitack Crews, 9 seven-person Rappel Crews, 8 twenty-person Unit Crews, and 35 eight-person Firetack Crews.

As part of the budget reduction between 15 and 30 of the province’s 127 wildfire lookout towers will no longer be staffed.

The province is also cutting their air tanker program, reducing the fleet from eight to seven air tanker groups. In 2014 there were nine air tanker groups, each consisting of an air tanker and an Air Attack Officer in a lead plane (or “Bird Dog”).

Alberta has never employed smokejumpers, or Parattack as they are called in British Columbia where they are based at Fort St. John and Mackenzie. The BC jumpers are occasionally used on fires in Alberta and Yukon.

In 2016 Alberta slashed their wildfire suppression budget by $15 million. One of the effects was cutting the tanker contracts from 123 to 93 days, saying goodby to the aircraft in mid-August.

The province had a very busy fire season this year, with a number of hand crews from the U.S. traveling north to lend a hand. In at least one location in Alberta last summer the peat moss was so dry that it turned to dust when disturbed, and in the presence of sufficient heat and oxygen was damn near explosive.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Former Tesla engineer developing drone with larger payload capacity that could be used on fires

Joshua Resnick Tesla Parallel Flight Technologies
Joshua Resnick was the lead electrical engineer who helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck. Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

The lead electrical engineer that helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck is one of the three people that have created a company that is developing an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, that could be used on fires, as well as other functions. Joshua Resnick, the CEO of a new company, Parallel Flight Technologies, said he worked on the Tesla semi project from the time it was first drawn up on a napkin through its introduction to the public in 2017.

Parallel Flight Technologies is building a drone with a much longer endurance and a larger payload capacity than those currently being used on wildfires. Most drones can only stay aloft for 20 to 30 minutes and can carry a few pounds of cargo — less if they are transporting more. Parallel Flight Technologies expects their aircraft to be able to transport 75 of pounds for one hour, or 50 pounds and stay airborne for 2.5 hours.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

On any aircraft the power to weight ratio is critical. Eliminate weight or add power and it can travel longer and farther. The primary limiting factor in electric-powered aircraft is the weight of the batteries. Until there is a huge leap in battery technology we’ll be unlikely to see them powering aircraft with more than 50 pounds of cargo while staying aloft for more than 15 minutes.

So we need new, or at least, different technology if we hope to see a drone carrying a portable pump, fire hose, and fuel to a remote site on a wildland fire.

“We are building a new drone technology and it can be used for a lot of different things, but wildfire would really be the use case that was the impetus for me to even start on this project,” Mr. Resnick said. “We had a fire not far from our home in Santa Cruz, California in 2017 either right before or right after the Santa Rosa Fire, and it was after that that I started looking into the different ways that unmanned systems could be used in a wildfire effort. That’s when I started understanding that using unmanned systems to resupply firefighters could be very useful especially when manned aircraft could not fly due to smoke inversions or nighttime.”

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

Hybrid systems, using a gas engine to drive a generator which powered electric motors to spin the propellers, have been tried before, but it was not much more than strapping a generator to a drone which added too much mass and weight to be practical. Also, the many power conversion steps led to a loss of efficiency.

“We have developed a parallel hybrid drone,” Mr. Resnick said, “where the propellers are powered by a combination of gas and electric. The electric motors provide the responsiveness so the aircraft can maneuver and the gas supplies the duration and the high power to weight ratio.”

The aircraft is powered by four hybrid power modules, each with a gas-electric combination. The 2-cycle gas engines work in combination with the electric motors, which provide very high peak thrust as well as redundancy. Larger aircraft in the pipeline could be powered by other fuels, such as diesel or jet fuel.

In fall of 2018 the company built a proof of concept aircraft, and in August, 2019 successfully demonstrated heavy lift capability and duration with a new prototype aircraft. In 2020 they expect to be ready for joint exercise missions with several agencies interested in the aircraft.

“I want to find ways to integrate this new technology with the existing solution,” Mr. Resnick said. “I don’t see it as a replacement for helicopters, we’re talking about a much smaller payload. I’m seeing, for example, smoke inversions where helicopters are grounded at nighttime or early dawn before manned aircraft are flying, to be able to operate our drones to do some of this work, while finding ways to deconflict the airspace between drones and manned aircraft.”

