MAFFS makes demo drop at Wild West Show

A Wyoming Air National Guard C-130 outfitted with a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) retardant delivery system made a demonstration drop at the Cheyenne, Wyoming Wild West Show. Photo: Master Sgt. Robert Trubia, 153rd Airlift Wing, July 24, 2019.

The MAFFS that convert a military aircraft into an air tanker can be installed in a C-130 in a matter of hours. The units hold up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant that is forced out of the tanks by compressed air.

The MAFFS program consists of eight units located at four military bases in the western United States — Channel Islands in Southern California, Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, and Reno. Each base has two units.

The concept behind the MAFFS is to have surge capacity. The units can be activated when ongoing wildfires reduce the ability of the 13 large air tankers on federal exclusive use contracts to respond to new initial attack and extended attack fires.

The MAFFS aircraft can be activated by the Governors in the four states or the National Interagency Fire Center.

MAFFS test Colorado Springs
A 302nd Airlift Wing Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System equipped-C-130 Hercules aircraft performs a system test at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, July 22, 2019. The aircrew later demonstrated the MAFFS at the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture Oshkosh air show in Wisconsin July 23-28. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Anthony Pham)

New South Wales’ new 737 makes its first drop on a fire

This is the second 737 to be fully converted into an air tanker by Coulson Aviation

(Above: Tanker 138, a 737, in New South Wales, August 8, 2019 U.S. time. Coulson Photo.)

Tanker 138, the 737 air tanker that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) purchased from Coulson Aviation, was delivered a couple of weeks ago and it just made its first ever drop on a wildfire.

The NSW government first announced the acquisition May 15, 2019 saying it was part of a $26.3 million investment to enhance the aerial firefighting capacity in the Australian State.

“This type of aircraft can deliver 15,000 liters (3,960 gallons) of fire suppressants, transport about 70 firefighters and operate from a number of regional airports,” Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said.

NSW RFS Acting Commissioner Rob Rogers said the Service had evaluated a number of different Large and Very Large Air Tankers over recent fire seasons and had settled on the 737 as the preferred option, operated by Canadian company Coulson Aviation.

NSW will purchase one Boeing 737 Fireliner and two Lead/Intelligence Aircraft. They are accompanied by a ten-year operational contract where Coulson will provide all flight and maintenance personal. The 737 is scheduled to be delivered in July of this year.

Britt Coulson, Vice President of Coulson Aircrane, said the company will supply two Cessna Citation V/560s to serve as lead/intelligence aircraft for NSW RFS.

This was the second 737-300 air tanker converted by Coulson Aviation. The company purchased six in 2017 in order to modify them into 4,000-gallon “Fireliners” that can also carry up to 70 passengers when it’s not hauling retardant. Mr. Coulson said they saw an opportunity when Southwest Airlines made a decision to replace their 737-300’s with the new 737-Max. Since the FAA only allows Southwest pilots to fly two of the 737’s with the same rating, the airline opted to sell the 737-300’s even though they have a relatively low number of hours in the sky. (I wonder if Southwest is regretting getting rid of the 737-300s now that their new 737-Max airliners are all grounded.)

Small plane with engine failure deploys parachute, lands in Quebec forest

The pilot was rescued

small plane engine failure parachute landing
Screenshot from the video shot by the pilot before he was extracted by helicopter.

Pilot Matt Lehtinen, flying over a forest in Quebec July 27, 2019, could not have been better prepared for a loss of oil pressure and engine failure:

  1. The plane was a Cirrus-SR22 that had a ballistic parachute recovery system, what the company calls a Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS).
  2. He had a Garmin emergency communication device (that probably sent text messages via satellite).
  3. He had a survival kit.
  4. He remained alert, kept calm, thought clearly, and acted decisively.

It appears that he was not seriously injured. He sent a message that included his location and then started a small fire to create smoke to make it easier for him to be seen. Eventually a C-130 flew over and dropped para-cargo for him that included a radio. Next a Royal Canadian Air Force  helicopter appeared, dropped off a crewman or two, and extracted him with a hoist. All within five hours.

And the reason we know all this is that he documented every step on video.

He wrote at the end of the video, “Thank you to the service members of the Canadian Royal Air Force, Mounted Police, law enforcement, search and rescue, air traffic control and Nav Canada. You are my heroes, and you saved my life. Sincerely, A Grateful American.”

Great job, Mr. Lehtinen, the Air Force crew, and the other agencies!

small plane engine failure parachute landing
Screenshot from the video shot by the pilot just before he was extracted by helicopter.

Forest Service has been dithering about a new air tanker contract for 433 days

Our take: The planning for utilization and contracting of air tankers has been broken since 2002

(Above: File photo of three of the four DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers at Albuquerque, NM May 3, 2019:  Tankers 910, 911, and 914. Photo by Bill Gabbert.)

Two of the four DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers (VLAT) have been working for a while this fire season on exclusive use (EU) contracts, but the remaining two were activated today, August 6, on call when needed (CWN) contracts. The two previously on duty were T-911 and T-912. Called up today were T-910 and T-914.

