Video of Super Scoopers refilling at Lake Castaic

Today, October 11, 2019, Robert Schwemmer shot this video of two Canadair CL-415 Super Scoopers from Quebec that are under contract with Los Angeles County, refilling their water tanks at Castaic Lake to fight the Saddle Ridge fire on the north side of Los Angeles.

The fire has burned over 7,000 acres and destroyed 25 structures. More information about the fire is at Wildfire Today.

Flight attendants on an air tanker

Authorities in Australia are considering authorizing a 737 air tanker to carry up to 70 passengers

737 air tanker T-137
Coulson’s installation of the internal retardant tank in the passenger compartment of their 737-300. They intend for the aircraft to have seats for up to 70 passengers, enabling it to do double-duty; drop retardant or haul passengers. Coulson photo.

The Boeing 737-300 airliners formerly operated by Southwest Airlines that Coulson Aviation is converting into air tankers are physically capable of carrying up to 4,000 gallons of retardant or 70 passengers. The one the company sold to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia, Tanker 138, has been busy fighting bushfires since it was delivered in July.

The regulatory steps to get approval from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to carry passengers are under way, according to Richard Alder, General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre. Some of those milestones include changing the aircraft’s registration from the United States Federal Aviation Administration to CASA. That process may involve testing with a load of people acting as passengers to ensure that they can evacuate within the required time frame.

Coulson's 737 air tanker passengers
Coulson’s 737 air tanker, outfitted with passenger seats. Coulson photo.

Flight Attendants

“We are required to have three flight attendants in the airplane due to the number of seats,” said Britt Coulson Vice President of Coulson Aviation. “We are still looking at options of who we are going to use to fulfill those positions.”

Coulson's 737 air tanker passengers
The aft section of Coulson’s 737 air tanker, outfitted with passenger seats. Coulson photo.

Passenger and baggage screening

One other detail that has to be worked out is whether the passengers and baggage are required to be screened by electronic devices or security personnel.

Passengers in the 737 air tanker in the United States

Stanton Florea, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said the contract for the 737 air tanker currently on a call when needed contract in the United States does not have any provision to fly passengers. We asked him if the Forest Service has any interest in using an air tanker that can also carry passengers, but have not received a response.

Australia sets their firefighting aircraft lineup for the bushfire season

Above: A second large air tanker is now operational in New South Wales. On September 24 an RJ85, Tanker 165 known as “Boomer”, completed final testing and became available joining Tanker 138, a B-737. NSW RFS photo.

As Australia moves into their summer and enters the traditional beginning of their bushfire season the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in finalizing the lineup of firefighting aircraft for the 2019-2020 season. Contracts are in place for four large privately owned large air tankers and nine large Type 1 helicopters. In addition they will have the 737 that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service purchased earlier this year.

Large Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts

Already in place and available are the NSW RFS 737 (Tanker 138) and a FieldAir/Conair Avro RJ85 (Tanker 165) both based for now on the outskirts of Sydney at Richmond, New South Wales.

In early November the mandatory availability period (MAP) begins for what will be either another 737 or a  C-130Q at Richmond, provided by Coulson.

Richard Alder, the General Manager of NAFC, said, “The contract with Coulson allows for either a 737 or C-130Q. The final decision on which type will be made shortly, according to how the season is developing.”

In early to mid-December the MAPs for two other large airtankers will begin for another C-130Q and a RJ85 from Coulson and FieldAir/Conair, respectively. The scheduled base for the two aircraft is Avalon, Victoria.

The five large air tankers available is one less than in 2018/2019.

Like the United States and other fire-prone areas, Australia has been experiencing wildfires during times of the year when traditionally they did not occur in large numbers. The 737 air tanker that was delivered to the NSW RFS two months ago has been busy during much of the Australian winter, completing 60 missions and delivering 237,000 gallons of water and retardant.


The nine Type 1 helicopters under exclusive use contract will include six S-64E Air-Cranes (Kestrel/Erickson) and three S-61s (Coulson). Two of the Air-Cranes will be at Bankstown, and one each at Melbourne (Essendon), Melbourne (Moorabbin), Adelaide, and Perth.

The three S-61s are to be based in Victoria at Colac, Mansfield,  and Ballarat.

 Erickson Air-Cranes Melbourne
Six Erickson Air-Cranes in Melbourne in 2009.

The base locations for all of the aircraft could change throughout the summer as the bushfire season progresses.

Single Engine Air Tankers 

The recent tender process for SEATs has not yet been signed off, but Mr. Alder expects there will be about 45 on national exclusive use contracts plus another six contracted directly to state government agencies. This is 8 less than in 2018/2019.

