Talking tankers – Industry executive talks about large air tankers in an era of record wildfire, budgetary uncertainties, and COVID-19

Interview with Dan Snyder of Neptune Aviation

Tanker 02, a BAe-146, dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire
Neptune’s Tanker 02, a BAe-146, dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.

By Paul Seidenman
for Fire Aviation

For aerial firefighters, 2020 is shaping up as a year of nonstop deployments as wildland fire events continue to shatter records for destruction, increasingly measured in square miles.  As those fires raged, large air tankers (LAT), as in years past, proved themselves as essential for the firefighting tool box.  To appreciate that, Dan Snyder, Senior Vice-President of Missoula, Montana-based Neptune Aviation Services—an LAT operator—agreed to a wide-ranging interview with Fire Aviation.  The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Fire Aviation – What changes have you seen with wildland fire events today, compared to a decade ago?

Dan Snyder – A decade ago, fire seasons were much more predictable.  Since then, we have seen many more fires yearly, particularly in California.  Along with that, wildland fires, today, have become much more destructive with respect to property and loss of life.

FA – At the same time, what changes have you seen with the fixed-wing air tanker fleet during that time?

DS – First, in 2010, there were three LAT service vendors—Aero Union, Minden Aviation, and Neptune Aviation Services. Neptune is the only one of those still in business.  Secondly, there has been a complete change in the LAT fleet mix.  The majority of the LAT fleet, prior to 2010, was propeller driven—mainly former military P-3s and P2Vs.  Today, it’s almost entirely jets, with just a few propeller driven LATs remaining.  And the number of companies offering LAT services has increased from three to at least seven.

Also, the contracting model has changed.  We have gone from 100% of the LATs under Exclusive Use (EU) contracts, to less than 50% under EU, with the remainder under Call When Needed (CWN) contracts.

FA – Neptune Aviation Services currently operates nine BAe-146 LATs.  How do LATs fit into today’s wildland aerial firefighting environment, given the proliferation of single engine air tankers (SEAT), the few very large air tankers (VLAT), and, of course helicopters?

DS – The LATs are the central pillar of USFS fixed wing aerial firefighting tactics, and the air tanker bases are built to support them.  The very large air tankers (VLAT) only fit into a handful of the tanker bases throughout the US.  Each aircraft in aerial firefighting—helicopters, SEATs, Scoopers, VLATs and LATs—are all tools in the toolbox and have roles that each does well. As an example the VLATs are great for building long fire retardant lines; scoopers work well when large bodies of water are near the fire.

Also, LATs are well suited for initial attack which requires rapid response time, and a high degree of maneuverability.  This allows them to operate over all North American terrain types.  For example, in mountainous areas, they are very effective in dropping retardant over a variable terrain profile.  With a retardant upload rate of at least 500 gallons per minute, they can get back in the air within 10 minutes.  Also, with 3,000-4,000 gallon capacity tanks, LATs carry roughly 3-5 times the retardant of a SEAT making one large airtanker more effective in most initial attack situations.  And, they can operate from more bases closer to the fires, and away from large airports where commercial traffic congestion can be a problem.

FA – Have you seen any changes that have made LAT and VLAT tankers more effective in wildland firefighting?

DS – Yes.  For example, this year (2020), those tankers were used to great advantage, even as the US Fire Service (USFS) had to react to the reality of firefighting fighting within COVID-19 restrictions.  Specifically, the USFS activated a large number of aircraft and placed them throughout the western US for initial attack purposes.  This resulted in less of a need to move people around, and led to more assets available at the outbreak of—and closer to—the fires, which I believe led to a higher success rate in initial attack.  It also made more aircraft available for large fire support.  In fact, this was the first time since the late 1990s, that there were 40 LAT/VLAT tankers, that this kind of deployment was done on such a large scale, and it was all COVID-driven.  We caught a lot of small fires and kept them from becoming large fires.

air tanker dropping Cave Fire Santa Barbara California
Neptune’s Tanker 12, a BAe-146, drops on the Cave Fire near Santa Barbara, California Nov. 26, 2019. Photo by Mike Eliason for Santa Barbara County FD.

FA – How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the ability of the industry to move people and assets to where needed?

DS – It has gotten better.  At the start of COVID in the US, airline schedules were severely reduced, and hotels and restaurants were closed.  Today, restrictions are not as bad, so moving people around is not as significant an issue as it had been.  Now, that’s just in the US.  With international operations, there are still significant issues.

