Do pilots use the quadratic formula?

Quadratic formulaWe received this question from a high school student in Florida:

…Recently, my Algebra 2 teacher assigned a project to see if men and women in important professions use algebra in real life applications. In our math book it claims that, “Firefighting pilots can use the Quadratic Formula to estimate when to release water on a fire.” My question to you is do you really use the Quadratic Formula to put out a forest fire? If not, how do you do it? Thank you very much for any help you are able to provide and have a great day!

Let’s hear from some pilots.

  1. When you’re dropping water or retardant do you silently solve the quadratic equation in your head? If not, how do you determine when to release the load?
  2. Are there any occasions in your day to day work activities when you use algebra?

In case you want to brush up on the quadratic formula: Wikipedia.

Jim Cook receives Walt Darren Award

Jim Cook was honored for helping to develop the Fire Traffic Area.

Above: Jim Cook (right) receives the Walt Darren International Aerial Firefighting Award from David Wardall. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Jim Cook received the Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award March 22 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California. The honor is given annually to recognize a significant contribution to aerial firefighting by an individual or organization.

Mr. Cook was recognized for his part in developing the concept of the Fire Traffic Area, a system of air traffic control for firefighting aircraft over an incident. The need for organizing aircraft into a pattern became painfully evident when two S2 air tankers collided over the Bus Fire August 27, 2001 in Mendocino County in northern California. The two pilots, Larry Groff of Santa Rosa and Lars Stratte of Chico, were killed.

The Fire Traffic Area procedure requires that aircraft approaching a fire make initial radio contact 12 nautical miles out, and should not approach any closer than 7 miles if radio contact is not successful.

Fire Traffic Area
Fire Traffic Area. Graphic from Associated Aerial Firefighters.
Fire Traffic Area
Fire Traffic Area, from the Interagency Aerial Supervision Guide.

The Walt Darren award was first presented in 2014 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California, USA. Mr. Darran was a highly experienced airtanker pilot from California and a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in aerial firefighting industry.

George Petterson received the award the first time it was presented in 2014. The next year it was given to Philippe Bodino.

Nominations being accepted for International Aerial Firefighting Award

The closing date for nominations is February 19, 2016

The Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award is presented annually to recognize a significant contribution to aerial firefighting by an individual or organization. It was first awarded in 2014 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California, USA.

Walt Darran
Walt Darran

The award is named after the late Walt Darran who was a highly experienced airtanker pilot from California and a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in aerial firefighting industry.

The award is administered by the Walt Darran Award Committee which is currently made up of a consortium of existing groups involved in aerial firefighting from International Fire Aviation Working Group (IFAWG), UN-ISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group (WFAG) members, and Associated Aerial Firefighters.

Nominations are now being accepted for 2016.

Articles about the recipients of the awards in 2014 and 2015, George Petterson and Philippe Bodino, can be seen here.

The Award Charter states:

  • Any person who has made a significant contribution to furthering the safety and/or effectiveness and/or efficiency of aerial firefighting is eligible to be nominated. The Award may recognise contributions either over recent year(s) or over a sustained period.
  • An organization that has made an outstanding contribution to furthering the safety and/or effectiveness and/or efficiency of aerial firefighting is also eligible to be nominated.

The closing date for nominations is February 19, 2016.

To nominate someone for the award please download and complete this form.

The award will be presented at the Aerial Firefighting International 2016 conference in Sacramento, California, USA, March 22-23, 2016.

Walt Darran Award 2015
Philippe Bodino, center, received the award in 2015. Left to right: Jerome Laval, Cal Fire pilot and a Walt Darran very close friend; Richard Alder, General Manager, National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in Australia; Philippe Bodino; Rear Admiral Terry Loughran (CB FRAes) Royal Navy, Tangent Link Chairman and conference speaker; and Jeff Cavarra, Program Manager at DynCorp International.

Dubai orders jetpacks for first responders

Martin jetpack
Martin jetpack. Photo by Martin Aircraft.