I noticed that in photos of the prototype the props appear to be made of wood. When I asked Mr. Resnick if that really was the case, he yes, the props on the prototype are wood due to the cost. If a prop was damaged during testing, they would be out about $100. If made of carbon fiber, such as might be used on the production version, the cost would be about ten times higher.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has leaped into the use of drones in the last few years and currently has over 800 unmanned aircraft. In 2018 they flew over 10,000 drone missions. Parallel Flight Technologies is consulting with personnel in the DOI who have experience in establishing and operating a drone program.

The DOI was recently in the news when their entire drone fleet was grounded except for those needed for firefighting and other emergency services. It turns out that all of the DOI drones are either entirely made by a Chinese company, DJI, or have chips or other parts that are manufactured in China. The Wall Street Journal reported that “the Department of Homeland Security was concerned about drones’ capacity to observe and transmit prohibited infrastructure surveillance and conduct cyberattacks.” Mr. Resnick said the Parallel Flight Technologies drones will be American made and will conform to security specifications required by the DOI and Department of Homeland Security.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

Mr. Resnick said they are working closely with Drone Amplified who they hope can build a larger drone-mounted plastic sphere dispenser (PSD) system for Parallel Flight Technologies’ upsized drones so that they can be used to ignite burnouts or prescribed fires. Drone Amplified recently introduced a PSD, Ignis 2.0, that can hold 400 to 450 spheres that ignite 30 to 45 seconds after being released from the drone. Their previous system, Ignis 1.0, carried 150 spheres.

Parallel Flight Technologies is raising funds through an equity crowd funding effort which is open to the public for anyone to invest in the company.

Parallel plans on selling a small number of initial aircraft in late 2020 to its first customers before full production begins in 2021.

Three DC-10s and other air tankers assisted firefighters on the Maria Fire east of Ventura, Calif.

DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914
Left to right, DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914 at Santa Maria, CA Nov. 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

These photos and the text below are from RK SMithley who was the Captain on Air Tanker 911 while the DC-10 (and many other aircraft) were assisting firefighters on the 9,412-acre Maria Fire east of Ventura, California by dropping 9,400 gallons of retardant on each sortie. He starts off by describing the photo above.

“Sunset comes to the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base 11/01/19, after a fairly busy day of fire operations on the Maria Fire at Santa Paula, CA. At right in the loading pit is our T914, which concluded its duty and is released by the USFS off contract with T911 at left, which continues active service. Both ships, along with T910 worked the Maria this date and 910 recovered to Santa Maria where she continues active duty. T914 will be flying the SBD Fest airshow at San Bernardino with two demonstration water drops both Saturday (about 2:30) and Sunday (about 11:00) so come on out and see her perform. T912 has concluded service with Cal Fire and will reposition back home from the Cal Fire Air Tanker Reload Base at Sacramento-McClellan Airport to ABQ this morning. Incidentally, that’s Erickson T107,
a Douglas MD-87, on the right. Their T105 also operated from SBD on the Maria Fire with us as well as Aeroflite T167 and a whole host of other large tankers from other bases in SoCal. The Maria Fire was pretty much out after being pounded by all the air tankers and helicopters today, with fixed-wing air ops starting shortly after daybreak.”

Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.
Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

(The tweets below of DC-10s working the Maria Fire are obviously not from Mr. Smithley)

And, from our archives:

DC-10 air tankers
File photo of three of the four DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers at Albuquerque, NM May 3, 2019,– Tankers 910, 911, and 914. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Roundup of fire aviation tweets

external retractable tank Blackhawk
Composite Approach external retractable tank for Blackhawk.

A retractable external water tank for a Blackhawk:

Helicopters working on the Saddleridge Fire:

A helicopter water drop in the Los Angeles area:

Erickson signs a contract in Greece:

It’s not exactly a “new” water bomber:

New hangar in Saskatchewan for firefighting aircraft

Nigeria to deploy 18 drones

An interesting photo of a helicopter water drop:

This appears to be a full load, 19,200-gallon drop by the 747:

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Isaac. Typos or errors, report them HERE.