FA – Since fire seasons are only projected to get worse, and fires more destructive, do we need even greater numbers of fixed wing tankers—both LAT and VLAT?  If so, by your estimate, about how many more does the country need?

DS – The number of large and very large air tankers operated by private industry today—about 38—is about the same as we had in the late 1990s.  The aircraft are faster, more reliable, and carry larger quantities of retardant, but costs have increased, putting even more strain on firefighting agencies’ budgets.  The Rand report–(Air Attack Against Wildfires — Understanding U.S. Forest Service Requirements for Large Aircraft)–which was released in 2012, indicated an optimal fleet under exclusive use contracts would be 18-28 LATs.  We have exceeded that, so there are enough aircraft for a normal or average fire season, as well as surge capacity for an above normal fire season.

FA – The USFS has moved more toward CWN and away from exclusive EU contracts, as you indicated earlier.  Could this ultimately impact the ability of the industry to invest in more aircraft, support staff, pilots and maintenance infrastructure, degrading the industry’s ability to respond to what could be a new normal with fire seasons?

DS – Yes. If we see several below average fire seasons, I believe we will see a negative impact on the air tanker industry under the current contacting model.  The Blue Ribbon Task Force report, which was published in 2004, suggested longer term contracts to assure vendor capability to maintain high standards in maintenance and training.  While the industry has made great strides–through significant financial investments in higher quality aircraft, better maintenance, and crew training–my concern is that going to CWN contracts, could begin to undermine the strides the industry has made.

FA – The USFS also wants to move toward one-year guaranteed contracts, with additional years as options at its discretion.  For now, what is the standard USFS EU contract length?  What are the potential consequences for LAT/VLAT operators should one year guaranteed contracts become standard?

DS – NextGen 1 and NextGen 2 contracts were 5-year contracts with five one-year options.  NextGen 3.0 is the one-year contract, with option years.  If that becomes the new USFS contacting model, I believe it will create a barrier to entry for other vendors due to the risks involved.  It will also make long-term planning for aircraft acquisition, maintenance, training and hiring of staff, difficult even for the established vendors in aerial firefighting.

FA – There has been talk about the need to conduct aerial firefighting at night.  In your opinion, are equipment vendors offering avionics which would make this possible for LAT/VLAT operators?  In fact, is it even practical and safe?

DS – The technology exists for aerial firefighting at night, but it’s expensive, and there is no cohesive package you can purchase and install on a fixed wing aircraft to make it practical and safe.  I think it is much lower risk for helicopters, but not ready for the fixed wing world just yet.  Will we get there?  Yes, but I’m not sure when.

FA – In recent years, the private aerial firefighting industry has been concerned about government becoming more involved in the business.  For example, CAL FIRE has configured ex-Coast Guard C-130s for tanker operations.  Is this still a concern today?  Do you see more State fire protection agencies getting into aerial firefighting?

DS – CAL FIRE has always had its own program, and it is increasing its aerial firefighting capacity.  However, I do not see other States following the CAL FIRE model.  The USFS has given up on it, because it has seen private industry creating the capacity, and it no longer sees a need for its own program.  Also, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is not interested.

FA – Air tanker operations demand special flying skills.  How has the industry done with respect to pilot recruitment and retention?

DS – The industry has done well with pilot retention and training  Turnover tends to be low, because it draws a very unique subset of individuals that get into the industry and stay long-term.

Tanker 02, a BAe-146
Tanker 02, a BAe-146, at Missoula during winter maintenance May 25, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

FA – Pilots and mechanics in aerial firefighting are constantly on the road and away from home during busy fire seasons.  Does that impact retention?

DS – Yes.  In fact, some 10 years ago, at Neptune, we addressed that by increasing the number of employees and instituting a rotating schedule, so that our people are not away for very long periods.  For example, we try to provide a work schedule for our mechanics of one month on, one month off.  For pilots, the goal is three weeks on and three off.  It has worked out well, and we have seen a lower turn-over rate as a result.

FA – LAT and VLAT operators have modernized their operations through acquisition and modification of former commercial jets.  In your opinion, will the next step be some type of purpose-built tanker?  What are the challenges and issues that might prevent that from happening anytime soon?

DS – Cost is a big factor.  If the wildland management agencies are interested in a purpose built aircraft, budgeting models will have to change significantly.  A brand new CL 415, which is a purpose-built scooper, is about $38 million.  A new C-130 is about-$50-60 million, but a used C-130 can be had for $10 million or less, depending on condition and number of flight hours.  The industry can tank a half-life commercial airliner for a fraction of a purpose-built aircraft cost.  So, while a purpose-built tanker would be great, I don’t know that it could do anything more for the industry than a repurposed commercial aircraft.

