Hard landing for firefighting helicopter in New South Wales

The pilot walked away with minor injuries

helicopter hard landing New South Wales fire
Hard landing for a helicopter that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales. A dislodged rotor blade can be seen nearby. Screenshot from ABC video.

A helicopter in Australia that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales experienced a mechanical problem Saturday morning which led to a hard landing. Firefighters on the ground were able to quickly put out a fire in the engine which spread to some grass around the helicopter.

“As a result, all aircraft in the area have been grounded to undergo routine safety checks,” said a spokesperson for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Paramedics treated the pilot at the scene for minor injuries but he did not need to be taken to a hospital, Matthew Doran of ABC News reported.

The privately owned helicopter was operating under a firefighting contract for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

helicopter hard landing New South Wales fire
Hard landing for a helicopter that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales. Screenshot from ABC video.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

NPS selects Ody Anderson as Aviation Safety Manager

Mr. Anderson is a certified UAS pilot

From the National Park Service

Ody Anderson
Ody Anderson. NPS photo.

Alton “Ody” Anderson has been named national aviation safety manager for the National Park Service (NPS). Ody is currently the regional aviation manager (RAM) for DOI Unified Regions 1 and 2, as well as National Capital Area.

In his current position, Anderson oversees a highly complex aviation program for the regions that includes year-round aviation operations at Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. The regions have two fleet helicopters, exclusive use helicopter contract, other contracts for helicopter services, one fleet fixed wing, and four unmanned aircraft system (UAS) fleet programs. Anderson is also a certified UAS pilot.

Prior to becoming the RAM, Anderson served as the Fire Management Officer (FMO) at Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS) and the Atlantic Zone in NPS’s Southeast Region. As the FMO of the Atlantic Zone, he oversaw fire planning and operations at eight NPS units. The Atlantic Zone used robust collaborative efforts with local, state, and federal partners to manage fire across agency boundaries, resulting in the presentation of the Pulaski Award in 2015 to the Greater Okefenokee Association of Land Owners (GOAL), of which CUIS is a partner. Ody maintains several wildland fire and aviation qualifications and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the aviation management position. Prior to joining the NPS, Anderson served as a fuels specialist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where he planned fuels treatments in Colorado. Throughout his career in fire and aviation, Ody served in several other positions that prepared him for his new role. During his time in Colorado and California with the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, he held positions on hand crews, wildland fire modules, engines, and helicopter crews.

NPS aviation branch chief, John Buehler looks forward to having Ody join the team that also includes fleet and helicopter specialists. “Ody will be a great addition to the national aviation team and fill a needed position to give the NPS the best customer service and excel in our safety record for aviation. His numerous years of operational experience within the wildland fire and aviation community will bring additional knowledge to the aviation branch, which will positively impact the overall NPS aviation program.”

Excited to begin his new role, Anderson said, “I look forward to engaging in this new role. It should prove to be both challenging personally and vital to the aviation program as a whole. I intend to work with managers, pilots, crews, partners, and vendors to create a safe aviation environment for the NPS. I am also very excited to be working as part of our national aviation team and collaborating to ensure that we have an efficient, effective, and safe aviation program.”

Anderson will officially begin his new role around February 3, 2020 at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID.

Helicopter struck by suspected drone over downtown Los Angeles makes precautionary landing

This could happen over a wildfire

Drone Damage ABC7 helicopter
Damage on the ABC7 helicopter’s horizontal stabilizer believed to have been caused by midair collision with a drone. Screenshot from ABC7 video.

Wednesday night a news helicopter from ABC7 flying over Los Angeles was struck by what the crew believes was a drone. Not sure exactly what had been hit, they executed a precautionary landing to look for damage, and found a hole in the horizontal stabilizer.

If it had hit the windshield or a rotor blade the event could have had a very different outcome.

Drones are sometimes illegally flown over active wildfires, which requires all aerial fire suppression to be halted until the air can be declared safe again.

This is the FAA’s position on flying drones over fires (from 2018):

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is warning drone operators to avoid unauthorized flights near wildfires or face civil penalties totaling more than $20,000.

“If you fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire, you could get someone killed,” the FAA warned earlier this week. Unauthorized drone flights not only constitute a collision hazard for fire fighting aircraft but also can distract pilots of firefighting aircraft, the FAA said.

