A sole source air tanker award, how it developed

BAe-146 drops on Devore Fire
A Neptune BAe-146 drops on the Devore Fire, November 5, 2012. Photo by Rick McCLure.

Today, March 11, the Government Accountability Office will hold a hearing at their office in Washington, DC to consider the protests filed by three air tanker companies over the propriety of the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) noncompetitive contract award to Neptune Aviation Services, Inc., for next-generation large airtankers. The hearing was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET, but was a closed session, open only to GAO personnel, attorneys for the three companies that protested the contract, and two individuals from the Department of Agriculture who have been asked to be available to testify, Lisa Wilusz, a Senior Procurement Executive, and Gregory Parham, the Chief Acquisition Officer. Even the owners of the protesting companies are prohibited from attending, to prevent them from being exposed to their competitors’ trade secrets.

Protesting the sole source award for two BAe-146 air tankers to Neptune, are Coulson Aviation (USA), Inc; 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC; and Minden Air Corp. If only the basic two air tankers are signed up, the value of the contract would be about $141 million. If the options for the five additional tankers are utilized, it would be hundreds of millions.

The GAO is required to make their decision about the propriety of the sole source award by March 28.

Fire Aviation has reviewed almost three dozen documents filed by the protesting companies as well as the USFS’ Motion to Dismiss the protests. The files contain letters of protests, supplementary protests, transcripts of Congressional hearings, “declarations” written by some of the principles, an NTSB report, and an article from FireAviation.com. While it remains to be seen which side the GAO will favor, regardless of the outcome it is clear that after the dust settles the attorneys will probably close shop for two weeks and take their families to Bora Bora.

Most of the documents have redactions, some more than others. One or two are virtually useless as a result, but most still contain a great deal of information. We will elaborate on them, but first, get a cup of coffee–it’s a long story.
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More details about the voice cast for “Planes: Fire and Rescue”

Planes Fire and Rescue image by Disney.

Disney Studios has released more information about the voices cast for the Planes: Fire and Rescue animated film scheduled to be released July 18, 2014 in the United States. Release dates in other countries can be found HERE. The film is a sequel to the 2013 animated film Planes, a spin-off of Pixar’s Cars franchise.

Erik Estrada, mostly known for his role as Frank “Ponch” Poncherello in the classic 1980s television show CHiPs will voice the role of Nick “Loop’n” Lopez, the star of a television show called CHoPs (California Helicopter Patrol). Other voice actors will include Ed Harris (search-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger), Wes Studi (a heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter), Regina King (Dynamite, the head smoke-jumper vehicle) and Fred Willard (the Secretary of the Interior in utility-vehicle form). Julie Bowen (as a water-scooping plane Dipper) also joins Dane Cook, who reprises his lead-voice role as Dusty Crophopper from the original.

According to Disney, here is the plot of the film:

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” features a quirky crew of elite firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from a raging wildfire. When world famous air racer Dusty (voice of Dane Cook) learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he must shift gears and is launched into the world of wildfire air attack. Dusty joins forces with veteran fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger and his courageous air attack team, including spirited super scooper Lil’ Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter, ex-military transport Cabbie and a lively bunch of brave all-terrain vehicles known as The Smokejumpers. Together, the fearless team battles a massive wildfire, and Dusty learns what it takes to become a true hero.

Planes: Fire and Rescue, by Disney.

Last month we posted a trailer for the movie.

USFS to have 14 lead planes and 16 ATGS ships this year

Lead 6-5 on the Whoopup Fire
Lead 6-5 on the Whoopup Fire in South Dakota, July 18, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Yesterday we wrote about the Bureau of Land Management’s fleet of lead planes and Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) aircraft. The BLM recently awarded a contract for the first jet-powered lead plane, one that has a better chance of keeping up with the “next-generation” air tankers, including the DC-10s, BAe-146s, and MD-87s. They will have a total of three lead/Air Supervision Module aircraft and nine ATGS platforms on exclusive use contracts.