Emergency services personnel in Dubai are known to think outside the box when it comes to transporting first responders to incidents, as evidenced by the Corvette used by their civil defense organization. Now they have placed an order for 20 “jetpacks” made by Martin Aircraft, propelled not by jet engines, but by ducted fans.

From the BBC:

A deal between Dubai’s civil defense force and New Zealand-based Martin Aircraft suggests that the technology is about to move mainstream.

For decades, jetpack fans have predicted a future when we would be using personal power-packs – like James Bond in the 1965 film Thunderball.

Now, Dubai has announced an initial order for up to 20 Martin jetpacks, plus simulators and a training package, for delivery next year.

No financial details were disclosed at the Dubai Airshow, other than it is a multi-million-dollar contract. Each jetpack has a catalogue price of $250,000 (£165,000).

But these will not be used as the latest must-have for the wealthy and foolish. Dubai wants them for more serious reasons.

Lt Col Ali Hassan Almutawa, director of the Dubai Civil Defence Operations Department, said the packs would be used for reconnaissance and rescue.

“We see them performing a first-responder role,” he says, adding that the jetpacks would be particularly useful in the fire department during emergencies in Dubai’s skyscrapers.

“Sometimes we have challenges or difficulties to reach the top floors of those buildings. The aircraft can go into confined spaces to size-up the situation. We are going to modify them with thermal imaging cameras,” he says.

Changes at Fire Aviation

Today we made some changes at Fire Aviation. We call them “enhancements”, and hope you agree.


Quite a few of our readers have requested the option to subscribe to the website. So here’s what we added, and keep in mind that everything is optional.

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The buttons that you can click to share the article via email or social media sites look different, and now will show how many times the post has been shared at the individual sites.

New favicon

If you have an internet browser with tabs, you will see that the very tiny graphic in the tab, called a “favicon”, is different. We’re not certain we’ll keep it, and may look for something else. If you can do computer graphics and have an idea, send it to us in a 600×600 pixel .jpg and we’ll take a look at it.

Related articles

The website software is going to automatically decide which previous articles may be related to the new one as it is posted, and list them at the bottom of the post just above the comment form. I’m skeptical about this, but we’ll give it a try.

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Automatic steerable parachute used for the first time on a wildfire

For the first time, an automatic steerable parachute has been used to deliver cargo on a wildfire. Below is a description from the Bear Lake Fire in Montana:

The Bear Lake Fire was honored to be the first wildfire incident to use the microflight technology from the USDA Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center. The auto guided microflight technology is part of the Joint Precision Aerial Delivery System (JPADS) and was developed by the military 5 years ago. This new technology allows for cargo drops from altitudes of 5,000 ft above the drop zone (the altitude for a standard cargo drop is approx. 250 ft above the drop zone). The parachute is guided by a GPS unit that adjusts for winds, turning the cargo as needed and dropping it within 50-100 meters of the drop site.

Wikipedia provides more details about the system:


US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) was the primary developer for JPADS, which meets several requirements: increased ground accuracy, standoff delivery, increased air carrier survivability, and improved effectiveness/assessment feedback regarding airdrop mission operations. The United States Army and Air Force began jointly developing this system in 1993. The Air Force made its first operational/combat use of the system in Afghanistan in 2006.

The steerable parachute or parafoil is called a “decelerator,” and gives the JPADS system directional control throughout its descent by means of decelerator steering lines attached to the Airborne Guidance Unit (AGU). They create drag on either side of the decelerator, which turns the parachute, thus achieving directional control.

The Airborne Guidance Unit (AGU) contains a GPS, a battery pack, and the guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) software package. It also houses the hardware required to operate the steering lines. The AGU obtains its position prior to exiting the aircraft, and continues to calculate its position via the GPS throughout descent.

The Mission Planner software gives the aircrew the ability to plan the mission, in flight if necessary, as well as steer the aircraft to its Computed Air Release Point (CARP), where the load is released.”


