Colorado releases aerial firefighting report

Colorado Firefighting Air CorpsThe long awaited report required by the Colorado legislature about options for aerial firefighting in the state was released today by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC). The CFAC was created but not funded last year, and the next step is for decisions to be made about what aerial resources the state will acquire, if any, and then possibly, provide funds to operate them. The 103-page report, titled “Report to the Governor and General Assembly on Strategies to Enhance the State’s Aerial Firefighting Capabilities“, has a number of recommendations:

  • Increase the number of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) on exclusive use contracts from two to four.
  • Contract for the exclusive use of four Type 3 or larger rotor-wing aircraft. (Type 3 helicopters can carry 100 to 300 gallons.)
  • Contract for the exclusive use of two Type 2 or larger air tankers. (Type 2 air tankers can carry 1,800 to 3,000 gallons). The contingency, if the State is unable to contract for two air tankers, is to contract for two helitankers, or a combination of one fixed-wing air tanker and one helitanker.
  • Develop early detection and remote sensing capabilities by securing two fixed wing aircraft equipped with modern fire-detecting sensors that would be operated to actively identify and locate small fires in high-risk wildland and wildland urban interface areas. The report explains that these aircraft will help achieve “the goal of generating an incident assessment for every fire within 60 minutes of report or detection”.

In addition to assessing every fire from an aircraft within 60 minutes, the report also recommends that the “appropriate aviation suppression resources be delivered to the fire” within 60 minutes. These two goals, if accomplished, would be a major step forward, not only for the state of Colorado, but for most states and federal agencies. Of course CAL FIRE can usually deliver retardant to a fire within 20 minutes of the first report, but that is a very high bar.

The state government of Colorado has very little in the way of wildland fire initial attack capability, and relies on local agencies for fire protection. In fact, the report admits:

Colorado does not have the ability to deliver an appropriate and timely suppression response to small fires while they are still small.

The report mentions several alternative aircraft for acquisition and conversion to air tankers, including S-3, C-27J, and C-130 from the Federal Excess Personal Property (FEPP) program. It basically threw out the S-3 for performance reasons, and said that there were no C-27Js available in the FEEP. Contrary to popular belief, it said, there were no C-130s available either. Another aircraft considered was the MD-10 that possibly could be donated by FedEx. That option was not chosen, because they:

…present much the same issue as surplus military aircraft that do not already have a proven, fielded system; that being it could add significantly to both cost and time to implement. Additionally, the age and condition of the donated aircraft could cause significant inspections and revitalization.

In addition, the cost of the engineering needed to modify the MD-10 for a retardant tank, avionics, and related equipment in order to obtain a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) could cost between $30 and $40 million. Installing the retardant system could add another $10 million for each aircraft.

In discussing the problems with locating and obtaining information about the Waldo Canyon and High Park Fires during the early stages, which together killed three people and burned 605 homes, the report said:

Colorado’s remote sensing fixed wing aircraft would be on site within approximately 30 minutes of launch and would employ thermal imaging sensors to survey the reported area. The fire would be located and mapped, and this information would be loaded in real time to the state’s information management system [a new system the report recommends] . Within an hour of the first report of smoke, the local incident commander would have access to a map of the fire, ingress and egress paths, fuels involved, fire behavior, values at risk, weather forecast, and other data needed to make informed decisions regarding the appropriate management response.

In spite of the recommendation in the report that the aircraft be provided by contractors, there is another recommendation (on page 48) saying:

…the government-owned/contractor model presents the most attractive mix of affordability and efficiency. If the initial purchase cost of the airframes precludes this option, the contractor-owned/contractor-operated model is also a reasonable approach.

Then, to confuse the issue further, in the next paragraph it says:

It is not recommended to pursue the government operated model.

The report optimistically expects that the contracted helicopters and air tankers would begin operations within six months of “program initiation”. Apparently the state of Colorado has a contracting department that is many times more effective than the one operated by the U.S. Forest Service, but that is a very low bar.

They expect the two Type 2 or larger air tankers to cost $11.9 million and the four Type 3 or larger helicopters to cost $4.7 million for exclusive use contracts each year. It appears they want to purchase the two “multi-mission fixed wing aircraft” at a cost of $10 million plus $1.7 million for operations, maintenance, and training.

The total cost for the aviation program, including miscellaneous costs for insurance, equipment, hangar leases, etc, would be $33.6 million the first year and $23.6 million in subsequent years.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Bean.