Tanker 02, a BAe-146
Neptune’s Tanker 02, a BAe-146, at Missoula during winter maintenance May 25, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Opinion: Congress needs to be careful about banning all parts for drones made outside the U.S.

October 21, 2020   |   1:44 p.m.

drone wildland fire
Drone Amplified photo.

By Carrick Detweiler

The end of summer means the heart of fire season for many Americans. You’ve probably read about a fire somewhere in the United States; so far this year, more than 43,000 fires have burned in states throughout the country, with more than 7 million acres destroyed or damaged nationwide and more than a thousand acres locally in Nebraska. In practical terms, these fires have ravaged property, homes and lives, leaving behind burned out businesses and discarded family memories.
Those on the front lines working to protect lives and livelihoods need every tool available to fight back and keep the fires at bay. For many working to head off the next big fire, it also means managing lands at high risk for the next devastating blaze through prescribed burns. And over the past several years, firefighters have embraced a new tool to help them manage fires: drones.

My company, Drone Amplified, is a Nebraska small business that is helping firefighters across America. We founded our company based on pioneering work conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Our product, Ignis, is a sophisticated drone-based system that works in concert with fire-protection agencies to set fires in areas that have been identified as high risk. These burns effectively eliminate the fuel wildfires rely on to spread out of control. They are critical tools for federal, state and local agencies charged with reducing fire danger.

Right now, drones are helping state and federal officials in California battle fires throughout the state. Officials in neighboring Colorado used our Ignis system to perform backburns to contain the Pine Gulch fire, which is the largest fire in Colorado history. Drones have become part of everyday wildfire management and prevention.

drone wildland fire
Drone Amplified photo.

Drones are key to wildfire management not because they are exciting and futuristic. It’s because they are safer and cheaper than the traditional approach using manned helicopters. Since July of this year alone, at least five people have died in helicopters and airplanes flying aerial firefighting missions. By contrast, an unmanned drone can fly through smoke or at night, eliminating such risks. And a United States Department of Agriculture study found that using a drone with our Ignis system for fire prevention work costs $1,800 a day, compared to $16,000 a day when using a helicopter.

Despite the success we’ve seen with drones in controlling and fighting wildfires, recent policy proposals risk reversing the success we’ve seen in using drones for wildfire management. For example, a key bill under consideration in Congress would ban certain drones based on where they are made. Under these proposed policies, a majority of federal, state and local firefighters couldn’t use many of their drones even if a single part was made in China, grounding much of the deployed drone fleet and leaving a gaping hole in the resources first responders use today.

These proposals stem from fear that drones made in China actually send data to China and, more specifically, the Chinese government. Of course, it’s right to be concerned about data security. We have to know the products we rely on are secure and safe. But recently, we’ve seen studies from independent third-party testers that demonstrate how drones from a leading drone manufacturer, Chinese-based DJI, do not transmit data to China. And that’s important to us. Our business, and the work of so many firefighters, counts on drone technology from around the world. Knowing that our data is protected is absolutely critical. Without that knowledge, we wouldn’t do business with DJI or any other company. After all, we’re a business that works with firefighters and law enforcement every day. We care deeply about protecting our nation’s security and the privacy of user data. If we didn’t trust it, we wouldn’t use it.

One way to better assess the data security risks associated with drones is to consider the creation of government-issued standards to protect data and make sure user data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands — standards that would apply to any drone no matter where it was made. This should be complemented with investments in American companies that are developing the next generation of drone technologies.

drone wildland fire
Drone Amplified photo.

As a Nebraska startup, we’re passionate about our work and our innovation. We want to be recognized for creating something truly meaningful. We want to grow and contribute to the Nebraska economy. But we can’t do that if Washington sets policy based out of fear, with no consideration for the real-world impacts. We need Washington to reconsider these proposals that would ban drones because of their country-of-origin. Instead, policymakers in Washington should set national standards that would apply to everybody, whether the technology is made in China, France or the United States.

Drones may seem like gadgets used by amateur pilots and aviation geeks. And that would probably be true. But for many of us, they are literally saving lives. Washington needs to let us continue what we and many others are doing to protect people and communities from wildfires.