“If you own a drone, do not fly near or over a wildfire,” said FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell. “It’s against the law, and firefighting aircraft could be grounded, disrupting time-critical fire fighting efforts. Your hobby is not worth another person’s life.”

Intrusions by unauthorized drones into fire traffic control areas have repeatedly forced the suspension of aerial firefighting operations (“Fire Traffic Control,” ASW, 7-8/16), and reports from wildland fire agencies indicate the extent of the disruptions.

For example, the FAA cited several such reports: “Drone spotted by pilot at eye level during [helicopter] bucket work.” “[S]potted a drone over fire. All helicopter operations shut down.” “UAS [unmanned aircraft system] intrusion into TFR (temporary flight restriction). Helicopters disengaged from fire.”

Looking back at the Martin Mars

Martin Mars 2009
The Hawaii Martin Mars was photographed near Hemet, California by JD Davis, October 2009.

In spite of the fact that it has been about four years since the massive Martin Mars has assisted firefighters on the ground by dropping 7,200 gallons of water, the unique nature of the huge flying boat remains  vividly in the memory of those who worked with it, under it, or were a part of the air crew on the seven aircraft that were built in the 1940s. It is hard to forget the sound of those four 18-cylinder big-ass 2,500 hp radial engines. They could typically carry 32,000 pounds of cargo, 133 troops, or up seven Willys MB Jeeps.

Don Hoover worked on Martin Mars crews while he was in the US Navy, serving as 2nd or 3rd Engineer on the last four that were still in service when the U.S. Navy shut down the program in 1956. He said his tasks included setting power, wing checks, weight and balance, fuel transfers,  tracking fuel vs. time/distance, and assisted in attaching mooring lines. A common configuration was for 40 passengers, from all branches of the military and dependents. Cargo consisted of anything from medicines to aircraft engines. Some of the more memorable flights, Mr. Hoover said, were when they lost an engine after taking off from Hawaii, and the time they replaced an oil strainer in flight after departing from NAS Alameda at San Francisco Bay.

Philippines Mars Jet Assisted Take Off
Philippines Mars conducting a Jet Assisted Take Off. U.S. Navy.

He said he also remembers the time they used Jet Assisted Take Off rockets at Kihi Lagoon in Hawaii as they departed with 92,000 pounds gross weight on the way back to California.

All seven of the Martin Mars had names–

  • Old Lady, delivered in 1942. The prototype; was scrapped in 1945.
  • Hawaii Mars I, delivered in 1945. Sank in the Chesapeake Bay in 1945 and was scrapped.
  • Marshall Mars, delivered in 1948. It was destroyed by an engine fire and sank April 5, 1950 off Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii.

The four Martin Mars below were retired by the US Navy in 1956 and sold in 1959 to Forest Industries Flying Tankers, a consortium of British Columbia forest companies, who converted all four into 7,200-gallon firefighting air tankers with retractable scoops on the hull to refill the tanks while skimming across the surface of a lake.

In 2007 the two that had survived, Hawaii and Philippine, were sold to what is now Coulson Aviation, based near Port Alberni, British Columbia. In 2008 and 2009 the US Forest Service used the Hawaii Martin Mars on call when needed contract assignments in California at Lake Shasta and Lake Elsinore. In 2011 it received a 20-day contract to fight fires in Mexico.

  • Philippine Mars, delivered in 1946. Still exists at Coulson Aviation near Port Alberni, BC. It has not been used on a fire since about 2007. The livery has been restored to the original Navy colors. Internally it is still in airtanker configuration with the tank and probe system.
  • Marianas Mars, delivered in 1946. Crashed into Mount Moriarty near Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, on June 23, 1961. While working on a wildfire the water drop mechanism failed, leaving the aircraft unable to climb quickly enough to clear a mountain. The crew of four were killed.
  • Hawaii Mars, delivered in 1946. Still exists at Coulson Aviation near Port Alberni, BC. After being acquired by Coulson it was on contract to fight wildfires for BC until 2013 but was rarely used. It was last operated commercially in 2015 to train Chinese flying boat pilots and also worked on a 30-day firefighting contract that year with British Columbia.
  • Caroline Mars, 1948. Using a special configuration, it set the record for passenger lift on February 25, 1949 when it carried 218 men from NAS North Island, San Diego to NAS Alameda on San Francisco Bay. On October 12, 1962 while parked on its beaching gear onshore at the Victoria International Airport on Vancouver Island, it was damaged beyond repair by Typhoon Freda when she was blown 200 yards across the airport.