Orange County begins trial of real time mapping technology

The project is funded by the State of California

This article was first published at Wildfire Today

FIRIS fire wildfire mapping real time
An example of the technician’s screen when using the FIRIS system. Screenshot from the video below.

This month the Orange County Fire Authority began a 150-day pilot program that could lead to real time fire mapping being available to firefighters on the ground. Not knowing exactly where a fire is has been a factor in more than two dozen firefighter fatalities in recent decades. Smoke, terrain, and darkness can obstruct the view of fire crews and supervisors which can severely compromise their situational awareness.

The 150-day Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS) pilot program got off the ground September 1 thanks to funding secured in the 2019-2020 California state budget by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).

“The State of California must shift strategies to address the constant crisis of wildfires – this is no longer a seasonal threat,” stated Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris. “I am proud to have partnered with the Orange County Fire Authority in securing $4.5 million in state funds for technology that will protect lives and property by giving first responders better, stronger tools to use against the threat of wildfires.”

The system utilizes a fixed-wing aircraft equipped with infrared and radar sensors that can see through smoke. The plane provides real-time fire perimeter mapping and live high definition video to support supercomputer-based wildfire predictive spread modeling.

FIRIS fire wildfire mapping real time
Screenshot of aircraft featured in the FIRIS B-Roll video.

A supercomputer at the University of California San Diego will run fire spread projections based on fire perimeter data collected by the aircraft. The output will estimate where the fire will be in the next six hours. The fire spread model will adjust for successful fire suppression actions by firefighters on the ground and in the air. This intel allows for more timely and accurate decision making for resource allocation and evacuations.

“The ability to place resources exactly where they need to be to successfully battle a wildfire can mean the difference between lives and property saved or lost”, said Orange County Fire Authority Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. “Technology is becoming increasingly important as we work to suppress wildfires quickly. We’re hopeful this pilot program may someday become a routine asset statewide.”

For decision-makers on the ground, a common operating picture increases situational awareness. Firefighters on the front line, incident commanders, law enforcement, and regional and state emergency operation centers all could have the ability to see the same fire intel on a smartphone, tablet or computer in real-time. Fire perimeter maps and live video feeds are provided through an electronic network to assist decision-makers.

This is another step toward the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety which would ultimately provide to fire supervisors the real time location of a fire and the location of firefighting personnel and equipment.

The video below is “B-Roll, that is, unedited footage. The first 6.5 minutes are simply images of aircraft, but after that you will be able to look over the shoulder of the imagery technician as he observes infrared imagery of a fire, manually interprets the heat signatures, then traces the fire perimeter on the screen. That perimeter could then be electronically sent to the super computer in San Diego County which would run a fire spread model to predict what the fire will do in the next six hours.

Aerial ignition from a fixed wing aircraft in Australia

A 1971 film documented the process

Aussie Aerial Ignition fire prescribed fire controlled wildfire
The incendiary devices were stored and transported to the aircraft in trays. Screenshot from CSIRO film.

Some fire managers in the United States may assume that aerial ignition of a prescribed fire by using plastic spheres began a few decades ago and has only been carried out with helicopters, and more recently with drones. But a film produced by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), an independent Australian federal government agency responsible for scientific research, documented the routine practice of aerial ignition from a fixed wing aircraft in 1971.

The concept is similar to the plastic spheres used today which are manufactured containing a chemical. The injection of a second chemical just before the capsule is jettisoned begins a reaction that results in flaming combustion 30 to 45 seconds later. By then the sphere is on the ground.

Aussie Aerial Ignition fire prescribed fire controlled wildfire
The machinery inside the aircraft that processed and dropped the incendiary devices. Screenshot from the CSIRO film.
Aussie Aerial Ignition fire prescribed fire controlled wildfire
Inside the aircraft the aerial ignition capsules were loaded by hand into machinery that injected the second chemical before it was jettisoned. This screenshot from the video shows a test of the machinery using empty capsules.

The film below explains the rationale and history of large scale prescribed burning in Australia and how aerial ignition was planned, organized, and executed. Navigation and planning the flight lines was far more complex before GPS became available.

Videos of air tanker drops on the Francis Fire north of Salt Lake City

Monday afternoon the Francis Fire was burning on the slopes above Fruit Heights between Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah. More information about the fire is a Wildfire Today, but below are videos of fixed wing activity on the fire.

Aircraft at the scene included, at least, an MD-87, a BAe-146 (Tanker 168), and multiple helicopters in addition to an air attack ship.

Coulson operating on three continents

location Coulson operated aircraft
The location of Coulson operated aircraft, September 15, 2019. Coulson image.

Coulson Aviation posted this image on their Facebook page September 15 that shows company-operated aircraft in North America, South America, and Australia at the same time. Three continents is probably a record, at least for North American based firefighting aircraft companies.