Carrick Detweiler received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010 and joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a faculty member in the Computer Science and Engineering Department in 2010. In 2015, he co-founded Drone Amplified to commercialize technology developed at UNL. He is currently the CEO of Drone Amplified which is redefining fire management practices by enabling safe, efficient and low-cost aerial ignition and fire analytics.

Rappeller training in Idaho modified for COVID-19

Rappel training in Salmon ID
Rappel training in Salmon, ID. USFS photo.

Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

CURRENT HEALTH GUIDELINES TO BE IMPLEMENTED AT FIREFIGHTER ACADEMIES

As the fire season approaches, annual firefighter and rappel training conducted in May and June on the Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho continues this year, but with modifications for COVID-19.

“We are taking steps to minimize all risk of exposure in order to keep our wildland firefighters and our communities safe,” said Salmon-Challis National Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark.  “Rappellers provide a vital service as wildland firefighters trained and prepared to operate in aerial operations, and as aerially delivered firefighters.”

Specific mitigation measures include reducing the number of rappellers in training, screening all participants for COVID-19 prior to their travel, closely following current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health guidelines and social distancing practices, and aligning with the State of Idaho’s mitigations measures for each stage of the plan.

Training events are as follows:

  • Week of May 19: Twenty-three veteran rappellers from six of the twelve Rappel bases around the nation, along with fifteen additional support staff and three helicopters with flight crews training in Salmon.  The training will take place at the Salmon Air Base and Sal Mountain.
  • Week of May 21: Salmon Air Base will be hosting Spotter Emersion training with twenty-three personnel participating in training which will better prepare the trainees for becoming a qualified rappel spotter to deploy rappellers and cargo safely.
  • May 27 through June 7 or until complete: Thirty-nine rookie rappellers, along with fifteen support staff and three helicopters and flight crews training at the Salmon Air Base and Haynes Creek.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest hosts new firefighters from across the country every year for this intensive, performance-based training.  The purpose is to train rappellers and spotters in accordance with the National Rappel Operations Guide; to strengthen leadership, teamwork, and communications within the rappel community, and to produce quality aerial delivered firefighters for use in fire and aviation operations.

The USForest Service National Helicopter Rappel Program’s primary mission is initial attack.  Rappel crews may be utilized for large fire support, all hazard incident operations, and resource management objectives.

Integrating air and ground operations for prompt initial attack on wildfires

If you were operating as an integrated air-ground team, your air element would be assigned to you before you get to the fire. You start with your own air support.

Rice Ridge Fire in Montana helicopter
A firefighter talks to the pilot of a helicopter as he drops retardant on the Rice Ridge Fire in Montana August 16, 2017. USFS photo by Kari Greer.

Guest Author: Bean Barrett

This is a military viewpoint. I am not a professional firefighter but I would like to think that I may have learned a bit about air operations over my 31 years of flying as a Naval Aviator and a tiny bit by living in the forested front range of Colorado, evacuating for wildfires, and working with our fire protection district and County for the last 8 years.

From the outside looking in on fighting wildfires, it has become apparent to me that those who fight wildland fires might want to take a hard look at a modified organizational concept and operations if available ground personnel are going to be reduced by the COVID virus this fire season.

Stop thinking of air as an independent resource. It isn’t a case of separate but equal.

Why?

If the IA gets done quickly and done well, there will be far less need for extended attack with additional personnel and aircraft on a larger scale.  This Australian study clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of rapid ground and air attack and the advantages offered by air support. It is a great first step in explaining the utility and effectiveness of air support. This study was done when Australia was primarily using SEATS and Helos. If you haven’t read it yet, at least read and think about the implications of page 4. What is required is a US program that finds the fire early and integrates air and ground operations for prompt IA.

FireAviation.com has previously discussed the potential negative impact of the COVID-19 virus on firefighting manpower this fire season and has recommended that the Federal government contract for significant additional exclusive use aircraft. If there aren’t going to be enough firefighters this season, aircraft offer the only option to make up for some of the shortfall in firefighting capability.  If more and better IA is the preferred strategy then EU is preferred to CWN aircraft that get here tomorrow. CWN contracts aren’t going to be much help for IA.

The wildfire firefighting business needs to collectively look at developing an integrated firefighting air-ground team. The Army and the USMC have amassed a lot of knowledge and experience on how to closely integrate and employ aviation with ground forces. Much of it can be found in Joint Chiefs of Staff publication JP 3-09.3 provided you want to wade thru the acronym alphabet soup and military doctrine. The military experience shows that effectively integrated air support greatly increases the effectiveness of both air and ground forces.

