The military assists with firefighting in 2014

coco fire marine helicopter
Marines assist in efforts to contain the Coco Fire in San Marcos, California, May 15, 2014. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpt. Tyler C. Gregory.

The Department of Defense included these photos in a collection of images that look back on 2014.

marine helicopter wildfire
A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter prepares to release water from a Bambi bucket to help fight wildfires on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, May 16, 2014. The fires burned more than 6,000 acres. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tabitha Castellano.
national guard helicopter wildfire
Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Noel Larson and Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nick Gliem line up their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to help fight wildfires near Leavenworth, Washington, July 31, 2014. Washington National Guard photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Dave Goodhue.

Montana rancher integrates helicopter into his operation

Gathering cattle with a helicopter
Gathering cattle with a helicopter in Montana. Photo by Kari Greer.

This is not a fire aviation story, but it involves a Bell 206-L4 and a photographer who is well known in the wildland fire community.

Vertical Magazine has an interesting article about a Montana rancher who flies a helicopter as part of his regular ranch activities, at times doing things that would normally be done by a cowboy on a horse. One of the best things about the article is that it has 14 photos taken by Kari Greer who spends her summers on the fireline with firefighters, taking great photos. Examples of her work can be found at Wildfire Today.

Here is how the article begins:

Loretta Lynn once sang, “There’s a built-in troublemaker in every man.” That may or may not be true. But there is undeniably a built-in troublemaker in every cow, and on this bluebird May day in west-central Montana, the troublemaker is acting up in the black heifer who is darting in and out of view through the chin bubble in Bill Galt’s Bell 206L4 LongRanger helicopter.

I’m riding along in the left seat; Galt is in the right, using his L4 to urge a dozen cow-calf pairs toward a crossing of swampy, overgrown Birch Creek. Or trying to. Every time Galt gets the bunch moving in the right direction, the unruly “dry” heifer, who doesn’t have a calf to slow her down, leads them off in a wrong one. Thirty feet above the ground, Galt is doing his best to head her off, maneuvering the LongRanger back and forth like a particularly quick and nimble cowhorse. Reinforcements soon arrive in the form of Galt’s nephew’s wife, Tanya Hill, on an actual horse, but the heifer only redoubles her efforts to evade us…

Inventec’s enclosed water bucket system

Inventec water bucket

Inventec has developed a water carrying device for firefighting helicopters that, unlike conventional buckets, is completely enclosed. In addition to filling quickly, 1,000 liters (265 gallons) in four to five seconds, the company says no water will escape even if the helicopter travels at high speed. It can be filled from a water source that is only 10 to 12 inches deep.

The device can be strategically located on the ground separate from the helicopter so that firefighters can fill bladder bags from it or use it on a hose lay if it can be positioned at the top of a hill, taking advantage of gravity flow.

Inventec water bucket on ground

Large air tankers to be introduced to the Australia media

T-131 (B390) and T-162 Avalon Airport
T-131 (B390) and T-162 at the Avalon Airport in Victoria. Photo by Wayne Rigg

The two large air tankers that are under contract to Victoria for their 2014/2015 summer bushfire season will be introduced to the Australian media on Tuesday. Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ-85, and Coulson’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q (known in Australia as Bomber 390), will be at the Avalon airport Tuesday, December 16 at 10 a.m. local time. In addition to the two large air tankers, seven other aircraft will be available including two other air tankers and some helicopters, including Coulson’s S-61 (known in Australia as HT347).

T-131 departing for Australia. Photo by Britt Coulson.
T-131 conducting a demonstration drop
T-131 conducting a demonstration drop in Victoria. It is sporting the Emergency Management Victoria logo and its down under ID number, Bomber 390. Photo by Wayne Rigg.

Videos demonstrating the Multi-Link Drop Computer

An article we posted on December 9 described a system being developed by Matt Richardson, an Avionics Systems Engineer with Canaan Avionics LLC, that would electronically designate drop points for firefighting aircraft. While three videos were available that demonstrated the system, Mr. Richardson asked that we not embed them on Fire Aviation, saying they were “a bit esoteric” and only intended for a few people in a federal agency. However, after the article appeared he was contacted by a number of people interested in his work who then saw the videos — and they did not really care about the production quality, Mr. Richardson said. He then said it was OK if we put them on the site. So… here they are.

System proposed to electronically designate drop points for firefighting aircraft


Multi-Link Drop Computer
Example of a proposed display from the Multi-Link Drop Computer system; still a work in progress. Canaan Avionics.

When a drop from an air tanker is needed on a large wildfire, the drop point is usually described to the pilot verbally over the radio, or a lead plane says follow me and then flies over the area identifying the target area either verbally, such as “drop here”, or releasing smoke to visually mark the drop area, or both. The verbal description can be imprecise, and the use of a lead plane requires that the aircraft be committed to that purpose when the air tanker is making the drop.

