Air show over the Cave Fire

air tanker dropping Cave Fire Santa Barbara California
Tanker 910, a DC-10, drops on the Cave Fire Nov. 26, 2019. Photo by Mike Eliason for Santa Barbara County FD.

1:30 p.m. PST November 26, 2019

Mike Eliason of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department is one of the best Information Officers when it comes to providing information on social media about the status of wildfires. He is prolific on Twitter and judging from his production since the Cave Fire started at about 4 p.m. Monday, he may not have gotten much sleep in the last 24 hours. These five photos of air tankers were all taken Tuesday are just a sample of his work.

Check him out and follow him on Twitter:@EliasonMike

As of 11 a.m. PST on Tuesday the Cave Fire had burned 4,262 acres just northwest of Santa Barbara in Southern California. Additional information is at Wildfire Today including more of Mr. Eliason’s photography. Tuesday morning 10 air tankers and 9 helicopters were available for the fire.

air tanker dropping Cave Fire Santa Barbara California
An air tanker, either an RJ85 or BAe-146, drops on the Cave Fire Nov. 26,
2019. Photo by Mike Eliason for Santa Barbara County FD.
air tanker dropping Cave Fire Santa Barbara California
Tanker 12, a BAe-146, drops on the Cave Fire Nov. 26, 2019. Photo by Mike Eliason for Santa Barbara County FD.
air tanker dropping Cave Fire Santa Barbara California
Tanker 72, an S2-T, drops on the Cave Fire Nov. 26, 2019. Photo by Mike Eliason for Santa Barbara County FD.
air tanker dropping Cave Fire Santa Barbara California
An S2-T air tanker drops on the Cave Fire Nov. 26, 2019. Photo by Mike Eliason for Santa Barbara County FD.

Coulson purchases five C-130H aircraft from Norway

They will be converted to air tankers

https://wildfiretoday.com/tag/cave-fire/
Norwegian C-130H aircraft in storage. Coulson photo.

Coulson Aviation (USA) Inc. has 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.

The NDMA is Norway’s commercial and technical designated procurement and divestment authority for their Department of Defense.

In March 2018, the NDMA sales process began with a Request for Proposal. Six companies responded, however only Coulson Aviation was able to provide the required documentation, including the current government contracts, which was part of the sales regulations. The sales have been approved by U.S. Authorities, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Norwegian Ministry of Defense.

“These C-130H’s have been maintained to the highest standard and with our modifications, along with a new glass cockpit, they will continue to serve the public for years to come,” said Britt Coulson, President of Coulson Aviation.

The five C-130Hs have been stored at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.

“These airplanes have been very important for the Norwegian Defense, and I am pleased that they will now also be useful for civilian purposes, said Frank Bakke-Jensen, Minister of Defense in Norway. Mette Sørfonden, Director General for NDMA, added “This is the most significant material sales project finalized after the establishment of NDMA, and it has been an important achievement […].”

Coulson has been operating C-130Q  and C-130H models since at least 2013. In 2017 the company purchased six 737-300’s with the intention of converting them into 4,000-gallon “Fireliner” air tankers. Britt Coulson said they saw an opportunity when Southwest Airlines made a decision to replace their 737-300’s with the new 737-Max. Conversions on at least two 737-300s are complete, with one being sold to the government of New South Wales Australia. The other has a call when needed contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

Interview with the pilot of the Smokey Bear balloon

Smokey Bear balloon
Smokey Bear balloon at the Shenandoah County Fire. Fred Turck photo.

The Smokey Bear hot air balloon has been flying over crowds of people since its first public voyage in 1993 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. In 2012 it survived calls by two Senators to ground the program. But in the 1,806 articles posted on Fire Aviation, we have never written about flying the aircraft. We’re about to fix that oversight.

This is an interview with the pilot, Henry Rosenbaum who is the Henrico County (Virginia) Fire Marshal and a part-time balloon pilot for the Friends Of Smokey Balloon Organization. It was conducted by Fred Turck of the Virginia Department of Forestry.


When did you join the fire service? How did you end up as Henrico’s Fire Marshall?

When I was in high school, I became a lifeguard in which I had to take EMT classes.  At that time, I wanted to be a lifeguard at Virginia Beach, the dream of many a young male lifeguard at the time.  In 1981, I joined the Lakeside Volunteer Rescue Squad to get more training and experience.  By the time, I graduated for from High School my focus turned from the beach to finding a job locally with the fire service. In 1984, I was hired by Henrico County and became a certified paramedic in 1985. I spent several years in the training division and administration and I served as Captain at several stations before being appointed as Fire Marshal in 2011.

Why the Fire Service?

I love making a difference in the lives of others; it is a way to give back to the citizens of the county and the community that have given me so much.