What kind of aircraft?

There is a big difference between the potential of integrated fire fighting operations and the simultaneous fire fighting operations practiced today. Integrated operations offer the most synergy between air and ground units because the ground and air elements work directly on the same immediate tactical objective in time and space. Integrated aircraft directly support a ground crew or module’s tactical objectives. Simultaneous operations are synchronized in time but pursue a larger overall objective in the fireground. I realize the terms “integrated” and “simultaneous” aren’t normally used in the firefighting vocabulary but they represent the concept I suggest the community needs to consider with respect to aviation utilization.

Firefighting tanker aircraft do not have the advantage of precision-guided munitions or computer aiming systems. The retardant or water payload is free fall and accuracy is subject to the vagaries of visibility, release parameters, and winds. Slow and close is better for accuracy. This and the overriding requirement for ground personnel safety is the principle reason that not all aircraft are suitable for direct integrated support.  Only rotary wing aircraft and small fixed wing aircraft operating in direct communications with and in visual contact with ground firefighting units can provide safe drops for what used to be called in the military “danger close” air support.  The accuracy of a fixed wing Type 1 or VLAT and the large area coverage of the payload cannot ensure safe drops in close proximity to ground personnel even with a good smoke mark by a lead plane. Large fixed wing is best utilized for simultaneous support and independent operations as opposed to integrated support.

Helos may be the best all around choice due to their ability to utilize nearby water sources, their potential faster reload-return cycles, high drop accuracy, their multi-mission logistics, transport, visual reconnaissance potential, and on station persistence.

Command and Control

Consider direct control of smaller aviation assets by ground crews and modules. Locate local air control capability with the ground component. The ground controller would coordinate with any airborne commander or supervisor such as an ATGS.  Integrated support aircraft would check in and out using existing procedures but operate directly with and under the control of their ground element. The employment and effectiveness of available rotary wing and small aircraft should prove to be optimized in integrated IA operations. The earlier the relatively smaller aircraft payloads can be employed, the more effective they are going to be. The IC would still be responsible for overall asset assignment and command but if the concept is viable, the IMT will be utilizing more effective combined air-ground units and working with combined units instead of coordinating and directing separate but equal air and ground efforts.

An aviation element can also provide a significant communications relay capability to and for the ground element.

Results?

Since this is a different concept, only those of you that do the job can judge. Based on military experience and the previously mentioned Australian study, I believe combined integrated operations should be a much more effective use of rotary wing and smaller fixed wing aviation assets that might otherwise be underutilized. It should provide better overall results, especially if employed in rapid IA, assuming aircraft operating contracts enable timely availability. EU vs CWN.

Should a strike team have 1 or 2 integrated aircraft?

Would a reduced strength Hotshot crew be as effective if they had direct air tanker support from a Type 1 or 2 helo?

How about a reduced strength hand crew with a type 1 or 2 helo?

Would a wildfire module function more effectively in an IA with drops, reconnaissance, and extended comm links provided by a dedicated direct support Type 2 or 3 helo?

Should a helitac operation include a dipping capability to support the ground crew? Would their mission capability expand?

I don’t have any answers to these questions but I absolutely know that “you fight like you train” and “you train like you plan” if air and ground don’t plan and train to operate as an integrated team they cannot fight as an integrated team and if more tankers are put under contract this year, the tanker effectiveness and efficiency will not be as optimized as it could be. You can only expect more of the same on a larger scale unless you change how you operate. The only good way to find out if integrated air-ground operations will work is to try it.

For the ground firefighting element: Perhaps some of today’s thinking about aircraft utility in fighting wildfires has been shaped by the number of Unable To Fill’s received when you called for air support? If you were operating as an integrated air-ground team, your air element would be assigned to you before you get to the fire.  You start with your own air support.

If COVID is going to cause a significant shortage of ground firefighters, fight smarter not harder. If you’re an Incident Commander or in the IMT business try asking the US Marines about the Marine Air Ground Task Force [MAGTAF] organizational concepts and how the USMC integrates air into their operations. I can assure you, it isn’t a case of separate but equal.

Report from Medford air tanker base, June 9, 2016

The progression of the three air tankers through the retardant loading and refueling procedures was “like a ballet on the tarmac”.

Neptune tanker 01 41

Above: Neptune tankers 01 and 41 at Medford, Oregon, June 9, 2016. Photo by Kristin Biechler.

