Mobile retardant base at the Monument Fire in California
Philip Blagg recorded this video of two Type 1 helicopters operated by Columbia Helicopters as they refilled their buckets with retardant at a mobile fire retardant base on the Monument Fire in Northwest California. The exact date is uncertain, but probably early in September, 2021.
The migration of the Super Scooper air tankers occurred for the 28th time when two CL-415s arrived this week at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles County.
The aircraft owned by the Province of Quebec are brought in for the Santa Ana east wind season that typically begins in the fall. Strong, dry, hot winds can lead to large, disastrous fires in densely populated areas of southern California.
The scoopers can load up to 1,600 gallons of water while skimming across the surface of a lake. If the water source is within ten miles, typically working in pairs they can drop a great deal of water on a fire.
Initial deployment typically lasts for approximately 90 days, but may be extended if a need for their assistance continues.
This year in a program paid for by Southern California Edison three counties will each have an additional large helicopter. Los Angeles and Orange Counties will have 3,000-gallon Boeing CH-47D Chinooks, and Ventura County will get a 1,000-gallon S-61. The program has been given a catchy name, Quick Reaction Force.
The retardant delivery system to be reinstalled in a different aircraft
5:11 p.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2021
A company that provides aircraft for lease has purchased the retardant delivery system (RDS) formerly in the 747 Supertanker. Logistic Air is now the owner of the tanking system that for years had interim approval by the federal government’s Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) to be used in an air tanker.
Global Supertanker’s recently modified website proudly proclaims “Returning to Service in 2022.”
Many of the photos of aircraft on Logistic Air’s website are 747s, but they provide wide-body and narrow-body passenger and cargo aircraft for world-wide operations.
The SuperTanker’s RDS is comprised of approximately 20 tanks that hold retardant and enough compressed air to pump the retardant out of the four nozzles that were in the belly of the huge aircraft. At various times the air tanker had interim certification by the IAB to carry 20,000, 19,200 and 17,500 gallons of retardant. The IAB and the US Forest Service appeared to bend over backwards to find reasons to not issue full approval to the aircraft and the RDS.
Earlier this year the SuperTanker’s drop controlling system and other components were significantly modified to improve the delivery of retardant, including metering the volume dispersed based on the ground speed of the aircraft. It then went through dozens of tests on the ground. The operators were waiting for it to be scheduled for the IAB’s grid or cup test which measures the amount of retardant that hits the ground over a large grid. But before that took place, the owner, Alterna Capital, shut down the company and sold the aircraft and the RDS to two companies. The 747 was purchased by National Airlines to be used as a freighter, and Logistic Air bought the RDS.
A person at Alterna Capital who was not authorized to speak for the company told Fire Aviation that Global Supertanker had approximately two dozen employees and contractors when the doors closed and none of them are working for the new owners at this time. The person said Alterna “will support Logistic Air in any way we can.”
Calls to Logistic Air were not immediately returned.
UPDATE at 6:27 p.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2021
After this was published we received a call from a person at Logistic Air who asked to remain anonymous. They confirmed that the company plans to install the RDS in a nose-loading 747-200 when the aircraft completes maintenance after the first of the year. The aircraft itself will have to be modified, of course, to enable loading retardant and compressed air, and the plumbing and belly nozzles need to be installed. Then they will schedule a grid test, which they are confident it will pass. The final and most important step is applying for and receiving a new contract from the US Forest Service, no easy feat. We were told that some of the former employees of GlobalSupertanker are expected to work with the new organization.
The video below has footage of five different Erickson Air-Cranes flying low over a lake in Greece, skimming water to fill their 2,650-gallon tanks while on a firefighting mission in Loutropyrgos, a city in Attica. You’ll see 748, 747, 740, 734, and 737.
The still images are screen grabs from the video by GVLACOM.
Slate online magazine just published an article by Aaron Mak about air tankers and the size of the fleet. Most of the piece is about DC-10s and why there are not more of them. When I was interviewed by Mr. Mak most of his questions were about the DC-10. I explained that it is a great air tanker but the fleet needs a variety in the tool box.
You can read the entire article, but here is the section where I was quoted:
“Commissioning more DC-10s isn’t the only way to expand the country’s fleet of air tankers. Bill Gabbert, who runs the Fire Aviation and Wildfire Today blogs, contends that it might be a mistake to focus solely on the massive jets, since other smaller crafts tend to be more useful for different terrains, like narrow canyons, and it’s never a good idea to rely on only one model due to potential mechanical defects. He points out that there’s an overall shortage of air tankers in the U.S. There used to be a fleet of 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts in 2002, which were mostly constructed out of World War II bombers. However, two of those tankers crashed that year, which resulted in many others being taken out of commission. Since then, private companies like 10 Tanker have been trying to retrofit newer planes to build the nation’s fleet back up, but there are still only 18 under exclusive use contracts as of this year.
“But no matter what type of air tankers it chooses, Gabbert said, the government will probably have to rethink its approach to contracting if it wants a bigger fleet. He thinks the solution is for Congress to appropriate funds for 10-year exclusive use contracts, which would allow manufacturers to more easily get the millions of dollars in loans they need from a bank to build more tankers and the associated support systems. “If they can get a guaranteed 10-year contract, they can see in advance that they can make the investment pay off, and the bank will be happy to lend them money,” Gabbert said. “Congress just does not understand the severity of the issue.” ”
It looked like it was not going to happen, but the eighth military C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) has been activated. On August 9 five were working. The last three were added (approximate dates) on August 10 (Colorado Air Force Reserve), August 23 (Wyoming Air National Guard), and August 26 (California Air National Guard). For now they are all based at Sacramento McClellan Airport. It is the first time all eight aircraft in the MAFFS program have been activated since a series of large wildfires in Colorado in 2012.