How did you get started in hot air ballooning?

In 1987, I took my first ride in a balloon; this ride was a life-changing event for me.  In 1988, I got my Hot Air Balloon Pilot’s license; purchased my first hot air balloon, which was called Fire 3 and later got my Commercial Pilot’s license.

Fred Turck & Henry Rosenbaum
Fred Turck & Henry Rosenbaum (pilot), L to R. Photo by Debbie Turck.

What was the training like?

Training was both book and practical.  I studied for my written exam given by the FFA; passed that and then I passed my flight test. The FAA examiner checks out my skills and abilities to maneuver the balloon safely. This was followed-up with a 1-2 hour oral review. To receive my Commercial license I needed to take another written test and have another check flight with a Commercial Pilot. Once you receive you Commercial license you are also considered an instructor, testing and mentoring new pilots.  I really enjoy this aspect.

What is your favorite thing about ballooning?

Sharing the sport of ballooning with people who do not typically have the opportunity to be involved with balloons. There is no age barrier; ballooning leaves an ever-lasting impression with folks.  Ask anyone what was the last billboard they saw and a very few might be able to tell you. However, ask them if they ever saw a Hot Air Balloon and if so what did it look like and where were you? Most will recall their encounter and tell you all about it.

I have used ballooning to promote Virginia is For Lovers, Learn Not to Burn, Autism, Childhood Cancer, Move Over and of course Wildfire Prevention with the Smokey Bear Balloon. I am drawn to causes that are personnel to me, ones I have a connection with. The Move Over Campaign honors Hanover Firefighter, Lt. Brad Clark, who was killed in the line of duty while responding to a crash on I-295 during Tropical Storm Michael.

What is the hardest part of piloting a balloon?

Maintaining the balloon at a specific altitude.  It may sound simple, but it is not. Anyone can get in a balloon, turn the burners on and the balloon will go up, turn them off and it goes down, keeping altitude is hard.

What if any instruments do you have to help you pilot a balloon?

Continue reading “Interview with the pilot of the Smokey Bear balloon”

Former fire chiefs say more aerial firefighting resources are needed in Australia

Victoria firefighters assist New South Wales
Firefighters in Australia on their way back home in Victoria after helping to suppress bushfires in New South Wales. Photo NSW RFS, Nov. 18, 2019.

Almost two dozen former leaders of emergency services organizations in Australia are recommending that the country’s aerial firefighting fleet needs to be increased.

In a series of three articles on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s website, a group of 23 former fire and emergency services leaders and other former fire chiefs say they are concerned that with longer fire seasons now being experienced the current fleet is not adequate for keeping up with the increasing bushfire activity.

The acquisition and contracting of large air tankers in Australia is coordinated by the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC). They recently purchased one Boeing 737, but like the federal government in the United States, the country depends on contractors to supply additional large air tankers. NAFC also contracts for dozens of smaller Single Engine Air Tankers. For the 2018-2019 fire season they leased 51 SEATs.

NAFC had planned on having five large air tankers available during their 2019/2020 bushfire season (including the government-owned 737), but added two more in November after large devastating fires began burning in New South Wales. One of the two was a Very Large Air Tanker, a DC-10 that can carry two to three times more water or retardant than the other tankers.

Below are excerpts from the articles at ABC:

[Greg] Mullins [former head of Fire and Rescue in New South Wales] is one of 23 former senior emergency figures trying to get the Australian Government to listen to their concerns about climate change and the missing capacity to fight fires in a new era.

“It’s up to the retired fire chiefs who are unconstrained to tell it like it is and say this is really dangerous,” he said.

However, his written requests for a meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison have failed.

“We were fobbed off to Minister [Angus] Taylor who is not the right minister to speak to,” Mr Mullins said.

“We wanted to speak to the Natural Disasters Minister and the PM. We asked for help with that, we never got a reply.

“You had 23 experts willing to sit down with a PM and come up with solutions, but he’s just fobbed us off.

 

[Former NSW Deputy Fire and Rescue commissioner Ken] Thompson said heading into catastrophic fire conditions small aircraft simply could not cover the same amount of ground.

“At the moment, the smaller aircraft can only carry around 1,500 to 2,000 litres. These [larger] aircraft can carry up around 15,000 litres,” he said.
“Which is the type of capacity you need to be able to knock down some of those incredibly large fires that we’re seeing now, that we didn’t see 10 or 15 years ago.”

 

General manager of NAFC, Richard Alder, said while large water bombers were useful they were not a silver bullet.

“I think if you asked any firefighter, any aerial firefighter, we would probably always like to have more,” he said.

“But certainly the fleet that we’ve got available to us is quite comprehensive and does provide very valuable support to the firefighters on the ground.”