Matt Richardson, an Avionics Systems Engineer with Canaan Avionics LLC, has designed a system called Multi-Link Drop Computer that would electronically record and then transmit to air tanker pilots detailed information about the desired drop, including navigation data to the drop point, inbound radial, drop point, outbound radial, wind speed, and wind vector. When building line, multiple drop points could be recorded and transmitted to incoming air tankers which would each be assigned a drop point.

Besides the obvious benefit of giving pilots detailed navigation information to the drop point, another advantage we can see is for incidents where the Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) and the Lead Plane duties are combined and performed by two people in one aircraft, known as an Aerial Supervision Module (ASM). There are times when the Lead Plane needs to be 150 feet above the ground leading air tankers to their targets, but it is also helpful to be thousands of feet up, gathering the big picture for the ATGS. As long as the drop points are not frequently changing due to a rapidly spreading fire, several of them could be recorded and saved, allowing the ASM to go upstairs for a while, directing air traffic, observing the fire, and developing aviation tactics and strategies.

(UPDATE December 11, 2014: we posted three videos that demonstrate the system.)

Below are some excerpts from a white paper Mr. Richardson has developed.


Multi-Link Drop Computer
Single drop. Multi-Link Drop Computer. Canaan Avionics.

“…Mission Example for LRN via Electronic Display: A Lead Plane identifies a fire ‘hotspot’ by flying over it and marking it with the MLDC. When the pilot presses the ‘MARK’ button, the MLDC instantly records the latitude, longitude, time, wind speed and wind vector at the drop point as received through the GPS data buss. If the pilot holds down the mark button, the MLDC will also record a desired drop length for the duration of the button press and aircraft track while the button is held will become the desired drop vector. The drop point data is given a unique waypoint identifier (FOX12 for example) and stored into a preset. The Lead Plane pilot can go into the MLDC menus and manually augment any of the drop point parameters if desired.

The Lead Plane sends the drop point, FOX12 through a TCP/IP connection by selecting an aerial assent in a list of preprogrammed tail numbers. The drop point data is sent through the onboard AFF Iridium connection to a C-130 still enroute and to a ground based mission coordinator.

The C-130 pilot receives the drop coordinates like an email in the cockpit and loads it into a preset. The C- 130 pilot radios the Lead Plane and aurally confirms that ‘FOX12” was received. The wind data attached to the drop point indicates that there is a heavy crosswind from the west so the pilot uses the MLDC menus to move the drop point 100’ due west.

The C-130 pilot selects the MLDC as the active NAV source using the EFIS controller and a flight plan is shown on the Multi-Function Display (MFD) from his present position to the FOX12 drop point. The drop point flight plan has an intercept vector that matches the drop vector attached to the waypoint. The pilot then selects ‘NAV’ on the flight guidance panel and the autopilot guides the aircraft towards the drop point. While flying to the drop point, the pilot monitors the flight plan and ensures that the predicted path of the aircraft does not impede with other aircraft or terrain. All data is displayed to the pilot on the existing MFD display.

Once the drop point is reached the MLDC sets a discrete which illuminates a ‘DROP’ annunciator to signal the beginning of the drop. The C-130 pilot initiates the drop sequence at that time. The MLDC extinguishes the annunciator once the drop length is reached and the C-130 ends the drop cycle. The MLDC monitors the drop sequence via discrete inputs and records the drop position, vector and length as received through the digital GPS buss.

The C-130 pilot confirms the drop aurally and sends an electronic drop confirmation to either the lead pilot and/or to the mission coordinator using the MLDC…”

MLDC line building
Line building. Multi-Link Drop Computer. Canaan Avionics.

Australia gearing up air assets for bushfire season

T162 arriving Avalon
Tanker 162, an RJ-85, arrives at Avalon, Victoria, Australia December 7, 2014. Photo by Mike Austin.

Contracted aerial firefighting assets are arriving in Victoria for the Australian bushfire season. Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ-85, arrived on December 7. Coulson’s C-130Q is expected to be there by Monday night local time, December 8. They will be based at the Avalon Airport in Victoria.

As usual, two of Coulson’s S61 helicopters will be on contract, beginning December 17 this year. One of them was in storage over the winter at Essendon Airport. The other was seen December 8 being trucked from Port Melbourne to Essendon.

Two Erickson Air-Crane helicopters are being contracted through Kestrel Aviation in Victoria for service in the state.

New South Wales had two Air-Cranes delivered by an Antonov cargo aircraft on October 4. Those two helicopters are “Gypsy Lady” and “Ichabod”; their contract started on October 6.

(UPDATED at 8 p.m. MST December 7, to provide more detailed information about the helicopters, and the ETA of the C-130Q.)

More details about the aviation assets to be available for the 2014/2015 bushfire season in Victoria.

Video introduction to short haul operations

This video about short haul operations from helicopters was produced by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. It is designed to give interagency management teams an introduction to the operational and risk assessment procedures for safe short-haul operations.