747 Supertanker ordered for wildfires in Bolivia

747 Supertanker
747 Supertanker taking off at McClellan Air Field March 24, 2016.

President Evo Morales announced on Wednesday that Bolivia has ordered the 747 Supertanker to assist firefighters battling a massive outbreak of wildfires in the Amazon basin.

The huge air tanker, identified as Tanker 944, that can carry up to 19,200 gallons (72,680 liters) of water or fire retardant is scheduled to depart from Sacramento McClellan Airport at 10:45 a.m. PDT Thursday and arrive in Viru Viru International Airport in Bolivia at about 6:42 p.m. local time.

The aircraft is being leased from Global Supertanker. According to laRazón, the company required an up front guarantee of $800,000 US dollars.

This will be fifth formal international contract assignment for the 747. Previously it fought fires in Israel in 2010 and 2016, Mexico in 2011, and Chile in 2017.

The first drop it made on an actual fire was in Spain in July 2009 while on a world tour to introduce the aircraft to wildland firefighters. Later on that trip it dropped retardant on the Railbelt Complex in Alaska. At that time the aircraft was operated by Evergreen. Since then it has been purchased by Global Supertanker and upgraded from a 747-100 to a 747-400, but the retardant delivery system is essentially the same.

747 supertanker palmer fire
The 747 SuperTanker drops on the Palmer Fire south of Calimesa and Yucaipa in southern California, September 2, 2017. Photo by Cy Phenice, used with permission.

The article was edited to show that the 747 is scheduled to go to Bolivia, not Brazil.

A tour of Ramona Air Attack Base

Ramona Air Attack Base

On Wednesday CAL FIRE gave a live tour of the Air Attack Base at Ramona, California. They talked about the OV-10 Bronco, S2T air tankers, and the C-130 that the agency has under an exclusive use contract until the end of August which is serving as a training platform so their pilots will be ready for the planned acquisition of seven C-130 air tankers.

Here is the recorded version of the tour.

A quick introduction to CAL FIRE’s OV-10 Bronco

CAL FIRE OV-10 Bronco
CAL FIRE OV-10 Bronco at Redding, California, August 7, 2014.


Air tanker base opens at Austin

Air Tankers 15 and 131 at Austin
Air Tankers 15 and 131 at Austin, August 18, 2019. Texas Forest Service photo.

Two large air tankers, T-131 and T-15, have been dispatched to the recently reopened Air Tanker Base at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to assist with increased wildfire activity across the state. The portable base was first established at Austin in 2017.

Significant fire activity has increased recently, particularly in northwest Texas, Central Texas and the Cross Timbers region where hot and dry conditions persist and fuel loading is high. Critical fuel dryness is expanding across South Texas, the Hill Country and Rolling Plains as rainfall deficits continue to build across large portions of the state.

During periods of high fire activity, aviation resources are used to support suppression efforts on the ground, aiding in the protection of structures and other valuable resources. “This year, we’ve utilized helicopters and single engine air tankers for wildfire response in areas with increased wildfire activity,” said Cynthia Foster, Texas A&M Forest Service Planning and Preparedness Department Head. “However, we could have a large, intense fire at any time so we want to be prepared and have additional aircraft ready to respond.”

Opening the airtanker base will allow for faster response times and greater cost efficiency when responding to wildfires across the state. “The airtanker’s speed is greater than that of a helicopter or single engine air tanker. These aircraft will be able to get anywhere in Texas in under one hour,” says George Martin, Air Operations Branch Director. “An airtanker can drop a line of retardant in front of a subdivision of homes, slowing the spread of the fire and allowing ground units time to respond.”

The base, equipped to handle all aircraft in the national airtanker fleet, will be staffed by trained and qualified Texas A&M Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Austin Fire Department firefighting personnel.

Texas A&M Forest Service does not own any aviation resources but instead uses federal aviation contracts through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for all firefighting aircraft.

The article was edited to replace a file photo of an air tanker with one taken at Austin August 18, 2019.

More details possibly emerge about air tanker’s hazardous exit out of drop area

BAe-146 air tanker hazardous retardant drop near miss
Screenshot from the video below of BAe-146 air tanker.

We posted a video on August 14 of a BAe-146 air tanker dropping retardant on a fire. While exiting the area the aircraft flew closely over a ridge stirring up dust on the ground. It generated many comments, with one person writing “it doesn’t appear to be a problem” while others considered it a good cautionary learning opportunity.

