CAL FIRE helicopter pilot featured on Los Angeles news

Los Angeles Local News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

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 was born, we wrote several articles about Desiree on

Desiree is on the right (Duh!), as seen in a 2009 video about how to test a microphone with a Sikorsky S-58.

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.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Joseph.

Cause of helicopter hoist fatality similar to earlier rappel death

Harness connection
A demonstration of the improper harness connection. Air Force photo.

An investigative report determined that the cause of a fatality that occurred to a volunteer while he was being lowered by a helicopter’s hoist over the Sequoia National Forest was similar to a previous rappelling accident that killed a U.S. Forest Service employee in 2009.

Use of hoist
File photo. Pararescuemen from the 304th Rescue Squadron Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., practice their rescue skills with an HH-60 Pave Hawk and crew from the 305th RQS at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ruby Zarzyczny

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.

Thomas Marovich, a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, died on July 21, 2009 when he fell while performing routine helicopter rappelling proficiency training while assigned to the Backbone fire near Willow Creek, California. The USFS report was posted and later removed from the Lessons Learned web site, but Wildfire Today was able to report on it while it was still public. The National Transportation Safety Board Narrative revealed that Mr. Marovich’s “J” hook had been attached to a rubber “O” ring, rather than to a load-bearing Tri-link (see the photos below).

Marovich gear

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”.

Legislation to be introduced in Colorado would provide 4 firefighting helicopters and an air tanker

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.)

MV-22 Osprey evaluated for fighting fires

MV-22 Osprey with bucket
MV-22 Osprey with bucket. DOD photo.

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.

The report can be found here (2.6MB).

However, there are some issues that would stand in the way of the Osprey fighting fires, such as the very powerful rotor wash that has injured people nearby, the extreme heat that comes out of the engine exhaust which has started wildland fires and damaged flight decks on ships, and the high cost of $83,256 dollars an hour.

We have written a number of articles at Fire Aviation and at Wildfire Today about the MV-22 Osprey, and its suitability for fighting fires.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Ross.

Type 2 helicopter contracts contested

Kern County Helicopter 407
Kern County Helicopter 407, a Type 2 helicopter.  Photo by Kern County FD.

WorldWind Helicopters has protested the contracts that were awarded for 31 Type 2 helicopters used to fight wildland fires. On December 17 the U.S. Forest Service announced exclusive use contracts for the award period that began December 17 and ends April 30, 2015 with options for three additional years. The solicitation was first announced on April 5, 2013 and took over eight months to complete.

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.

The Government Accountability Office will be arbitrating the bid protest. Their decision is due by April 7, 2014. The GAO can’t do much until the USFS provides to them a report on the protest, which has not yet been received by the GAO.

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.

Below is a diagram outlining the GAO’s timeline for handling a bid protest. This particular protest was filed on December 26, 2013.
Continue reading “Type 2 helicopter contracts contested”

USFS awards 31 contracts for Type 2 helicopters

Bell 205A-1 at Salmon ID
Bell 205A-1 at Salmon, ID August 12, 2012, registered to Heligroup Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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.

Below are the Incident Command System specifications for helicopters, from the Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide, February, 2013.

ICS helicopter specifications


Thanks go out to Harris