Jennifer Jones of the U.S. Forest Service tells us their agency will have 14 lead planes and 16 ATGS platforms on exclusive use contracts in 2014. An additional 9 ATGS aircraft will be on call when needed contracts. The lead planes are Beechcraft King Air 90GTs, all supplied by the Greenwood Corporation, while the ATGS aircraft are Cessna 337 Skymasters and reciprocal and turbine engine twin Commanders. The contractors for the ATGS platforms include North Cascade Air Transport, Spur Aviation, Van Arsdale, Baker Aircraft, Ponderosa Aviation, Rogers Helicopters, and Mountain Aviation.

All of  the USFS lead planes will be able to produce smoke to mark the targets for the air tankers.

Lead plane 6-5
Lead 6-5 flying into a smoky Ferguson Canyon on the Whoopup Fire in South Dakota, July 18, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The next opportunity for the USFS to acquire jet-powered lead planes will be in 2015 when the contracts are re-issued.

BLM awards contract for first jet-powered lead plane in the U.S.

Dynamic Aviation Citation lead plane
A Dynamic Aviation Cessna Citation. Photo courtesy of Dynamic Aviation.

The Bureau of Land Management has awarded a contract for the first jet-powered lead plane in the United States. Lead planes fly ahead of the much larger air tankers that drop retardant on fires. They identify the targets and evaluate the fire and wind conditions. Dynamic Aviation, with headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia, will be supplying a Cessna Citation CJ to serve as a lead plane and Air Supervision Module (ASM) this fire season. With the jet-powered air tankers now in use, including DC-10s, BAe-146s, and MD-87s, there is a need for a lead plane that can keep up with the “next-generation” air tankers.

The Dynamic Aviation aircraft is not the first jet-powered lead plane. British Columbia currently operates two Citations as Bird Dogs, according to information we received from a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.

In January the Citation was for sale at Controller.com with an asking price of $1.1 million. During the off season it will be at their headquarters, where they operate a heavy maintenance and modification center, engine shop, and a privately owned airport. The company employs over 550 people and in September of last year began construction on their fifth hangar, named Hangar E. In addition to the new (to them) Citation, they have Beechcraft King Airs and Bombardier Dash 8-100s.

Dynamic Aviation King Airs
Dynamic Aviation’s King Airs. Photo courtesy of Dynamic Aviation. (click to see larger version)

Caleb T. Stitely, an account manager at Dynamic Aviation, told us that the company has a contract with the BLM to supply two additional Cessna Citations beginning in 2015.

Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the BLM said this year the agency will have three lead plane/ASMs on exclusive use contracts (the Citation and two King Air E-90s) and a fourth one on call when needed status (a King Air E-90). All four will be supplied by Dynamic Aviation. In addition, the Department of the Interior owns a King Air BE-200 that the BLM will use for Lead/ASM operations this coming fire season.

The U.S. Forest Service owns a Cessna Citation Bravo II equipped with a system for mapping fires using infrared imaging technology. It can download the imagery in near real time once each night to infrared interpreters on the ground who use it to make maps showing the location of fires.

The BLM will also have nine Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) platforms on contract this year. Three are on contract now and the other six are still out for bid. Spur Aviation will operate an Aero Commander AC690B, and Ponderosa Aviation will also have an Aero Commander AC690B and one Aero Commander AC680T.

We are working on collecting information about the U.S. Forest Service’s fleet of lead planes and Air Tactical platforms and hope to write about that in a day or so.

LA County helicopters appear in GE ad

The Blackhawk helicopters of Los Angeles County Fire Department are featured in a two-minute video advertisement for General Electric aircraft engines.

NPS helicopter rescues man and two dogs from icy lake

Park Police ice rescue training. NPS photo.
File photo of National Park Service’s Park Police Eagle One helicopter conducting ice rescue training, February 17, 2010. NPS photo.

One of the four helicopters in the National Park Service’s Park Police aviation unit rescued a man and two dogs from an icy lake Sunday near Gainesville, Virginia. Their previous training, documented in the photo above, paid off

Below is a summary of the incident, from the NPS Morning Report:

United States Park Police
Crew Of Eagle 2 Rescues Hypothermic Man From Lake

On the afternoon of Sunday, February 23rd, the United States Park Police Aviation Section received a mutual aid request from the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department, which sought assistance from a Park Police helicopter with an ice rescue at Lake Manassas in Gainesville, Virginia.