Only eight MAFFS roll-in systems exist in the United States. They can enable an only slightly modified military C-130 to spray up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant using equipment powered by compressed air. Their role is to assist with fighting wildland fires when needed to supplement the privately owned large air tankers under contract to the federal government.
The multi-year drought has led to very low fuel moistures in the west, and even in Minnesota. Historically low in some areas. Very low fuel moistures can result in extreme fire behavior at times even when the weather is not necessarily extreme. The resistance to control is greatly elevated when fuels ignite so easily.
On July 14 the National Interagency Fire Center upgraded the Preparedness Level to 5, which was the earliest date in 10 years. Today 15 Type 2 Incident Management Teams and all but two of the available Type 1 Incident Management Teams are committed. An Area Command Team has been activated, something that rarely happens, and nearly 27,000 personnel are assigned to wildfires. The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) decreed on July 18 that all requests for Area Command, National Incident Management Organization (NIMO), Type 1, and Type 2 IMTs must be approved by them, an action that has not occurred in recent memory. There are 76 large uncontained fires being fully suppressed in the United States, and another 31 are being managed rather than suppressed.
In May the Forest Service, the agency responsible for contracting for large air tankers (LAT), said they would have 34 if needed — 18 on Exclusive Use Contracts guaranteed to work, plus 8 “surge” LATs guaranteed to work for a shorter period of time, and another 8 on Call When Needed (CWN) status. Of those 16 surge and CWN aircraft, only 5 could be produced in July. One LAT, a 737 owned by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia, has flown across the Pacific to lend a hand. No more are available.
The issue of a shortage of air tankers came up when President Biden met virtually with the Western Governors July 30 to talk about the wildfire situation. Several of them asked the President for aerial assets, firefighters, help in obtaining aviation fuel, and aggressive initial attack. California Governor Gavin Newsom was adamant about needing more air tankers.
“We have four DC-10s, Mr. President, four,” Governor Newsom said. “Now, DC-10s aren’t the answer to every problem …They have restrictions; there are legendary restrictions. But the reality is there is four for the country, and we’re competing. They’re all contracted. We compete with you. We compete with other states. We don’t even have access right now to DC-10s. We lost that 747 — that iconic 747 — that now has been converted to a cargo plane.”
California had the 747 on a CWN contract when the company went out of business. If they had activated it, the aircraft would be flying fires today.
On August 4 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Governors’ request for additional aviation resources, “… Came to my desk. One of the challenges we’re working on right now is making sure we get the Defense Department personnel necessary to fly the planes. So sometimes it’s not even the planes, it’s the pilots, the people who know how to fly these planes…I was given instructions to… make sure we have the people in the planes to fly them.”
The Secretary was most likely referring to the MAFFS.
Here is a tweet we sent August 23 soon after the seventh MAFFS was activated. It featured a file photo of MAFFS 4 from the California Air National Guard that was still parked at that time.
Seven of the eight military C-130J aircraft equipped with Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) which convert them to air tankers have been activated. The California Air Nat’l Guard, 146th Air Wing, still has one parked on the tarmac. pic.twitter.com/ZBg8K1Jbj0
The government of Greece has plans to increase the number of aircraft that can be used to assist firefighters battling wildfires.
In the wake of devastating fires earlier this month Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated plans Wednesday to purchase and lease additional wildland firefighting aircraft.
From Ekathimerini, August 25, 2021:
Mitsotakis also announced plans to create a special unit made up of forestry experts and firefighters “that will be able to operate more effectively in the forests.”
The conservative leader added that responsibility for firefighting and prevention was passed on from the forest service to the fire department under the socialist PASOK government in 1998.
“It took many years for the fire service to adapt,” he said.
Critics say the decision has undermined fire prevention in the country.
After the fire siege earlier this month, Mr Mitsotakis said there were plans to modernize the aerial firefighting fleet by investing 1.7 billion euro ($2 billion).
“This plan was approved by the cabinet of ministers, and it includes very important support of our air firefighting fleet with the acquisition of new Canadair [water scooping air tankers], small Air Tractor planes [single engine air tankers], and firefighting helicopters,” the Prime Minister said at a press conference August 12.
Along with the modernization of the aerial firefighting fleet, the 1.7 billion euro plan dubbed “Aigis” is seeking to expand the capabilities of the Civll Protection Authority with the procurement of fire detection devices, drones, and other equipment.The funds for this plan have already been secured and come from three sources, the National Strategic Reference Framework funds, the European Investment Bank, and the recovery fund, according to the prime minister.
Westover Field at Jackson, CA near the Caldor Fire
A group of large helicopters that has been on contract in three Southern California counties since June 15, called a Quick Reaction Force (QRF), has been dispatched to Northern California. They will be based just north of Jackson at Amador County Airport, also known as Westover Field.
The rapidly spreading 53,000-acre Caldor Fire is 19 miles northeast of the airport, south of Pollock Pines.
Los Angeles and Orange Counties are each supplying a 3,000-gallon CH-47D Chinook and Ventura County is sending a 1,000-gallon Sikorsky S-61. They can all drop water and hover-refill their tanks at night. The fourth member of the QRF is a Sikorsky S-76 from Orange County to provide intelligence, evaluate effectiveness of drops, and identify targets with a laser designator.
Coulson Aviation is the operator of all four helicopters. Britton Coulson, President and COO of the company, told Fire Aviation that they will also be operating one of their Cessna Citation intel aircraft to video the fleet working and map the progress.