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20 thoughts on “Colorado releases aerial firefighting report”

  1. What are we going to do fire season 2014 to protect the people and resources of Colorado? The air tanker store is ‘sold out”. Helitanker store is low on stock.
    It appears that the Gov. and others shot-callers would rather not deal with this issue. Fire is good and natural. It was mentioned that Cal Fire (20 minutes anywhere) is in the business of stopping fires. One thought for Colorado is to work with their State Guard. California developed a program of activation and use within twenty four hours (next burning period) of a Guard call-up for assistance. Several times Wildfire Today has covered the Guard/Cal Fire annual training at their Academy. Colorado needs to send someone out to “check it out”.

  2. Hmmmmm

    All the “to address this finding, Colorado should…….”

    Maybe those USFS retires from previous 1995 and prior studies….SHOULD give back in their retirement years… gratis ….. No AD pay just the satisfaction of those folks who manned the program in the past at the Federal level, now being SME’s… help set up the program and pave the way through true mentorship that has been sorely lacking at many leadership levels and how to really run a program efficiently…

    Easy to say what “Colorado SHOULD do.” Not so easy when you are suggesting how to spend, appropriate, fund using other peoples money.

    Oh that interesting aside on page 21′ on the NDAA….thank you very much USAF and the American taxpayer for that CWB upgrade……..maybe if everyone was paying attention to Lockheed in the past…….we might still have a fleet of C130’s today……yes they were “A” models that everyone wants or seems to loathe…….but guess what ….bet ol H&P and others could have still made the run for contracting the H models IF they and The USFS were BOTH paying attention to detail… we are supposed to be clapping our hands and high fiving over the new “owners” of the H models……WOW will wonders ever cease to amaze based on the past history?

    Good read, tho……..much a repeat of many of the previous studies with some current facts….ie C130’s in 2015.

  3. This is a good report. It agrees with what most people have been suggesting. I think 4 helitack crews would be a great asset to CO. Additionally a type 2 tanker would be a much better choice in the rugged mountains of CO. I’m hoping that they use the 2 planes they intend to purchase as traditional air attack platforms. I don’t think the air store is “sold out”. Yes the federal side is sold out, but look at Oregon, they have DC-7’s.

  4. There is no substitute for a professionally trained fire fighting corps. Utilizing NG troops is only acceptable as a stop gap and augmenting force. When I see the TV commercial about the cute little girl talking about defending her community from fire with her guard unit, I cringe. While MAFFS units provide the same augmenting force, they are not the same as a professionally trained permanent cadre of aviators. I am now retired from 17 years of flying AA, Tankers and Helitankers. I started as a ground pounder, worked my way into the right seat of a 4Y, became a P2 Captain, Flew cranes after the tankers went away, and ended my career as an AA in SoCal. My experience was hard earned and invaluable. It was never a part-time endeavor. To think otherwise is to put lives at risk.

  5. LTP

    I am sure there are a few DC 4 thru 7’s available out there….haven’t seen many in Controller magazine or Trade-A-Plane in the March issues…..but those aren’t the only places to look…..

    But boyz oh boyz there are plenty-o- dream ships for those in need of air attack machines ( King Airs, AC’s, even a few Pilatus airframes) for those bent on “Multi Mission roles” that everyone seems to think is the rage, now.

    SO …yeah… The Fed side of LAT’s is sold out……….but Greenwood Group, Bode, and Dynamic out there have plenty of airframes to choose from and I have met a few those pilots in my travels that could set any one straight on those ISR and Multi mission roles…..hell, even a few State King Air drivin pilots could give one the 411 on the 911 missions…

  6. Did this panel call Fedex to see if they were in the philanthropic mood to “donate” one of their ships?

    Once again, indicating to me, politicians and LMA types, retirees and government types looking for the “free” button.

    The EASY button isn’t out there in the aviation world, just yet!

  7. I seem to remember a couple of RADS type tanked C-130’s still flying.
    But they are ah,old… My Butler/TBM days are showing.
    Actually two more SEATS is a drop in the bambi bucket..
    four would have been better…

  8. This caught my eye in the report: “The USFS maintains that retardant slurry is not
    effective or recommended for directly attacking the flames or the head of a wildfire; however, there is no real-world experiential data to support this claim”, followed by a procedure whereby the MMA will take geo-ref’d pictures before/after every retardant drop to measure drop accuracy, and the dropline will be monitored for “effectiveness” as the incident progresses. “This data will be recorded and combined with many hundreds of retardant applications to develop models to predict and influence the future use of retardant application.” The footnote states “DFPC believes there should be a study of the performance and effectiveness of firefighting aircraft utilizing “direct attack” and these should be combined with studies of the performance and effectiveness of various fire suppressants, such as gels.”

