The Bureau of Land Management has awarded a contract for the first jet-powered lead plane in the United States. Lead planes fly ahead of the much larger air tankers that drop retardant on fires. They identify the targets and evaluate the fire and wind conditions. Dynamic Aviation, with headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia, will be supplying a Cessna Citation CJ to serve as a lead plane and Air Supervision Module (ASM) this fire season. With the jet-powered air tankers now in use, including DC-10s, BAe-146s, and MD-87s, there is a need for a lead plane that can keep up with the “next-generation” air tankers.
The Dynamic Aviation aircraft is not the first jet-powered lead plane. British Columbia currently operates two Citations as Bird Dogs, according to information we received from a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.
In January the Citation was for sale at Controller.com with an asking price of $1.1 million. On February 10, company employees watched the aircraft, purchased from an owner in the UK, arrive at their facility. During the off season it will be at their headquarters, where they operate a heavy maintenance and modification center, engine shop, and a privately owned airport. The company employs over 550 people and in September of last year began construction on their fifth hangar, named Hangar E. In addition to the new (to them) Citation, they have Beechcraft King Airs and Bombardier Dash 8-100s.
Caleb T. Stitely, an account manager at Dynamic Aviation, told us that the company has a contract with the BLM to supply two additional Cessna Citations beginning in 2015.
Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the BLM said this year the agency will have three lead plane/ASMs on exclusive use contracts (the Citation and two King Air E-90s) and a fourth one on call when needed status (a King Air E-90). All four will be supplied by Dynamic Aviation. In addition, the Department of the Interior owns a King Air BE-200 that the BLM will use for Lead/ASM operations this coming fire season.
The U.S. Forest Service owns a Cessna Citation Bravo II equipped with a system for mapping fires using infrared imaging technology. It can download the imagery in near real time once each night to infrared interpreters on the ground who use it to make maps showing the location of fires.
The BLM will also have nine Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) platforms on contract this year. Three are on contract now and the other six are still out for bid. Spur Aviation will operate an Aero Commander AC690B, and Ponderosa Aviation will also have an Aero Commander AC690B and one Aero Commander AC680T.
We are working on collecting information about the U.S. Forest Service’s fleet of lead planes and Air Tactical platforms and hope to write about that in a day or so.