“We have a team working on getting [the Hawaii and Philippine Mars] back in serviceable condition and have big plans for them for the end of 2020 or early 2021”, Britt Coulson of Coulson Aviation said December 5. “We have not released what our plans are yet.”

The first two minutes of the video below has some excellent shots of the Hawaii Mars dropping on a small fire near Powell River, BC in 2013.

Before FireAviation.com was born in 2012 we wrote about the Martin Mars numerous times on Wildfire Today. The articles are tagged Martin Mars.

Coulson's Martin Mars
Coulson’s Martin Mars Flying Boat during a take off run at Lake Elsinore at in Southern California.

Continue reading “Looking back at the Martin Mars”

Conair to acquire five flight simulators

The three-axis motion platforms will be part of what is being called the world’s first aerial firefighting training and tactics center

Conair acquire five flight training devices
Conair to acquire five flight training devices from Quantum3D

The Conair Group has awarded a contract to Quantum3D to design, build, and deliver five fully Networked Flight Training Devices (FTD) for the world’s first aerial firefighting training and tactics center in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. Quantum3D will be working with aerial firefighting subject matter experts from Conair to jointly develop advanced wildfire simulation software and training scenarios to improve the efficiency and safety of aerial firefighting.

Partnering with Aerx Labs for the reconfigurable cockpits, Q4 Services for the visual displays, and DBox for the three-axis motion platforms, Quantum3D has assembled an experienced and established team to provide cost-effective and proven components for the flight simulators.

The five integrated training devices are being designed to be reconfigurable to simulate the cockpit and flight dynamics for eight aircraft platforms performing different roles during an aerial firefighting mission.  Each of these reconfigurable FTD’s will be able to perform individual or joint training encompassing different aircraft platforms and scenarios.

“Quantum3D will also emphasize the coordination and interaction of multiple elements in the execution of a mission”, said Mark Matthews, President, Quantum3D.

The custom wildfire simulation software being developed will not only be simulating the ground fire and effects of the aerial retardant being applied by the trainees but will also be simulating the dynamic and dangerous environmental changes created by the fire that pilots may encounter.

“We are excited to be working with Quantum3D to develop a Mission Training System in which our pilots can practice aerial firefighting tactics, techniques and procedures in a safe and risk free environment.  Our goal with the integrated simulators is to mitigate the risks and produce the best-trained and most effective aerial firefighting pilots in the world.  This technology is a quantum leap in training for our industry and the scenarios that we train to will save lives”, said Mark Baird from Conair.

The expectation is that the five new simulators, with eight different aircraft configurations will be available for training before the 2020 fire season.

Contract awarded again to install retardant systems in CAL FIRE’s HC-130H aircraft

A contract awarded in 2016 was cancelled

T-131 tank, ready to be pushed into the aircraft.
The retardant tank for air tanker 131, ready to be pushed into the aircraft, March 20, 2014. Bill Gabbert photo.

Coulson Aviation has received a contract from the U.S. Air Force to install retardant delivery systems on the seven HC-130H aircraft that will be operated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Coulson teamed with Lockheed Martin who will install the tanks at Lockheed’s facility in Greenville, SC.

The Air Force began the contracting process in 2014,  awarded a contract to Coulson in 2016, and cancelled it in 2017. But it was readvertised March 9, 2019 and awarded again to Coulson last month.

Coulson has been installing their version of a 3,500-gallon gravity-powered internal RADS retardant system in C-130Q and C-130H aircraft since at least 2013. It can be installed or removed in a few hours after the modifications are made to the plane.

On December 27, 2013 President Obama signed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act which directed the Coast Guard to transfer seven HC-130H aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. The legislation also directed that the Air Force spend up to $130 million to perform needed routine and heavy maintenance on the aircraft and to convert them into air tankers.

After the Forest Service lost interest in the HC-130H aircraft in 2018, Congress passed legislation to transfer them to CAL FIRE. Since then they have been waiting for the retardant systems to be installed and the maintenance and other conversion tasks to be completed, which is expected to take until 2021. Most of them needed center wing box replacements, which in 2011 cost $6.7 million and takes about 10 months. CAL FIRE has been operating one without a retardant tank, Tanker 118, for several months to train flight crews.