This begs the question. If there is a need for all four of the VLATs operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, what is the status of the single 747 VLAT? Andrea Avolio, a vice president of the company, said their SuperTanker is available, but presently does not have an exclusive use or call when needed contract with the federal government, but they do have contracts with the states of Oregon, Colorado, and California.

The CWN contract used to activate the two DC-10s has been in effect for at least a couple of years. The U.S. Forest Service has been dithering about a new CWN contract for large and very large air tankers since May 30, 2018 — for the last 433 days. Many vendors submitted bids on the contract.

Our take:

Since that new CWN contract was first advertised, we have gone through one full fire season and half of another.

The planning for utilization and contracting of air tankers has been broken since 2002. After the two crashes of air tankers that killed five crewmen in 2002, the older models were black-listed and the fleet atrophied from 44 down to 9 in 2013, with nothing being done by the federal land management agencies in the interim to rebuild the fleet or plan for the future. In 2014 the Forest Service began very slowly to introduce “next-generation” aircraft, and this year there are approximately 13 large air tankers on EU contracts. An additional 11 are on the existing CWN contracts and can be activated at much higher daily and hourly rates if they are serviceable, available, and have crews to fly and maintain them.

It took the Forest Service 555 days to award the first next generation air tanker contract June 7, 2013. Other contracts have also taken hundreds of days.

Part of the blame for the failure to contract for an appropriate number of air tankers lands on Congress for not appropriating enough funds to protect our homeland. The Forest Service is using a work-around, activating CWN aircraft because paying for them comes out of a different, virtually unlimited fund — emergency fire suppression — even though it costs much more than the exclusive use rates.

An analysis Fire Aviation completed in February, 2018 found that the average cost to the government for CWN large air tankers is much more than Exclusive Use aircraft that work for an entire fire season. The daily rate is 54 percent higher while the hourly rate is 18 percent higher.

Another issue that could have long term adverse consequences is the Forest Service’s trend to only issue one-year EU contracts, with options for up to five additional years, one at a time.

Air tankers are very expensive to purchase and retrofit. Most of the jet-powered tankers being used today before being converted were retired from their original mission and are decades old, but two models of scooper or large air tankers can be purchased new. The CL-415 amphibious scooper cost about $37 million in 2014 but Bombardier stopped building them in 2015, and the new owner of the business, Viking, has not resumed manufacturing the aircraft. A new Q400 can be ordered from Bombardier with an external retardant tank for around $34 million.

Most air tanker operators in the United States prefer to buy retired airliners like the BAe-146,  DC-10, or variants of the C-130 and convert them to carry and dispense retardant. Retrofitting alone runs into the millions. Few if any vendors can simply write a check to purchase and convert an air tanker, so they have to convince a lender to give them large sums of money usually even before they have a contract with the USFS. With this new one-year contract policy, obtaining those funds could be even more difficult.

Even if a vendor received a guaranteed five-year contract it can be difficult to establish and implement a long-term business plan that would make sense to their banker and the solvency of the company.

The province of Manitoba awarded a 10-year contract for the management, maintenance, and operation of their fleet of seven water-scooping air tankers (four CL-415s and three CL-215s), supported by three Twin Commander “bird-dog” aircraft.

If the occurrence of wildfires was rapidly declining, reducing the air tanker fleet would make sense. However everyone knows the opposite is happening.

Multiple aircraft seen over the Goose Fire in Northeast Nevada

The fire may burn from Nevada into Idaho

(This article was first published at Wildfire Today)

Little Goos Fire map
Map showing the location of the Goose or Little Goose Fire in Northeast Nevada at 1:36 p.m. MDT August 5, 2019.

A fire that was reported at 6:23 p.m. Sunday August 4 in the Northeast corner of Nevada has been burning vigorously on Monday. Heat detected by a satellite at 1:36 p.m. (see map above) showed it to be moving north and had spread to within a mile of the Nevada/Idaho border. In later satellite photos it appeared to have approached the border and was generating pyrocumulus clouds. By the time you read this there is a good chance it will have burned into Idaho.

The BLM reported at about 6 p.m. Monday that it was a full suppression fire and had burned 3,500 acres.

At various times it was called “Goose Fire” and “Little Goose Fire”. Just plain “Goose Fire” seemed to be winning out by late Monday afternoon.

At about 4:40 p.m. MDT FlightRadar showed four single engine air tankers from Twin Falls and Tanker 911, a DC-10 from Pocatello, flying in the vicinity of the Goose Fire. A NOAA research Twin Otter also showed up, flying a grid pattern — NOAA46 (N46RF), that was most likely analyzing the atmosphere over the fire. NOAA has a fleet of nine aircraft that conduct airborne environmental data gathering missions. Later after the first NOAA Twin Otter departed, another NOAA Twin Otter was over the fire, NOAA48.

