VLAT vs. P2V: comparison of cost and effectiveness

DC-10 dropping on the Falls Fire at Lake Elsinore, CA, August 5, 2013

An Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) has completed a detailed comparison of the use of a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) and P2V Large Air Tankers to complete the same task of creating 4.6 miles of retardant line on the Colockum Tarps Fire, which is what Tanker 911, a DC-10, accomplished during 3.12 flight hours on July 30, 2013.

The DC-10 made eleven drops from five-11,600 gallon loads of retardant. The writer figured it would take 41 drops from P2Vs to construct the same amount of retardant line. Two P2Vs could do it in two days, or four P2Vs could do it one day. Depending on which scenario was used, a DC-10 would result in a cost savings of $122,078 or $136,578.

Other advantages pointed out were that the VLAT could accomplish the objective much more quickly with a wider and more consistent retardant line, and “the eleven individual drops with the VLAT significantly reduced the number of ‘pilot drop exposures’ as compared to the number of drops/passes that would have been required with heavy airtankers”.

The DC-10 was tied up for just over three hours, but it would have taken four aircraft-days if P2Vs were used. The VLAT freed up air tankers, ASM/Bravos, and lead planes for other fires. If we had 44 air tankers like we did in 2002, that would not be as critical as the present situation, where we only have about 10 large air tankers plus one VLAT on exclusive use contracts, and one VLAT on a call when needed contract.

The 747 VLAT may become available by the end of September on a call when needed contract and we may have one or two “next generation” large air tankers in the fleet within the next few weeks.


Air tankers at La Grande August 14, 2013

Tanker 5 at Grande, August 14, 2013
Tanker 5 at Grande, August 14, 2013. Photo by Tim McCoy

Tim McCoy was kind enough to send us some photos he took yesterday at the La Grande, Oregon air tanker base. He said there were two fires in the area.

Tanker 60 and a SEAT at La Grande
Tanker 60 and a SEAT at La Grande, August 14, 2013. Both aircraft are under contract to the state of Oregon. Photo by Tim McCoy.
Tanker 41 at Grande, August 14, 2013
Tanker 41 at Grande, August 14, 2013. Photo by Tim McCoy

First drop from T-131

T-130 first partial drop test
T-131’s first partial drop test, San Bernardino, August 15, 2013

Coulson completed their static tests and door calibration for Tanker 131, a C-130Q, and today did their first partial drop. They are also working on the FAA Type Certificate.

A video of the drop is below.

HERE is a link to a video of the aircraft taking off for the first time after the conversion and maintenance that has been underway for the last several months.

And below is a video of the doors opening and closing. (I know, but if you’re at home on a Thursday night, you might as well spend 18 seconds watching this.)

USFS looking for high-tech aerial supervision aircraft

The U.S. Forest Service intends to contract for 7 and later up to 15 aircraft outfitted with high-tech sensors to serve as platforms for aerial supervision on wildfires. Today the agency issued a Request for Information to find out what is available and which companies may be interested. The aircraft would not only be able to conduct aerial supervision of other firefighting assets, but would also provide a platform for training of aerial supervision personnel. This will require an aft crew station that provides the capability to manage aerial supervision operations in its entirety. The airplanes would be able to carry one pilot, an aerial supervisor, a trainee aerial supervisor, and an instructor.

Two of the seven aircraft would be able to support day and night operations and would be located at Lancaster, California, and McCall Idaho.

Some of the hardware the aircraft must have would include:

  • Infrared/Electro-Optical sensing systems with color camera and FLIR systems. The ability to manually “select” an area of interest upon which the system will autonomously (without user input) remain pointed at that area as the aircraft maneuvers.
  • The ability of the system to provide and display target location (latitude, longitude, altitude). If laser is used, it must be eye safe. The ability to provide a visible (within the visible light spectrum, with and without the aid of NVG’s) marking capability of a target that can be viewed by other aircraft within 1 mile and at off-axis viewing angles at night.
  • The ability to auto-detect non-participant aircraft.
  • Data link dissemination for near or near real-time video image viewing and analysis.
  • Track ground force and air force position location. Data entry to assign naming/labeling/text convention to ground and air forces engaged on the fire.

The Forest Service might be looking for aircraft similar to the Aero Commander 690A that is being used with their night flying helicopter.

The Request for Information has a response due date of September 13, 2013. They expect to publish the solicitation by October, 2013 for an anticipated contract award in February 2014.

Scooper drops on a truck fire

When an 18-wheeler crashed into a road grader and caught fire in northern Canada on July 29, an air tanker was called in to help prevent the fire from spreading farther into the vegetation. This video was shot on a cell phone by Shawn Noseworthy, a manager with Humber Valley Paving, who was part of a work crew on site when the crash occurred about 30 miles from Churchill Falls, a town of 650 residents.

Here are a couple of screen grabs — the video is below.

Scooper drop on truck fire

Scooper drop on truck fire

According to the Daily Mail:

The Royal Newfoundland and Labrador Constabulary says the driver of the tractor-trailer rig slammed head-on into the road grater. He was trapped inside as the big rig caught fire, but the grater driver managed to pull the big rig driver to safety. He was taken to Goose Bay-Happy Valley and treated for non-life-threatening injuries at the hospital.

I am not sure if it’s a CL-215, CL215T, or CL-415. I can’t see any winglets at the end of the wings, but I think there are some ‘finlets‘ – two vertical stabilizers on each side of the horizontal tail surface. The presence of both would indicate either a turbo-converted CL-215 or a CL-415. In the audio, it sounds like turbine engines.


Thanks go out to Tristan.

Firefighters fill bucket while helicopter hovers

Over on Wildfire Today an article about some recent wildfires in central Europe had these photos that were captured from a video, of firefighters in Germany using hoses to fill a helicopter’s bucket while the aircraft hovered overhead —  a technique that was new to us.

Firefighters refill a helicopter bucket
Firefighters use two hoses to refill the bucket of a hovering helicopter.
Firefighters refill a helicopter bucket
Firefighters use two hoses to refill the bucket of a hovering helicopter.

Kamov KA-32 helicopter crashes while fighting wildfire in B.C.

Kamov 32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal
Kamov KA-32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal, similar to the one that crashed in B.C. Sunday. Photo by Bill Gabbert, August 29, 2012.

A Russian-built Kamov KA-32 helicopter made a crash landing in British Columbia Sunday, August 4. Jen Norie of VIH Aviation Group confirmed that one of their helicopters was conducting water dropping operations on a wildfire near Bella Colla, British Columbia using an external bucket when the aircraft developed an engine problem. The ship made a hard landing on uneven terrain collapsing at least one landing gear, which caused the aircraft to tip over about 30 degrees. The twin overhead counter-rotating main rotors struck the ground, which of course destroyed them.

Thankfully the two pilots walked away with no injuries, so in that sense it was a “good landing”. There were no passengers on board.

Ms. Norie said the company has been operating KA-32s since the mid-1990s, accumulating over 46,000 flight hours without a major incident, until Sunday.

Photos of Tanker 910 at Falls Fire

10 Tanker Air Carrier has some very impressive photos on their Facebook page of Tanker 910, one of their DC-10s, dropping on the Falls Fire at Lake Elsinore, California yesterday. We don’t have rights to the pictures, but you can view them here.

There are a couple of more plus a video at Wildfire Today. Below is one that was photographed on a TV screen during a live broadcast yesterday.

DC-10 finishing drop on Falls Fire