The Bear Lake Fire has burned about 6,400 acres 12 miles southeast of Wisdom, Montana. The Incident Commander is calling it 75 percent contained.

Aviation-Related Wildland Firefighter Fatalities — United States, 2000–2013

Aviation Fatality Map wildland fireThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published the results of a study that collected information about aviation-related fatalities of wildland firefighters between 2000 and 2013. You can see the entire paper HERE (see page 793), but most of it is below.


Aviation-Related Wildland Firefighter Fatalities — United States, 2000–2013
July 31, 2015 / 64(29);793-796

Corey R. Butler, MS1, Mary B. O’Connor, MS2, Jennifer M. Lincoln, PhD2 (Author affiliations at end of text)

Airplanes and helicopters are integral to the management and suppression of wildfires, often operating in high-risk, low-altitude environments. To update data on aviation-related wildland firefighting fatalities, identify risk factors, and make recommendations for improved safety, CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analyzed reports from multiple data sources for the period 2000–2013. Among 298 wildland firefighter fatalities identified during 2000–2013, 78 (26.2%) were aviation-related occupational fatalities that occurred during 41 separate events involving 42 aircraft. Aircraft crashes accounted for 38 events. Pilots, copilots, and flight engineers represented 53 (68%) of the aviation-related fatalities. The leading causes of fatal aircraft crashes were engine, structure, or component failure (24%); pilot loss of control (24%); failure to maintain clearance from terrain, water, or objects (20%); and hazardous weather (15%). To reduce fatalities from aviation-related wildland firefighting activities, stringent safety guidelines need to be followed during all phases of firefighting, including training exercises. Crew resource management techniques, which use all available resources, information, equipment, and personnel to achieve safe and efficient flight operations, can be applied to firefighting operations.

Airplanes and helicopters play a major role in the control of wildland (forest, brush, and grass) fires. These aircraft are used to deliver equipment and supplies, deploy and transport firefighters, conduct reconnaissance, scout and direct operations, and deliver fire retardant or water. During the past decade, the United States has experienced an increase in the size, frequency, and severity of wildfires, likely attributable to buildup of flammable vegetation, decline in snowpack, and human development in the wildland urban interface (1,2). If these conditions continue, more fire response workers will be needed, and the demand on aviation to support these efforts will increase.

To identify risk factors for aviation-related wildland firefighter activities, NIOSH reviewed and extracted case reports from the Fire Administration Firefighter Fatality surveillance system, the National Fire Protection Association Fire Incident Data Organization database, the National Wildland Coordinating Group’s Safety Gram, and the National Transportation Safety Board aviation database. A wildland firefighter fatality was defined as any death that occurred in a paid or unpaid wildland firefighter, contractor, aviation crew member or support staff, inmate, or member of the military while performing official wildland fire duties, including operations (fire or nonfire incident), responding to or returning from a wildland fire incident, or other officially assigned duties.* Other emergency response workers who were fatally injured at wildfires were excluded from this analysis. The number of flight hours for the U.S. Forest Service was used as a denominator to indicate the use of aviation resources because flight hours from other agencies or workforce numbers were not available.

During 2000–2013, a total of 298 wildland firefighter fatalities were identified, averaging 21 fatalities per year. Among these, 78 (26.2%) were caused by activities associated with aviation. The number of aviation- related fatalities decreased during 2007–2013, compared with 2000–2006 (Table 1). Of the persons who died in aviation-related activities, 76 (97%) were male, and 53 (68%) were flight crew members (e.g., pilots, copilots, and flight engineers). The average age of flight crew victims was 49 years (range = 20–66 years) and of nonflight crew victims was 33 years (range = 19–54 years). The most common occupation of nonflight crew members was firefighter. Most victims were employed by aerial contractors (42), followed by the federal government (15), state government agencies (10), ground contractors (seven), and the military (four). Twenty-five (32%) of the aviation-related fatalities occurred in California, eight occurred in Nevada, and seven in Idaho (Figure).

Aviation Fatalities wildland fire

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