Little Goose Fire map aircraft
Map showing aircraft near the Little Goose Fire in Northeast Nevada at 5:37 p.m. PDT August 5, 2019. NOAA46 (N46RF)

C-130 air tanker spotted at Ramona, California

The runway is too short for some large air tankers

It is unusual to see an air tanker larger than an S-2 at the Ramona Air Attack Base in Southern California, but a C-130Q under contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) was seen at the base yesterday, August 3. Kevin Pack, who took the photo below, said it had been dropping on a fire, possibly the Sage Fire, in San Diego County.

The relatively short runway restricts which types of aircraft can use the facilities at Ramona. When the U.S. Navy built the airport in 1945 to be used as an emergency landing field it was only 4,000 feet long and remained that length well after it was conveyed to the County of San Diego in 1956.

Air Tanker 134 C-130 Ramona
Air Tanker 134, a C-130Q, parked at Ramona Air Attack Base August 3 2019. Photo by K. E. Pack Photography.

CAL FIRE established an Air Attack Base there in 1957 and the U.S. Forest Service followed three years later.

The runway was lengthened in 2002 to 5,001 feet but it is difficult for some large air tankers and impossible for very large air tankers to work at the base. CAL FIRE has allowed BAe-146 air tankers under CAL FIRE contracts to use the runway, but currently the Forest Service prohibits their large air tankers from using the airport.

Air Tanker 134 C-130 Ramona
Air Tanker 134, a C-130Q, was still parked at Ramona Air Attack Base at 7:53 a.m. PDT August 4, 2019. HPWREN photo.

CAL FIRE bases two S-2 air tankers and an Air Tactical Group Supervisor at the airport, and the Forest Service bases a helicopter there.

The S-2s can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. In 2016 another Coulson C-130, T-131, completed 520 sorties averaging 3,404 gallons per drop. A BAe-146 has a capacity of 3,000 gallons.

The C-130Q at Ramona on Saturday was Coulson’s Tanker 134, the fourth C-130 the company has converted. Its first drop on a fire was around November 1, 2018 while on a contract in Australia. It had just finished being reconfigured as an air tanker after being rescued from storage in Tucson and had not yet been painted.

t-134 c-130Q
Air tanker 134 on the sortie when it was making its first live drop on a fire in Australia, around November 1 , 2018.

CAL FIRE is using Tanker 134 to train their pilots who are transitioning from the S-2 air tankers to the seven HC-130Hs the agency has acquired after the U.S. Forest Service lost interest in the aircraft which were previously operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

One fatality in air tanker crash in France

Sécurité Civile S-2 Air tankers
Sécurité Civile S-2 air tankers. Screenshot from the video below.

Friday afternoon at about 5:20 local time, August 2, an air tanker pilot, the only one on board, was killed in the crash of an S-2 in France near Généracx while working on a wildfire.

The accident was confirmed by the Prime Minister.

The name of the pilot has not been released.

Sécurité Civile turbine-powered S-2s can be seen in the video below.

For years Sécurité Civile had been pondering what to do about replacing their nine S-2s that are approaching their structural life limit of 25,000 hours, according to the agency. Their plans announced in 2016 were to retire the S-2s between 2018 and 2022 which would require a two-year extension of the type certificate. The goal was to acquire aircraft that could carry more water or retardant, would reduce operating costs, and would be multi-role. On June 18, 2019 Conair delivered the first of six Dash 8-Q400MR air tankers to the Sécurité Civile base at Nimes-Garons in France. The Q400MRs will slowly replace the aging S-2 air tankers. Initially the newly arrived aircraft will be handled by the Direction Générale de l’Armement for acceptance procedures prior to beginning active duty. Securite Civile has operated two Q-400 air tankers since 2005.

In addition to the nine S-2s and two Q-400s, France also has twelve CL-415s and 40 helicopters. Like CAL FIRE, Sécurité Civile replaced the radial engines on the S-2s with turbines.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of the pilot.

Former Gov. Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Newsom discuss new firefighting equipment

They toured CAL FIRE facilities at Sacramento McClellan Airport

Air Tanker 118
Air Tanker 118 at Sacramento McClellan Airport August 1, 2019. Screengrab from Fox40 video below.

Thursday morning Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Governor Gavin Newsom toured CAL FIRE facilities at Sacramento McClellan Airport and received a briefing on some of the new firefighting equipment that the agency is in the process of acquiring.

They checked out Air Tanker 118, an HC-130H formerly operated by the U.S. Forest Service and before that, the U.S. Coast Guard. It has had some depot level maintenance performed and new livery, but still needs to have a retardant delivery system installed, like the other six HC-130H aircraft the agency also recently received. CAL FIRE expects to begin operating some of the HC-130Hs in their final configurations as they slowly become available beginning in about two or three years.

CAL FIRE is training their pilots for the transition by leasing a C-130 air tanker, T-134, from Coulson which has a permanently installed retardant delivery system with a removable internal tank.

The agency is also replacing its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey firefighting helicopters with brand new Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks) from United Rotorcraft. The aircraft will be capable of fighting fires at night.