The first air tanker drop on a fire

first air tanker drop wildfire fire
Reportedly, this is the first operational air tanker drop on a fire — Mendocino National Forest, 1955.

This is the first time I have seen this photo.

Startup company plans to use swarms of drones to plant trees after a wildfire

The company is already using them to spray pesticides

DroneSeed drone herbicide fire reseed
A DroneSeed drone applying a herbicide. Screenshot from DroneSeed video.

Replanting trees after a wildfire or logging operation is an extremely labor intensive and expensive task. Carrying a bag of seedlings and using a dibble bar or shovel across steep debris-covered terrain can wear out a human.

A new company, DroneSeed, has a solution. Use machines. They are designing a system around a swarm of drones that can plant tree seeds in places where they have a decent chance of survival. First they survey the area with a drone using lidar and a multispectral camera to map the terrain and the vegetation. Software then identifies the areas that have invasive species or other plants the landowner wants to eliminate and then a drone applies herbicide to only the patches that need it, rather than dumping  pesticide over the entire landscape.

According to an article at TechCrunch, DroneSeed is still fine tuning the seed dispersing system, but the next step is to use artificial intelligence to sort through the mapping data to find microsites where a dropped seed is most likely to germinate.

Using a concept that has been around for a long time, they will coat the seeds with substances that will enhance its survival chances. The article explained that the company is very reticent to detail exactly what will be applied to the seed. In agriculture, seeds are often coated with polymers, fertilizers, or fungicides.  Polymers can improve the flowability and plantability — if the weather is hot and humid, cool and damp, or dry — to get consistent seed drop.

One issue DroneSeed appears to be concentrating on is deterring animals from eating or removing the seeds. They are looking at adding capsaicin, a chili pepper extract, to the coating. A fertilizer, if included, would wash off during a rain and then supply nutrients to the seed as it germinates.

The drones they are using are off the shelf aircraft that DroneSeed guts and converts into a machine that fits their missions. They are referred to as “heavy lift” drones since they weigh more than the 55-pound maximum for more conventional drones. The FAA limits heavy lifts to 115 pounds. The company says they are the first and only company the FAA has approved to use drone swarms to dispense agricultural payloads (fertilizers, herbicides, and water).

The FAA classifies this exception as “precedent setting”, referring to the exceptional lengths DroneSeed has gone to prove out its ability to scale operations to larger payloads for multiple concurrent flights.

As you can see in the video below, the drones are used in swarms, with five to six drones being able to equal the production of one helicopter when spraying herbicides.

DroneSeed has worked for three of the five largest timber companies since 2017 spraying herbicides, but they are just getting into the tree seeding game. They missed the prime planting season this year but were able to apply seeds to a few small sites and should be in a good position next year to show off their results.

Air Spray tests their BAe-146 air tanker

The aircraft appears to be nearing the completion of its 5-year conversion

Air Tanker 170 making test drop
Air Spray’s Air Tanker 170 making a test drop at Fox Field in September, 2018. Screen shot from the VMC Aviation Video below.

Today we learned about two videos that were shot in September as Air Spray was putting their BAe-146 air tanker through the grid test at Fox Field in Southern California. The test involves repeatedly dropping retardant over a grid of hundreds of cups on the ground. The amount in each cup is measured to determine the quantity of retardant and the uniformity of the pattern.

Air Spray has been working on this aircraft since at least March of 2014 when we visited their hangar in Chico, California. At that time the company was hoping to complete the conversion of the airliner into an air tanker by the end of that year. In March of this year they demonstrated it dropping water at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at Sacramento.

The aircraft has an unusual vinyl wrap — a forest scene on the aft section which certainly can’t be mistaken for another air tanker. It remains to be seen if the images of vegetation turn out to be camouflage, making it difficult to be seen by other aircraft when it is flying close to the ground.  The “N” number is hard to read (it’s N907AS) but that could be easily fixed.

These videos were shot by VMC Aviation Videos in September at the grid test for Tanker 170. The first one is very unusual, showing four drops on the same screen and then repeats them in slow motion. The other includes a lot of taxiing, but also has several drops.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Marcel.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Drones map the Camp Fire

The photos and videos can help residents check the status of their homes

Camp Fire drone photo
Photo taken by a drone in Paradise near Kilcrease Circle.

(This article was first published on Fire Aviation)

A large group of mapping and drone experts have photographed from the air the Paradise, California area that was devastated by the Camp Fire that roared through the communities November 8. The photos and videos shot by drones were all georeferenced and put into a map format, making it possible for residents to check the status of their homes. Drones flew above all of the major roads shooting videos, and 360-degree photos were taken from the air in 200 locations which can be panned and zoomed. The resolution is very good since they were taken with 20 megapixel cameras.

Camp Fire drone photo
Photo taken by a drone in Magalia near Indian Drive.