US Park Police Eagle 2 responded with a crew of four – Sgt. Kevin Chittick, pilot; Officer Ryan Evasick, co-pilot; and Sgt. David Tolson and Officer Michael Abate, rescue technicians.

Eagle 2 arrived on the scene at about 3:45 pm and was asked to assist by hoisting an elderly man who had been stranded on Lake Manassas after his canoe became flooded with ice cold water. Prince William County Fire personnel had entered the water in ice rescue suits to attempt the rescue, but their efforts were hampered by unstable ice and dangerous conditions.

Chittick positioned Eagle 2 for the hoist and Tolson was lowered about 20 feet to the man, who was attached to a rescue strap and then hoisted aboard the helicopter. Chittick then flew it to the nearby shoreline, where the man was lowered to the ground. Paramedics transferred the man to a waiting ambulance and began basic and advanced life support treatment for severe hypothermia.

Eagle 2 then returned to the scene. Evasick was lowered to the canoe, where he located two dogs. He was able to rescue both animals and subsequently bring them to shore.

In 2012 we wrote about the Park Police aviation unit.

Firefighting helicopters in central Texas

Posted on Categories HelicoptersTags

The three EC-145 STARFlight helicopters in Travis County in central Texas are used for medical transport, swift-water rescue, search and rescue, high-angle rescue, fire suppression, aerial reconnaissance, and law enforcement. A fourth helicopter recently acquired, a UH-1H Huey, will only be used for fires. It can carry up to 325 gallons of water in a belly tank, much more than the EC-145’s 130-gallon attached Bambi bucket.

The Huey was originally manufactured by Bell Helicopter, served in Vietnam and was later retrofitted for STARFlight by Northwest Helicopters in Olympia, Wash. Travis County purchased the aircraft with spare parts, tools, and training for $2.2 million.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Jansen.

Montana company purchases first civilian-owned CH-47D Chinooks

Billings Flying Service Chinook
Billings Flying Service Chinook, February 18 near Huntsville, Alabama before departing for Montana. Photo by Billings Flying Service.

Billings Flying Service just became the first non-military owner of CH-47D Chinook helicopters. Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, told Fire Aviation that the process was much like purchasing a used government-owned vehicle. He submitted a $6.5 million bid for two of them and it was accepted.

Columbia Helicopters has BV-234 Chinooks, but this is the first time the higher performance CH-47D models have migrated into the civilian world.

On Wednesday and Thursday Mr. Blain and another pilot flew the two Chinooks from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River.

Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.

In about four months they expect to have one of them outfitted for wildland firefighting, with the other coming on line next year. He said with an external bucket the ships could deliver 2,500 gallons of water. They have been consulting with the manufacturer, Boeing, and are considering installing an internal water tank with a snorkel and water pump for refilling the tank. The Chinook has an unusually high capacity for electrical accessories, so they are looking at either an electrical or a hydraulic pump. The water would exit the tank either from the rear ramp or through a hole cut in the belly. We asked if the tank would be similar to the RADS tank pioneered by Aero Union, and Mr. Blain said that if they choose the internal tank option they would probably work with Boeing to engineer something new.

Billings Flying Service Chinook
Billings Flying Service Chinook, February 18 near Huntsville, Alabama before departing for Montana. Photo by Billings Flying Service.

When operated by the military the Chinooks have a three-person crew, two pilots and an engineer-type who monitors gauges and interfaces with passengers. Billings Flying Service will not haul passengers, so they will reconfigure the cockpit making it possible for two pilots to handle everything. They will also install a bubble window to improve the visibility when flying external loads.

The company expects to hire at least 15 new employees to complete the work on the two helicopters. They will also construct a hanger for the ships, either at their headquarters or at the Billings airport.

Billings Flying Service is a second generation helicopter company and currently has one Bell 212 on an exclusive use firefighting contract and three Sikorsky S-61s and two Bell UH-1Hs on call when needed contracts. In addition to aerial firefighting, they are experienced in aerial construction, power transmission line construction, equipment transportation, geo-seismic exploration and passenger air charter.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Dick and Steve.