USFS to have 14 lead planes and 16 ATGS ships this year

Lead 6-5 on the Whoopup Fire
Lead 6-5 on the Whoopup Fire in South Dakota, July 18, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Yesterday we wrote about the Bureau of Land Management’s fleet of lead planes and Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) aircraft. The BLM recently awarded a contract for the first jet-powered lead plane, one that has a better chance of keeping up with the “next-generation” air tankers, including the DC-10s, BAe-146s, and MD-87s. They will have a total of three lead/Air Supervision Module aircraft and nine ATGS platforms on exclusive use contracts.

Jennifer Jones of the U.S. Forest Service tells us their agency will have 14 lead planes and 16 ATGS platforms on exclusive use contracts in 2014. An additional 9 ATGS aircraft will be on call when needed contracts. The lead planes are Beechcraft King Air 90GTs, all supplied by the Greenwood Corporation, while the ATGS aircraft are Cessna 337 Skymasters and reciprocal and turbine engine twin Commanders. The contractors for the ATGS platforms include North Cascade Air Transport, Spur Aviation, Van Arsdale, Baker Aircraft, Ponderosa Aviation, Rogers Helicopters, and Mountain Aviation.

All of  the USFS lead planes will be able to produce smoke to mark the targets for the air tankers.

Lead plane 6-5
Lead 6-5 flying into a smoky Ferguson Canyon on the Whoopup Fire in South Dakota, July 18, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The next opportunity for the USFS to acquire jet-powered lead planes will be in 2015 when the contracts are re-issued.

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6 thoughts on “USFS to have 14 lead planes and 16 ATGS ships this year”

  1. Why do all USFS lead planes not have two crew? A pilot and forest officer team is much more capable, safe and effective than single-pilot operation.

    1. I think it is because there are enough ASM qualified ATGS on the Forest Service side of things.

  2. SCRATCHLINE……2007 Issue 21 tom Wildland Fire Lessons Learned….page 8 would be what Matt is talkin about…..I would imagine.

    This fact is nothing new and there are plenty of unemployed pilots

    that could serve as PFT or AD ….and since there a lot of pilots that can fly in circles alllllll day long…..I would imagine that ATGS training iterarations could be shorter…

    This thinking that this is strictly some “FIRE” only….is what creating the percieved shortages and The Very Fact that the lengthy 310-1 track is fast tracking you LMA types……to the very shortages you all would like to whine or is that wine about!!!!!

    1. I think you’ve hit on one of the inherent problems with our qualification system. If you don’t start at the bottom, and come up through “our” system, you’re not qualified. I don’t know the aviation side, but in other areas they are bemoaning lack of qualified folks to step up as higher overhead retires, yet it takes roughly 3 decades to become an ICT1 – just in time to retire. No credit for other stuff. There are a lot of municipal fire chiefs, emergency management folks and others that could step into various trainee roles if we’d just recognize that even though they didn’t work X number of years on a hand crew, they still know something about the system. Personally, I don’t care if an ICT1 or 2 one can sharpen a pulaski, as long as he/she can manage a large scale team that’s managing a large scale incident. I suspect it’s just like you describe in aviation, folks with outstanding experience and skills, but because they didn’t come up through the ranks in “our” world, they can’t be “qualified”.

      1. The beauty of ICS is that the command staff, among so many other roles, does not need to be agency-specific at all. I agree entirely with your post Eric; an IC1 does not need to be a wildland firefighter. Whether managing a wildfire, earthquake, tsunami or Kardashian wedding, the command & control of any large incident demands the same skill sets. It is in the Operations area that a background in the specific type of event becomes more important.

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