Mr Alder agreed that southern and northern hemisphere fire seasons overlapping was a concern.

“It’s causing a few nervous moments. So far we’ve been able to manage that,” he said.

ABC News features southern California helicopter pilot

Desiree Horton
Desiree Horton. Screenshot from ABC video.

ABC News has a three-minute video report on the only full time firefighting helicopter pilot employed by a government agency in California. In addition to working for Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) where is is now, she previously flew helicopters for CAL FIRE, a privately owned helicopter company with a firefighting contract, a  heavy lift operator, a helicopter tour company in Hawaii, and TV stations in Los Angeles.

The video below appears to have been produced before Desiree started working at the OCFA.

More articles about Desiree are on Fire Aviation and Wildfire Today.

NWCG standards for unmanned aircraft operations

NWCG unmanned aircraft standards

Early this year the National Wildfire Coordinating Group published their standards for operating unmanned aircraft on fires.

Here is how they describe the 24-page document:

The “NWCG Standards for Fire Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations” standardizes the processes and procedures for interagency use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), including pilot inspections and approvals. In support of fire management goals and objectives, the aviation community references these standards to utilize UAS in a safe, effective, and efficient manner. These standards further serve as a risk assessment for fire UAS operations and meet federal requirements for aviation safety and operational planning pertaining to recurring aviation missions. Agency level policy and guidance is provided through established federal or state plans and processes.

If you have not seen it, you can download a copy.

Air tanker en route to Australia turns back due to radio problem

A DC-10 has been activated to assist with bushfires in Australia

Air Tanker 911 returned San Bernardino
Air Tanker 911 returned to San Bernardino after discovering a problem with a radio.

Late Wednesday night Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, was over the Pacific Ocean on the way to Australia when it had to return to its base in Albuquerque due to a problem with a radio. About 50 minutes after departing from San Bernardino the pilots discovered that the High Frequency radio used on long range international flights was not working, even though it appeared to have passed earlier tests on the ground. There had been no need for the HF radio on T-911 since its last international assignment approximately seven years ago.

The Very Large Air Tanker, which can carry up to 9,400 gallons of water or retardant, has been ordered by Australia’s National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) on an Enhanced Call When Needed (EWCN) contract to assist firefighters in the country who are dealing with large numbers of devastating bushfires which have destroyed over 100 homes.

After the flight crew turned the huge aircraft around they landed in San Bernardino and then flew to 10 Tanker’s base in Albuquerque. John Gould, President of 10 Tanker, said technicians found the coaxial cable that connects the radio to the antenna on the tail was not attached. It was just laying by the radio. After connecting it the radio worked fine.  Mr. Gould said that even if an antenna is not connected to a radio, if testing equipment is close enough it can receive a signal from the radio.

Mr. Gould said that after resting, the crew will depart again from Albuquerque, with planned stops in Santa Maria (Calif.), Honolulu, Pago Pago, and should arrive at RAAF Richmond, New South Wales (map) Saturday morning Australia time.

Normally the DC-10 operates with a three-person crew, two pilots and a flight engineer. On this flight they will carry a total of five, with an additional pilot and flight engineer to allow resting and crew changes while en route.

Two additional air tankers added to Australia’s firefighting fleet

Australia is experiencing an unusually high level of bushfire activity

Tanker 911 on the Corner Creek Fire i
Tanker 911 on the Corner Creek Fire in Central Oregon, June 30, 2015. Photo by Todd McKinley.

Due to an unusually high level of bushfire activity Australia has contracted for two additional air tankers to assist firefighters on the ground. Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the aircraft were added using the NAFC’s system of Enhanced Call When Needed (EWCN) contracts.

On November 12, U.S. time, Tanker 911, a DC-10, was loading spare parts onto the aircraft and is expected to be fire-ready in Richmond, New South Wales on November 16. It is supplied by Agair/10 Tanker. The DC-10 is considered a Very Large Air Tanker and can carry up to 9,400 gallons (35,582 liters).

The other EWCN air tanker added to the fleet is a Coulson C-130Q with an enter on duty date of November 16, also at Richmond. It usually carries around 3,500 gallons (13,248 liters).

Australia's large and very large air tanker fleet
Australia’s fleet of large and very large air tankers, updated November 13, 2019. The dates are DD/MM. Information provided by NAFC.

There are also changes on the rotor wing side. One of the most significant additions is a ECWN contract for a Blackhawk with long line bucket based at Toowoomba in Queensland.  The helicopter is suppled through Kestrel Aviation (who are partnered with BHI2/Brainerd).

Recent additions bring the total number of firebombing aircraft in Australia to 63 fixed wing and 45 rotor wing. There are an additional 51 aircraft used for other fire-related missions.