12 Questions for Jerome Laval

This is the second in a new series of articles on FireAviation.com, featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

Today we hear from Jerome Laval who is an Air Tanker Captain flying S-2Ts for CALFIRE.

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Jerome Laval
Jerome Laval

Who is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known?

  • All Airtanker Instructor pilots because they’re willing to share their experience, knowledge, tips & tricks with passion and dedication. By their fantastic attitude and trust in the candidate’s skills, they accept the risks to show the way to survive, be efficient and safe. It’s a real honor to fly and learn from them. Thanks to them, new Airtanker pilots will carry on the legacy of this unique flying mission.
  • Aerial fire fighters; Where else do you find a such a bunch of characters?….

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?

  • Focus, be aware and don’t get excited.
  • Remember your training and don’t be too creative.
  • Don’t push your own limits or your airplane’s limitations.
  • Breathe deeply, think and stay ahead of the game.
  • ….and most importantly; the main objective is for you to come back. Every time.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Listen and take advice from experienced people who actually do the job. Use basic common sense as your guide for making any decision.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Tactics and Radio communication: keep it simple. Visit the Bases, talk to pilots, share Fire stories. Try to understand other point of views.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
The “Secret of Boredom”: waiting hours, days, weeks for action… After 17 years, I’m still looking for to learn this secret.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?

  • Lockheed C-130 H, J “Hercules” with RADS (Constant Flow-Gravity/4000 Gallons tank system )
  • Lockheed/AleniaC-27 J“Spartan”with RADS (Constant Flow-Gravity/2000 Gallons tank system )
  • ….and a purpose designed and built Airtanker (3000 to 4000 Gallons). Finally!

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?

  • LockheedC-130A “Hercules”/RADS1. 3000 Gallons : Fast, maneuverable, efficient. Fantastic Large AirTanker!
  • Douglas DC-4 (C-54) / 2000 Gallons; Best learning fire fighting platform. Magnificent Airplane!
  • Lockheed P-3 “Orion”/RADS2. 3000 Gallons: Fast, maneuverable, efficient. Great Large AirTanker !
  • Rockwell OV-10 “Bronco”/Air Attack: Incredible airplane! Favorite cockpit! Perfect for the mission
  • Grumman S-2T “Turbo Tracker”/1200 Gallons Constant Flow. Ideal Initial Attack AirTanker!

Favorite: hard to say. Great times and memories in each one.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
Not seen but heard; Some short, really funny replies or comments over the VHF Radio. (the kind you just wish YOU thought of it and said it)

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
3,000

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?
Books written by Linc Alexander. In 1967 he wrote Pilots Notes for Fire Bombing; a guide for pilots. In 1972 he wrote Air Attack on Forest Fires which became the world’s definitive manual on aerial fire-fighting techniques by aircraft. His new book Fire Bomber Into Hell: A Story of Survival in a Deadly Occupation, is a must read for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in this great adventure.

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
1996. Copilot on a C-130A Air Tanker operated by T&G, Chandler AZ and contracted by the French Government during fire season

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
Smartphone, Laptop, Camera, Books…

12 Questions for Walt Darran

We are beginning a new series of articles on FireAviation.com, featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

We begin the series with one of the most experienced and well-respected pilots, Walt Darran. Walt has retired from active duty as an S2T air tanker pilot with CALFIRE/DynCorp, and is now the Safety Committee Chairman of the Associated Aerial Firefighters and also serves as the Chairman of their Board of Directors.

Here are Walt’s responses to our questions:

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Walt Darran cranking air tanker at Hemet
Walt Darran starting Tanker 68, a TBM at Hemet

Who is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
Don Ornbaum, airtanker pilot. In addition to his outstanding stick & rudder skills, Don’s ability to succinctly, powerfully, and without reservation present his ideas, both positive and critical, based on many years of aerial firefighting, which added greatly to the legend and store of Tribal Knowledge in the early days of aerial firefighting.

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Think. Never forget the option to just say “no”.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Two-way communication; outreach to firefighters in the field, both boots on the ground and aircrews, preferably one-on-one face time. There is currently a severe disconnect. Desk-bound managers at Fire & Aviation occasionally riding jumpseat on live missions, and maybe living out of a suitcase attached to an airtanker for 3-4 months at a time away from home, would help close the gap in their understanding and empathy.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Better communication. Visit your local airbase occasionally and have a cup of coffee with the aircrews. Better yet, call and debrief after an incident with suggestions (or even praise!) about a specific drop or incident. Check into airtanker.org; consider joining Associated Aerial Firefighters.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
“Lessons Learned” —Tribal Knowledge; now available in NTSB accident reports, NAFRI I and II, Cal Fire Safety seminars, and airtanker.org forum and archives. Experience is one way of learning, but it’s not always the safest, most effective, or most efficient way.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
If I had to pick only the two most cost-effective, flexible, Initial Attack aircraft that are FAA certified I’d have to say the Sikorsky S70C Firehawk and the Airtractor AT802AF (lots of them, all over the place, real IA, on “exclusive use” contracts, not CWN; including the Wipaire FireBoss amphibian option). Bombardier CL415 and AW319 are close behind. C130J with MAFFS II is OK for surge, but probably cost-prohibitive, and not as effective/efficient as a C130 with RADS.

Remanufactured, or newly converted, choices would include BAe146 (and RJ85), Erickson Sky Crane, DC10, B747, Grumman S2T, DeHavilland Dash 8-Q400, and C130H with RADS. Beriev BE200, Shinmaywa US-2, and Kamov KA-32A11BC have potential if/when FAA certified and given adequate OEM support. But they are all just tools in the tool box—each works well if, and only if, dispatched in a timely manner, then properly applied by a proficient crew in the appropriate situation.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
Flown on fires: Grumman TBM, Grumman Ag-Cat, Grumman S2A/T, Stearman PT-17, Lockheed P2V-5/7, Beech D18, MELEX Dromader M18T, Consolidated PBY5A, Fairchild C119C, Douglas B26, Douglas C54E. Carded on DC7B. Flight time in (airline/military, not airtanker conversions) Lockheed L100 Electra, DeHavilland DH4 Caribou, MD80 (series), DC10-10/30, Douglas AD4 Skyraider, Pilatus Tirbo-Porter. Airtanker evaluation flights, with drops, in BAe146-200, DC10-10 (jumpseat on fires), Airtractor 802 AF, and FireBoss. Loved them all, but felt most at home in S2A and S2T. The S2T has a big advantage in reliability, tank system, capacity, speed, maneuverability, performance, and comfort.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
Joe Satrapa describing to a reporter how a Heavenly vision of John Wayne told him to open the overhead hatch in his S2T, piss on a rag, and use it to clean his windshield in flight (after the retardant from the previous airtanker drop had totally obscured his cockpit vision).

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
2,646

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?

  1. Firebombers Into Hell, Linc Alexander.
  2. Air Attack on Forest Fires, Alexander Linkewich (Linc Alexander).
  3. Firecrew, Ben Walters with Kelly Andersson.

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Pilot for Hemet Valley Flying Service, 1971.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
GPS, TCADS [a collision avoidance system], iPhone with lotsa apps, air conditioning. Wish list; GPS moving map display with IR (Max-Viz) SVS overlay, ARINC with printer, auto-pilot, Electronic Flight Bag on iPad, Appareo Flight Reconstruction System. Folding gas-powered motor scooter.