Kristin Biechler spent a couple of hours Thursday at the Medford air tanker base in southwest Oregon. She sent us this report and took the photos Thursday evening. Thanks Kristin.

****

“Base Manager Lonnie Allison was very cooperative and allowed me to talk with various staff, including ground crews, pilots and dispatchers and to take photos up close. The Medford base is really jumping these past three days with the Pony fire in northern California. Neptune tankers 01, 10, and 41 (all BAe-146s) are making turnarounds to the Pony fire in about 45 mins. From Medford it’s about 12 minutes of flight time to the fire. They drop their retardant, then return to Medford to fill up with retardant and refuel if needed.

Neptune pilots
Neptune Pilots Rob Minter (left) – 6 years with Neptune and John Gallagher (right) 8 years with Neptune.

The pilots were telling me they get about 3 hours of flight time per refueling. Pilot John Gallagher said the Pony fire had made a big run on Wednesday night. He noticed a significant difference this morning that the fire had gone down into the canyon almost to the river and up another flank. He was based out of Redmond yesterday, but the three Neptune tankers are in Medford today for the Pony fire.

Neptune tanker 10

It was like a ballet on the tarmac with all three planes on the ground at the same time. The Redmond airport is also busy with aircraft on several fires in Eastern Oregon. T-162 and T-163 (photos from 6/8/16) are now assigned to Eastern Oregon fires, rather than the Pony fire in California.

I was listening to the air traffic communications between pilots and the Medford tower plus the USFS tanker base. A few minutes after departure one of the Neptune pilots reported seeing a new wisp of smoke, single column, and circled around to give coordinates. That turned out to be a small grass fire, very near the USFS Applegate Ranger District office. The tower made appropriate notifications and an Oregon Department of Forestry hand crew was dispatched.

Also of interest was the report that the Redmond, Oregon airport had to be shut down due to a disabled air tanker on the runway. Tankers from there are currently assigned to Eastern Oregon fires (Owyhee Canyon and Akawana fires.) All tankers were being diverted to Klamath Falls, OR for refueling. There is also an air tanker base at Klamath Falls so refueling and retardant would not be an issue.

Also, note that VLAT T-912 is flying out of Castle AFB in California to the Pony fire. One of the dispatchers told me the turnaround on that DC-10 was about 53 minutes on the Pony fire.

retardant
Hunot Retardant Co. employees Jasmine Serabia (left) and her mother Cristina Serabia (right) in front of the retardant pumping station for Pits 1 and 2 at Medford.

I also met and talked with the ground crew that manages the retardant station. Cristina Serabia and her daughter, Jasmine Serabia are employed by Hunot Retardant Company out of Ramona, California and work on a USFS contract at Medford. Ms. Serabia indicated when the second, portable base is opened at Medford for Very Large Air Tankers (VLAT) she will assign a crew to that location and will also work shifts on that side of the airport. The scheduled date for opening that base is July 1 but with all the early fire activity it may be necessary to open it sooner.

Medford Air Tanker Base Manager Lonnie Allison wanted everyone to know, “we’re already kicking butt here at Medford.” As of noon today, they had just pumped 100,000 gallons of retardant for the season which began on June 5.”

Annual fire training in California for National Guard helicopter crews

national guard helicopter fire traning

By John Yount 

This year the annual fire suppression training for California and Nevada Air and Army National Guard helicopter crews was held April 15-17, 2016 near Sutter Creek, California. Chinook, Blackhawk, and Lakota helicopters participated in a mock fire incident using Pardee Lake as a water source.

The Guard is only activated when private sector helicopter operators cannot fill the incident commander’s resource orders for a particular type or mission specific helicopter. Usually the requests are for a Type 1 helicopter, a  Blackhawk or Chinook, that cannot be supplied by the private sector in a reasonable period of time.

national guard helicopter fire traning

The Lakota helicopter is used as a helicopter coordinator platform and for medical evacuation missions. If requested by the incident commander the Lakota can be dispatched with military medics. During the last five decades the Guard assisted on fires in almost every fire season.

national guard helicopter fire traning

The policy of teaming a Guard helicopter with a CAL FIRE military helicopter manager serving as a flight crew member has been a successful program for twenty years. The military manager not only provides tactical fire direction including initial attack on new fires but arranges for complete logistical support.  The manager works closely with a military liaison to make sure the program flows smoothly.

national guard helicopter fire traning

These photos were taken by Bob Martinez, a Volunteer in Prevention Photographer for CAL FIRE. You can see more of his work at his web site.

national guard helicopter fire traning

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