The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has posted solicitations for firefighting helicopters at their bases in Cloquet, Princeton and Roseau. Here is an excerpt from their web site:
Service of a helicopter that is fully operated by qualified personnel, and equipped to meet specifications for use in administration, management and protection of lands from wildfire in Minnesota. The types of services which aircraft would generally be required to perform, but not restricted to are: Transportation of personnel, Equipment and supplies, Reconnaissance flights, Fire detection flights, Photography work involving, prolonged slow flight, Helicopter–bucket and fire missions, Administrative flying, Incident Support. Project Technical information contact: Bill Schuster at 218-327-4573.
Four students studying journalism at Washington State University have written an article that summarizes the state of the federal air tanker program. It is interesting in that it quotes several knowledgeable people who have close ties to management of the fleet, including Jim Hall, former Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Ron Hanks, head of aviation safety with the U.S. Forest Service. They also interviewed Dick Mangan, past president of the International Association of Wildland Fire.
Mr. Hall, who chaired the 2002 Blue Ribbon Panel following the crashes of two air tankers that killed five aviators that year, continues to lament the current state of the air tanker program, much as he did earlier this summer.
Mr. Hanks apparently told the student reporters:
Right now, we have 17 aircraft, and that includes the Canadian aircraft that we have borrowed.
That puts an extremely favorable spin on the fact that as the fire season ends there are nine large air tankers on exclusive use contracts, plus two BAe-146s that were put on temporarily as “additional equipment” on Neptune’s contract. The Canadian air tankers and lead planes that Mr. Hanks referred to were borrowed for a month or so last summer. In 2002 we had 44 large air tankers.
Here is a video that illustrates the student’s story;
Aero Air of Hillsboro, Oregon, has purchased the air tanker operations of Butler Aircraft from Travis Garnick. Aero Air acquired Butler’s three DC-7 air tankers, support equipment, and spare parts in Madras, Oregon. They will take over the lease of Butler’s new city-owned hangar at the Madras Municipal Airport (map) as well as the contracts with the state of Oregon for the three air tankers. The company did not have a contract with the US Forest Service for the DC-7s.
Kevin McCullough, now the President of Aero Air, and Jack Erickson, founder and former owner of Erickson Air-Crane, became co-owners of Aero Air in 1998 and since then have been growing the company. After Mr. Erickson sold Erickson Air-Crane to ZM Private Equity Fund in 2007, they began talking about getting into the air tanker business. A couple of years ago they decided to go with MD-87s and pulled together teams to develop a tank design and to handle obtaining the supplemental type certificate (STC) from the FAA.
They have purchased seven MD-87s, most of them from SAS airlines, and the conversion process is 99 percent complete on one of them, Mr. McCullough told Wildfire Today on Tuesday. The parts for the others are being fabricated in Hillsboro where all of the conversion work will be done. The other six MD-87s are at Hillsboro, Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Arizona (map), and Madras. Some of them have already been painted at Phoenix Goodyear prior to beginning the other modifications.
After the conversions are complete, Aero Air will conduct all of their air tanker operations out of the facilities in Madras that were formerly owned or leased by Butler. That branch of the company will be known as Erickson Aero Tanker, and that is what is being painted in large letters on the MD-87s, similar to the style of the lettering on the DC-10 and 747 very large air tankers.
The 4,000-gallon internal tanks will rely on gravity, rather than pressurized air, to force the retardant out of the tank. An MD-87 can cruise at 504 mph and is powered by two rear-mounted jet, or turbofan engines. The company has secured a block of air tanker numbers from the USFS, 101 through 112 — which is more than seven, you’re thinking. Right. Mr. McCullough told us that their long term plans are to operate 12 to 15 MD-87s.
Technicians from the USFS’ San Dimas Technology and Development Center have been at Aero Air this week checking the design of the tank system to determine if it is in compliance with the very extensive and complex requirements for federally-contracted air tankers. Aero Air has already done a static test, expelling water from the tank while the aircraft is on the ground, but more are scheduled. In the Spring they hope to pass the airborne retardant drop tests where the retardant is captured in hundreds of cups arranged in a grid pattern on the ground. If the STC and the approvals from the Interagency Air Tanker Board have positive results, there may be at least one MD-87 dropping on fires next summer.
Assuming… that the U.S. Forest Service completes the evaluation of the proposals from air tanker companies for “next generation air tankers” and awards a contract to Aero Air. The company, along with three others, was notified last Fall that they were going to receive contracts, but before the contracts were actually awarded and signed, two companies that were not slated to get contracts, 10 Tanker Air Carrier and Coulson, protested, and the USFS halted the process. Months later they started over, amending the request for proposal which then closed again in November. If the contracts had actually been awarded, Aero Air would have been expected to provide two MD-87s beginning in 2013. The other companies that almost got contracts were Neptune for BAe-146s, Minden for BAe-146s, and Aero-Flite for an Avro RJ85, a derivative of the BAe-146.
Paul Filmer took some excellent photos of aircraft working on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park west of Estes Park, Colorado, December 4, 2012. The photo above is the first one I can remember seeing of an air tanker dropping with snow in the background.