The maps can be viewed at the Butte County website. The site is a little glitchy and I found that it did not work well with the Chrome browser; the street names, videos, and 360-degree photos were not available. It worked fairly well with the Firefox browser, but a window on the left side could not be eliminated which obscured about half the map. I did not try it with Internet Explorer. In spite of these issues, what the group accomplished in about two days is an incredible achievement, and may be the first time the process has been used on this scale to provide such detailed information to a population suffering from a natural disaster.

To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Camp Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

The 16 teams of drone operators conducted 500 flights in two days to collect 70,000 photos over 17,000 acres.

In addition to this resource, officials are mapping one by one the structures affected by the fire. That map is also available to residents who want to check on the status of their homes.

The video below explains the technical details of how the imagery was collected and displayed.

First drop by a 737 on an active fire

On November 22 Air Tanker 137 dropped on a bushfire in New South Wales

tanker 137 Boeing 737 drop first wildfire bushfire
On November 22 Air Tanker 137 made the first drop by a Boeing 737 on an active fire. It occurred in the Hunter region of New South Wales, Australia. Screenshot from NSW RFS video.

On November 22 Air Tanker 137 made the first drop by a Boeing 737 on an active fire. It occurred in the Hunter region of New South Wales, Australia.

In these photos the aircraft was dropping gel, which clings to the vegetation and retains the moisture.

Coulson completed the conversion of the 737 a few months ago and it is now working on a contract with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service during their summer. Nicknamed “Gaia”, it arrived at Richmond RAAF Base near Sydney November 11 after a multi-day trip across the equator. It will be primarily based at the RAAF Base along with three other large air tankers from North America — a C-130Q (T-134), and two RJ85s (T-165 and T-166). Two other large air tankers will be based in Victoria at Avalon Airport in Melbourne, a C-130Q (T-131), and an RJ85 (T-163).

Going by the coordinates on the images, the fire T-137 dropped on was very close to the Kurri Kurri Hospital southwest of Heddon Greta. The NSW RFS reported at 8:14 p.m. local time on November 22 that firefighters assisted by aircraft had slowed the spread of the fire. They estimated it had burned 61 hectares (151 acres).

bushfire Kurri Kurri Hospital NSW
The coordinates indicate the approximate location of the drop by Tanker 137. Google Earth.
tanker 137 Boeing 737 drop first wildfire bushfire
On November 22 Air Tanker 137 made the first drop by a Boeing 737 on an active fire. It occurred in the Hunter region of New South Wales, Australia. Screenshot from NSW RFS video.

Helicopter diverts from dropping water to rescuing civilians… and dogs

“This is rapidly becoming very ugly.”

Helicopter Rescue Woolsey Fire California
Screenshot from the LA Fire Department video below. Three people and two dogs were rescued as the Woolsey Fire approached.

While on a water dropping mission on November 9, the second day of the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter received a new assignment. Civilians were trapped on a mountain top as the fire approached. Even as they were running critically low on fuel the pilots found a way to land on a ridge top that was littered with communication towers and vehicles.

The video below was shot from a pilot’s helmet camera.

It was great work, team work, by the pilots to successfully pull this off. We appreciate that he filmed what they were doing, and that their department approved and helped to publicize the fact that the recording exists. Some public agencies have draconian rules about their employees or the public taking photos or filming their activities. Videos like this can help citizens understand what fire departments do and how they are carrying out their missions even as politicians may lob uninformed verbal assaults their way.

CAL FIRE says the Woolsey Fire has burned 96,949 acres and 1,500 structures, with no breakdown of residences vs. outbuildings. The number of civilian fatalities has remained at three for several days.

Study recommends keeping Medford Air Tanker Base open

Medford is 55 miles away from another base at Klamath Falls

Neptune tanker 01 41
Neptune tankers 01 and 41 at Medford Air Tanker Base June 9, 2016. Photo by Kristin Biechler.

A recent study commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service recommends keeping the air tanker base at Medford, Oregon open if other agencies can begin paying a portion of the $245,000 annual operating costs. Apparently closing the base was on the table, in part because it is only 55 miles away from another base at Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Local politicians in Oregon have been working to keep Medford open after word spread in March that the study was underway.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Mail Tribune:

“Closure of either base at this time would be counterproductive to ensuring rapid response times to initial attack of fires since both bases are fully functional and in good condition,” Northstar Technology Corp. concluded in the study.

The study found that the savings from closing one base would be gobbled up by the $281,000 increased costs of flying retardant further distances from the one remaining base.

With two open, one base can keep operating if the other is socked in with smoke, the study said.

Forest Service officials said the trend of larger fires appears to be migrating northward, making reliance on the air tanker bases more vital for Western Oregon and Northern California.

air tanker 910 Medford
Air Tanker 910 departs from Medford, July 28, 2017, en route to the Lake Fire in northeast California. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.