    Per the procedure, each retardant request (“intent”) by the IC has to go through “machine-to-machine tools incorporated in the state’s information management system.” (how effective does *that* sound?)

    This all sounds a bit onorous to me, and IMO it seems to have a hidden agenda: First, imply that direct retardant application to head/flames *can* be effective (experts say it can’t), put in a poorly-thought-out procedure to collect “real-world experiential data” to prove/disprove, and when there are enough predictably “ineffective” data-points, stop using retardant entirely (The eco-zealots in CO are already up in arms over this slurry issue, and have tremendous political clout).

    I also found the long list of other uses for the MMA to be a bit self-serving. For example:
    – Prescribed burn monitoring
    – Transport Governor/Lt.Governor & staff
    – Law-enforcement
    – Transportation of State employees for important functions …
    – Department of Corrections prisoner transports
    Evidently, they want to “procure” this Multi-Mission Aircraft for year-round use.

    1. The Forest Service is correct, the World is flat. What the Feds are saying is that a head attack doesn’t work if the fire is 200 plus acres and four hours along. How does Cal Fire stop evolving high energy release fires from escaping? It’s all an illusion, magic, it can’t be done. I wonder if David Copperfield was a consultant at one time? Don’t believe anything you read, let your eyes and experience be the judge.

  9. Hopefully they are not restricting the search of available aircraft to standard category. The internally tanked Sikorsky SH-3 ( like those flown by Croman) are one of the most effective platforms and there are many of them in mothballs for a fraction of the cost of S-61’s. Same story with Uh-1H vs. BH205. There are operators with both of those types that could be easily contracted for this year.

    1. I would have to disagree with you on the S-61. At high altitude they are not very good(Colorado isn’t exactly low country either). In my experience, your not getting alot of bang for your buck with an S-61 at altitude. I don’t remember numbers, but I remember last year working with several different models of S-61 and being astonished at what little they could pull at the altitude we were working.

  10. I don’t think we have to worry about what Colorado wants or needs. As reported by JMN even the use of retardant will come under attack. Let us hope that Colorado has a mild fire season and no one losses their lives or property. On the “flip-side” don’t be (Colorado) crying to NIFC and strip out the rest of the West of air tankers and type one helicopters. Maybe with a few more fixed wing air tankers someone will remember the term initial attack, aka stopping/containment of new fires.

  11. Well..

    Iinitial Attack is the best tactic, period.
    That requires experienced people at every level; Base, dispatch, crews, maintenance, etc
    Retardant works and buys time for boots to show up at scene.
    Colorado = high density altitude which affects aircraft performance. So they can’t go for cheap and light stuff…
    As Walt Darran used to say all the time… “All it takes is money!”

  12. All though there is little hope for Colorado’s air corps, there has been some interesting comments about round engine tankers. While on base (Columbia AAB) with Don Orabaum I asked him “what is the best tanker you ever flew”, without thinking he said DC 7! The States of California and Oregon still contracts the 7’s With the cost of obtaining and operating jet powered tankers maybe it is time to look at the numbers ($) for the old horses in the stable. DC 4, 2000 gallons, DC 6 2400-2600 gallons and the DC 7 3000 gallons.

  13. Johnny
    The Dougs are fantastic airplanes! Simply designed and very well built.
    It would be interesting to see a DC4 or DC7 with Turbo Props…

    1. Again, Amen.6’s and 7’s with PW 100’s zero timed Airframes.
      Ala Basler 3’s..

  14. The statement “It is not recommended to pursue the government operated model” is actually not confusing.
    As a contractor on a government owned aircraft, it simply means when the government owned and operated (my aircraft specifically), the turnover was too great and the cost too much. To keep ownership opens doors contractors are not allowed to enter, yet contractor operated is more efficient cost-wise for the government.
    This is the model CalFire has adopted for their state operations. Government owned, all contractor operated.

    1. Are the CalFire helicopters flown by contractors or CalFire employees?

      1. The CAL FIRE helicopters are maintained and serviced by contractors, but are flown by CAL FIRE pilots. Their air tankers are flown and maintained by contractors.

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