Yesterday one of our readers sent us information about a Safecom that may or may not be related to this incident. The report was filed August 1, 2019 by the crew of a BAe-146 about an incident that occurred July 1, 2019.

Here is the complete narrative:

While conducting retardant operations I descended below a ridge crossing altitude. This was NOT on purpose. I tunnel visioned the drop, and continued down. This was a little fill in spot and I was really focused on finishing the line. As I stated, this was NOT on purpose. We{crew} debriefed and talked about what happened, and of course, how to prevent this type of screw up. Thanks

The “Corrective Action” was presumably written later by someone in aviation management:

Crew will review SOP`s, CRM, etc. RASM: Glad to see the crew realized and admitted what occurred. Hope to see others follow suit as narratives like this remind us all to be diligent.

Cutting it close on a fire retardant drop

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

Firefighters use drone to ignite nighttime firing operations

The use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drones, by wildland firefighters has come a long way since one was first used in in 2016 to ignite a prescribed fire at Homestead National Monument near Beatrice, Nebraska. That drone, developed by staff from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, could easily be held in one hand and could carry about a dozen plastic spheres that ignite 30 to 45 seconds after being dropped by the aircraft.

In 2018 the Bureau of Land Management began testing a much larger drone to serve as an aerial ignition platform, the Matrisse 600 that can carry up to 13 pounds. In case you’re curious, you can buy one yourself — prices start at around $5,000 before you begin adding a gimbal, camera, and other accessories.

Matrisse Drone Springs Fire aerial ignition
Technicians attend to a Matrisse 600 drone which is being used for aerial ignition on the Springs Fire. Photo: incident management team.

In June, 2019 a Matrisse was used for aerial ignition on the Maroon Fire 18 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. Currently a similar aircraft has been used for the last two nights for firing operations on the Inyo National Forest on the Springs Fire 13 miles southeast of Lee Vining, California. So far the aircraft has been used to ignite approximately 20 to 40 acres in some of the northern units of the fire and the plan is to ignite more  as early as tonight, as conditions allow.

Kerry Greene, an Information Officer for the Springs Fire, said the advantages of using the UAS platform over hand firing in this case are, precision of application, protection of cultural sites, reduction of risk and exposure to firefighters, and minimizing firefighter fatigue.

drone aerial ignition wildfire
This type of drone was used for aerial ignition in Southwest Oregon in 2018, and on the Maroon Fire on the Coconino National Forest June 1, 2019. USFS photo.

Coulson-Unical Blackhawk spotted at McClellan

Coulson Unical Blackhawk
A Coulson-Unical Blackhawk, UH-60A, was photographed at Sacramento McClellan Airport August 14, 2019 by Mike McKeig.

As we reported in March, Coulson Aviation is partnering with Unical Air, a new unit of the Unical Group of Companies, to create a heavy lift helicopter joint venture company that will build and operate Boeing CH-47 and Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk aircraft for aerial firefighting and other markets.

At the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019, Britt Coulson explained that they intended to install internal tanks in both models of helicopters. In the last few weeks the new partnership has been working to get their first aircraft of the joint venture carded, the company said in a Facebook post August 12, when they posted the photo below:

Coulson Unical Blackhawk
Coulson photo posted August 12, 2019.

The camo paint job reminds me of Air Spray’s T-170. We’ll have to see if this makes it less visible to other aircraft when flying low and slow over a fire.

Air tanker 170 BAe-146
Air tanker 170 at MCC March 12, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The livery on the Coulson-Unical helicopter is very different from their Blackhawk that was on display in Atlanta.

Coulson-Unical CU-47 CU-60
Coulson-Unical CU-47 and CU-60 in Atlanta March 5, 2019. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Coulson-Unical CU-60 helicopter UH-60
The engineering design for the water/retardant delivery system on the Coulson-Unical CU-60. Coulson image.

In the video below, Mr. Coulson describes the new Chinook and Blackhawk program they are undertaking with Unical. It was filmed at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

Report that a fire recon plane made forced landing in Oregon

Cessna 206
File photo (not the aircraft that crashed) of a Cessna 206.

Little information is available about a reported forced landing made last week by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) air attack plane, 52 Uniform.

The Cessna 206 was on a fire recon mission when the pilot reported a mechanical malfunction and was forced to set down in the Black Bear Swamp northeast of Butte Falls. Both occupants of the aircraft escaped injury, but the plane was severely damaged.

There is a report that both men walked away, literally hiking out to meet personnel on the way to assist them.

The accident occurred around August 9. We will update this article when personnel at the ODF return our calls.