CAL FIRE T-118 HC-130H
Tanker 118 at Sacramento McClellan Airport July 12, 2019.

In November Coulson bought five C-130H transport planes from the Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency (NDMA) and will convert them into firefighting air tankers. The formal takeover is planned for the end of this year or early in 2020.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Brett and Kevin. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Another Firehawk helicopter has been delivered to Los Angeles County

In a couple of years the Department expects to have a total of 7 Firehawks

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Sikorsky S70I Firehawk being tested Nov. 16, 2019 in Colorado. Photo by Erick Lama for United Rotorcraft.

San Diego Fire-Rescue is not the only department that is adding new Sikorsky S70I Firehawk helicopters to their aerial firefighting fleets. The finishing touches are being applied to one for Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACFD).

This new aircraft, Helicopter 21 (N821LA) was photographed while it was being tested in Colorado (above) on November 16 by Eric Lama, United Rotorcraft’s program manager on the Firehawk.

On November 23, 2019, the day it was ferried to LACFD’s Barton helibase in Pacoima, California it was photographed again. Helicopter 21 departed from the Denver area at 6:15 a.m PST and arrived at Barton at 4:19 p.m. PST.

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Sikorsky S70I Firehawk on Nov. 23, 2019, the day it was delivered to Los Angeles County Fire Department. United Rotorcraft photo.

United Rotorcraft converted it into a firefighting machine with extended landing gear, a 1,000 gallon firefighting tank, and a retractable snorkel system. The FAA registration number is N821LA.

Another Firehawk purchased by LACFD is in the process of being converted at United Rotorcraft in Colorado and should be delivered in the Spring of 2020. The Department announced in July that they were going to buy two more.

So if you’re keeping score, they had three Firehawks, the one delivered last week brings the number to four, the one expected next Spring will make five, and considering the July announcement there will be a total of seven. LACFD also has five Bell 412 helicopters.

It takes one or two years, at least, for an S70I to be manufactured, painted, converted into a Firehawk, and delivered. It can also take additional weeks or months for the receiving department to further outfit the aircraft and train personnel.

Blackhawks are becoming very popular as firefighting machines. Other departments and private companies acquiring them in recent years include CAL FIRE, Ventura County, San Diego County, Firehawk Helicopters, and Coulson.

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Sikorsky S70I Firehawk on Nov. 23, 2019, the day it was delivered to Los Angeles County Fire Department. United Rotorcraft photo.

San Diego receives new Firehawk helicopter

San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama.

San Diego Fire-Rescue is adding a Sikorsky S70I to their aerial firefighting fleet. After being retrofitted by United Rotorcraft it was delivered at Montgomery Field (map) November 23, 2019. It is now known as a Firehawk after being reconfigured with an aerial firefighting mission package including extended landing gear, a 1,000 gallon firefighting tank, and a retractable snorkel system. The FAA registration number is N283SD.

San Diego has two other firefighting helicopters, a Bell 212 (N800DM) and a Bell 412EP (N807JS) manufactured in 1980 and 2008, respectively. The Fire-Rescue Department has two registration numbers reserved to be used later, N281SD and 282SD.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama.

In June, 2018 the S70I was ferried from Sikorsky’s manufacturing plant in Coatesville, Pennsylvania to Decatur, Texas where it was painted in United Rotorcraft’s facility. The rest of the Firehawk conversion was done by United Rotorcraft in Englewood, Colorado.

All of the Firehawk photos above were taken by Eric Lama, United Rotorcraft’s program manager on the Firehawk.

San Diego Fire-Rescue S70I Firehawk
The San Diego Fire-Rescue S70I before it was painted and retrofitted. June, 2018.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama November 13, 2019.

The San Diego Police Department presently has four Eurocopter AS 350B3 helicopters manufactured in 2006 which they expect to replace in the foreseeable future at a cost of about $21 million, the LA Times reported November 20, 2019:

The City Council this week approved a five-year agreement with Airbus Helicopters to immediately buy one helicopter for $4.6 million and purchase three more for $5.5 million each before the deal ends in 2024.

City officials stressed that the council will be required to approve each of the additional helicopter purchases and that the purchases will be based on whether the city has adequate resources at the time.

The plan to replace all four helicopters is based on recommendations from a consulting firm that analyzed the city’s helicopter fleet in 2017.

San Diego PD will replace the four helicopters with Airbus H125s, which is basically an updated version of the 350B3.