We thank Paul for allowing us to use his photos. You can see a couple of dozen more that photos he took December 4 at his web site. More information about the Fern Lake Fire can be found at Wildfire Today.
Erickson Air-Crane has bought back an Air-Crane helicopter that it sold two years ago to a power company in California. In 2010 Erickson sold a $30 million S-64F Air-Crane to San Diego Gas and Electric which acquired it to facilitate the construction of a powerline in eastern San Diego County. The company also made it available for fighting wildfires, using the call sign Helicopter 729 when operating on a fire, and “Sunbird” when working on the powerline. The Air-Crane can carry 2,650 gallons of water when suppressing a fire.
In conjunction with the aircraft transaction, Erickson entered into an agreement with SDG&E to provide an Air-Crane for fire suppression support in San Diego County this Fall. SDG&E leased the aircraft for a 3-month period from September through November 2012, with an option to renew the lease for the same period each year through 2016.
Erickson added the aircraft to its fleet which now expands to 18 Air-Cranes. The company said it will allow the Company to meet the growing demand for heavy-lift aerial services in the oil-and-gas and powerline construction sectors.
Erickson Air-Crane went public April 11, 20121, selling stock at an initial public offering. Listed as EAC on NASDAC, it sold for about $8 that day, which netted $32 million for the company, about half of what they hoped for a few months earlier. The company used the proceeds to help pay down their debt which as of December 31, 2011 was $130.6 million. Since the IPO the stock price has ranged from $5.35 to $8.50 and closed at $8.03 Friday.
In 2007, ZM Private Equity Fund bought the company, and in 2009 moved the headquarters to Portland. ZM retained 63 percent ownership after it went public with the sale of stock.
At the beginning of the bushfire season in Australia, Peter Ryan, the Deputy Premier of Victoria, held a press conference to announce that “Elvis is back in the building”. The Premier was referring to an Erickson Air-Crane, a Type 1 helicopter which can carry 2,650 gallons of water. The Australians have a special fondness for the Air-Cranes, and especially for the one named “Elvis”, which is credited for helping to protect almost 300 homes near Sydney in 2001 and also for helping save the lives of 14 firefighters in the Burragorang Valley in New South Wales.
In addition to “Elvis” (N179AC), Victoria’s Country Fire Authority has contracted for a second Air-Crane, “Gypsy Lady” (N189AC).
Through contracts with various state and territory governments in Australia, Air-Cranes and Skycranes have been helping the Australians during their fire seasons since “Millie” (N223AC) was deployed there in 1997. One of the more notable missions was the 2001-2002 bushfire season when “Georgia Peach” (N154AC) and “Incredible Hulk” (N164AC), were rushed out from the U.S.A on board a Russian Antonov An-124 air freighter to assist with bushfires near Sydney, working with “Elvis” which was already “in the building”.
Most people don’t know the U.S. Park Police exists, but the organization, created by President George Washington in 1791, is one of the oldest uniformed federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. Today they provide law enforcement services to designated areas within the National Park Service system, primarily the Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.
Here are some recent photos of one of their helicopters.
A description of the USPP’s aviation unit, from Wikipedia:
The Aviation Unit of the United States Park Police began in April 1973 and was placed under the command of Lt. Richard T. Chittick. It started with one Bell 206B JetRanger and a staff of three pilots and three rescue technicians based at the Anacostia Naval Air Station in a shared space with the MPD Aviation Branch. A second helicopter, a Bell 206B-3 JetRanger, was added in 1975 and the unit relocated to Andrews AFB.
The Aviation Unit moved to its present facility in Anacostia Park, the “Eagle’s Nest,” in 1976. In 1983, the 206B-3 was upgraded to a Bell206L-3 LongRanger. Their first twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412SP, and the third helicopter to carry the designation “Eagle One,” was placed in service in January 1991. The unit grew to its current staff, and began providing 24-hour coverage in January 1994.
In August 1999, the unit took delivery of its second twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412EP. It became the fourth helicopter in the unit’s history to carry the designation “Eagle One” and the same registration number as that of an earlier aircraft whose crew effected the rescue of victims after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.
The missions of the United States Park Police Aviation Unit include aviation support for law enforcement, medevac, search and rescue, high-risk prisoner transport and presidential and dignitary security. The Aviation Unit has provided accident-free, professional aviation services for over 28 years. This is due to the dedication of the flight crews, the support from within and outside the Force, and the state-of-art equipment used in the performance of its missions.
The 26-second video above put together by Cy Kuckenbaker is a composite of the 70 planes that landed at San Diego International Airport during a four and a half hour period on November 23. It turns out, he explains, that with a blue sky background, it was not a huge challenge (for him) to superimpose video of all of the aircraft, placing many of them on the video screen at the same time. If I understand it correctly, the aircraft were shot on a beautiful, cloudless day, and time-lapse videos of the bridge and the clouds were added later.
It’s hard to explain… just do me a favor and watch it. 🙂