CAL Fire helicopter pilot Desiree Horton is featured in a news report on MyFoxLA (above). Desiree has been flying helicopters for at least 14 years, including piloting and reporting from news helicopters for several TV stations in Los Angeles, flying on U.S. Forest Service contracts for a firefighting helicopters on the San Bernardino National Forest and in Oregon, doing heavy lifts in a Sikorsky S-58, and then in 2013 flying a fire helicopter for CAL FIRE. She even has her own Wikipedia page, and has been nicknamed “Chopper Chick”: She is currently working on a limited term appointment, but hopes to get a permanent job with CAL FIRE.
Back in the days before FireAviation.com was born, we wrote several articles about Desiree on WildfireToday.com.
Desiree is the first female firefighting helicopter pilot in California working directly for a public agency. However there has been at least one other woman who worked for a private company on a firefighting contract — Bonnie Wilkens, who flew out of Ramona.
The Air Force report released last week by the Virginia-based Air Combat Command said improper rigging and inadequate oversight caused the death of Shane Krogen, executive director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, 30 miles east of Visalia, California, on September 12, 2013.
Mr. Krogen was participating in an environmental clean-up and restoration of a contaminated marijuana grow site in the Sequoia National Forest that was carried out by California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing. While preparing to be lowered by the hoist on an HH-60G Pavehawk helicopter, a variant of a Blackhawk, Mr. Krogen mistakenly attached the aircraft’s hoist to a non-load-bearing plastic D-ring of a tactical vest instead of to the load-bearing metal D-ring of his harness. When the plastic D-ring broke, Mr. Krogen fell from the aircraft to the ground from an approximate 45-foot hover and sustained fatal injuries.
The report concluded that the helicopter crew’s safety man did not maintain adequate oversight during flight and hoist operations and that Mr. Krogen’s use of his personal equipment “excessively cluttered the area around the load-bearing metal D-ring”, interfering with a safe connection and visual inspection. And, “due to the extremely close proximity of the Yates harness load bearing D-ring in relation to the Condor tactical vest’s non-load bearing D-ring, and the concealment of both D-rings by the cluttered pouches on the Condor tactical vest, which included a handgun, the [safety man] incorrectly concluded the Civilian Fatality was properly secured”.
The report also said that according to the Pentagon only law enforcement personnel should be allowed on counterdrug flights and that Mr. Krogen, as a civilian, was not authorized to be on the helicopter.
Before the rappelling attempt, four people looked at or inspected Mr. Marovich’s rappelling gear: the spotter trainee who installed the “O” ring, Marovich, and in the helicopter a spotter, and another helitack crewperson who did a “buddy check”.
A Colorado state senator will be introducing legislation that would provide $9 million for four helicopters and an air tanker to suppress wildfires. A bill approved last year created the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) but failed to appropriate any funds to run the agency or acquire any aviation assets.
The legislation specifies that a contract be issued for one Type 1 air tanker or a very large air tanker and four helicopters.
(The rest of the story, including the permanent acquisition of four air tankers, is on Wildfire Today.)
The Marines have conducted some tests to determine how feasible it would be for the MV-22 Osprey to fight wildland fires. As you may know, the Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft capable of vertical or short takeoff and landing. When airborne, it can cruise at over 300 mph, can carry 24 to 32 troops, or 15,000 pounds of external cargo.
In March, 2011 the Marines tested the Osprey with a 900-gallon Bambi Bucket suspended from 50-foot and 100-foot ling lines attached to the rear cargo hook while flying at up to 90 knots. After the tests, they came up with the following recommendations:
Maximum airspeed with bucket empty – 90 KIAS
Maximum airspeed with bucket full – 90 KIAS
Maximum airspeed when dumping – 50 KIAS
Max angle of bank- 30 degrees AOB
Use of Automatic Release Mode is prohibited.
Bambi bucket should be positioned to the 6 o’clock position of the aircraft prior to takeoff or landing.
Aircrew shall continuously monitor load for oscillations or unusual load movement.
WorldWind Helicopters began the 2013 fire season with three helicopters on contract, but after the company had some problems making the one at Peppermint, California available when the season started, the USFS cancelled their contract for that location and later awarded it to Hillsboro Aviation.
WorldWind again submitted bids for three helicopters on this latest contract but was only given two, for John Day, Oregon and Arroyo Grande, California, for a Bell 210 and Bell 205, respectively. The USFS did not announce any award for one line item, Trimmer, California, leaving it blank on the list.
This is the fourth time in the last two years that USFS fire aviation contracts have been protested. The others were for the next-generation air tankers which were protested twice (for the first and second decisions) and the no-competition award to Neptune for two BAe-146 air tankers. In all three previous instances, the companies that fought the awards ultimately received favorable outcomes. Coulson and 10 Tanker, which did not receive awards for next-gen air tankers, got them after the protest of the first decision. Neptune, which protested the second version of the next-gen contracts, suddenly and without explanation dropped the protest a few weeks after filing it, but six months later received no-competition contracts for two BAe-146s.
When the next-gen air tanker contract was protested the first time by Neptune, several months later the attorneys and U.S. Forest Service officials dealing with the protest decided that three of the seven line items on the solicitation were exempt because the company did not bid on those line items. As a result, three companies were issued five-year exclusive use contracts at that time. It is possible that in this 32-line-item helicopter solicitation there could be some unaffected contracts that could go forward, while the individual line items protested by WorldWind would be in limbo until a final decision is reached by the GAO, or the protest is dropped by WorldWind.
Yesterday the USFS awarded 31 exclusive use contracts for Type 2 helicopters. The award period began December 17 and ends April 30, 2015 with options for three additional years. This award process was first announced on April 5, 2013 and took over eight months to complete.
The number of Type 2 helicopters on this new contract, 31, is two less than there were in 2012 and 2013. One of the line items on the bid list, the helicopter at Trimmer, California, was not awarded.
There are 34 larger Type 1 helicopters on contract in 2013.
The Type 2 helicopter models which will be on contract are Bell 205, 210, and 212; you can see the entire list HERE.