A proposal for countries to share air tankers resurfaces

Water scooping air tankers would travel between hemispheres on a repurposed or custom designed ship

Canadian Australian Strategic Firefighting Initiative vessel
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Canadian Australian Strategic Firefighting Initiative vessel. (Davie Shipyard)

A concept for sharing firefighting air tankers between the northern and southern hemispheres proposed in 2016 has resurfaced. The wildfire seasons in opposite times of the year could provide windows for the same aircraft to travel back and forth annually between North America and Australia or South America.

In 2016 Quebec-based Davie Shipyard suggested that the water scooping air tankers in Canada could be transported on a custom designed or converted ship and delivered to Australia at the end of the northern hemisphere fire season. Then the aircraft could be shipped back north before the Canadian fire season began.

For decades Canada has had success with CL-215/415 water-scooping air tankers first made by Bombardier. British Columbia based Viking Air Ltd presently owns the rights to Bombardier’s CL-415 air tanker. The company is now taking orders and deposits for its new-production CL-515 “First Responder” air tanker.

Below are excerpts from a January 14 article at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

“I think when we initially proposed the idea, it was too soon,” said Spencer Fraser, chief executive officer of Federal Fleet Service, the Davie Shipyard’s sister company. “There were still people within Canada and society that were denying extreme weather events and climate change. What’s important today is — look, it’s real. So let’s do something about it.”

No one from the Liberal government was willing to comment Monday — but there was word last week that officials in two federal departments had dusted off the proposal and had asked questions of Viking Air Ltd., the B.C. company which now owns the rights to Bombardier’s CL-415 water bomber.

Greg Mullins, the former fire commissioner of the state of New South Wales, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Jan. 3 that the country should tap into Canadian expertise and assets.

“Our prime minister should be on the phone with Justin Trudeau from Canada, right now, saying, ‘Justin, we need 20 or more of your water-scooping, purpose-built water bombers that are in mothballs during your winter,'” he said.

Fraser said the companies originally involved in the pitch in 2016 studied the logistics of flying water bombers between Canada and Australia and concluded it would be complicated, even perilous, to refuel the aircraft along the way in less-than-friendly nations.

In November, 2019 a group of 23 former fire and emergency services leaders and other former fire chiefs said they were concerned that with longer fire seasons now being experienced the current air tanker fleet in Australia is not adequate for keeping up with the increasing bushfire activity.

The acquisition and contracting of large air tankers in Australia is coordinated by the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC). They recently purchased a Boeing 737 air tanker, but like the federal government in the United States, the country depends on contractors to supply most of their large air tankers.

NAFC had planned on having five large air tankers available during the 2019/2020 bushfire season (including the government-owned 737), but as wildfire activity grew exponentially the agency kept adding more. By the end of next week they will have 10 large air tankers on contract plus the government-owned 737.

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

Deployment of two air tankers to Australia delayed by fog and a volcano

A C-17 from Australia hauled extra tires, an engine, and an APU from Arizona to Australia

DC-10 air tanker
Air Tankers 910, 911, and 914 at Albuquerque, May 3, 2019.

UPDATED at 1:30 p.m. MST January 17, 2020

As this is written, Erickson Aero Tanker’s T-102, an MD-87 (N292EA), just landed at Adelaide, Australia where it will be based. Their other MD-87 that will be working on a contract in Australia, Tanker 103 (N293EA), has left North America and is on a leg from Ketchikan, Alaska en route to refuel at Adak, Alaska. It is taking a slightly different route than its sister, T-102. T-103 will be based in Western Australia at Perth.

Tanker 912, a DC-10 (N522AX), departed from San Bernardino, California Thursday morning U.S. time and arrived in Honolulu that afternoon. It will be initially based either at Canberra or Sydney.


Originally published at 8:12 a.m. MST January 16, 2020

The departure of additional air tankers from the United States to assist with bushfires in Australia has been delayed for reasons not usually associated with firefighting.

The MD-87 air tanker that was scheduled to depart on January 13 had to be rescheduled due to the eruption of a volcano in the Philippines when the ash plume made a leg of the flight in the Western Pacific inadvisable. Erickson Aero Tanker went back to the drawing board to plan a different route and obtain permits but the delay allowed the ash to clear so they were able to use the original route for the first tanker to leave for Australia.

According to FlightAware, Tanker 102 (N292EA) departed from Portland, Washington on Tuesday January 14. The planned route for the MD-87 takes it through Alaska, Russia, Japan, Guam, and Papua New Guinea. It is expected to arrive in Australia at Cairns Friday afternoon U.S. time. As this is written Thursday morning U.S. time, the aircraft is in Narita, Japan.

The nine flight legs on FlightAware range from 783 to 1,565 miles. It is likely that they are taking the route along the western Pacific because the distance from California to Hawaii is about 2,450 miles, beyond the range of the MD-87s operated by Erickson Aero Tanker.

In 2015 a single-engine air tanker, an Air Tractor 802, flew from California to Australia via Honolulu, the Marshall Islands, Guadalcanal, and perhaps other refueling locations.  It is likely that it had a ferry kit that enables 800 gallons of fuel to be carried in the hopper (retardant tank).

The two DC-10s, Tankers 912 and 914, were expected to arrive in Australia on January 15 and 25 respectively, but weather in the southern U.S. required a change in the schedule for the first one. Both of the aircraft were at Mobile, Alabama undergoing C-Checks, which can take days or weeks depending on the age of the aircraft and the number of unexpected issues discovered that require maintenance.

Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre in Australia, said the work on T-912 was nearly complete when it needed a test flight during VFR conditions, but it was delayed for two days due to fog.

Tanker 912 (N522AX) departed from San Bernardino, California Thursday morning U.S. time, en route to a fuel stop in Honolulu.

The planned arrivals of the other DC-10 (T-914, N603AX) and MD-87 (T-103, N293EA) are next week, Mr. Alder said.

These four air tankers will be based initially at Canberra (DC-10), Sydney/Richmond (DC-10), Adelaide (MD-87), and Perth (MD-87) but they will continually review locations according to the bushfire risk across the country, Mr. Alder said.

While large air tankers have dropped on bushfires in Western Australia before, this will be the first time that one will be based there — Perth in this case.

These additional large air tankers will bring the Aussie fleet up to 11. In addition to the 737 they purchased in 2010, the contracted ships they will have available the rest of this bushfire season are: two MD-87s, three DC-10s, two RJ85s, two C-130Qs, and one more 737.

In 2018 and 2019 the United States Forest Service had 13 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts.

Mr. Alder explained that the four additional tankers have been contracted for a minimum Mandatory Availability Period (MAP) of 50 days with options to extend.  They will monitor the conditions continually and manage the numbers according to prevailing bushfire risk.

On Tuesday and Wednesday 10 Tanker Air Carrier posted photos on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with the text:

“Huge thanks to the Royal Australian Air force For sending out crew and a C17 and our own United States Air Force for coming out! This has become a joint operation.”

Mr. Alder explained why the RAAF C-17 was sent to the U.S. to pick up equipment for the three DC-10s that will be operating in Australia:

“It was opportunistic” he said. “The RAAF was in a position to be able to shift some spares to Australia.  This meant that the first DC-10 didn’t have to go back to Albuquerque after the maintenance in Alabama and could head straight for Australia.  We understand that the spares included wheels and tires, as well as a spare engine and APU.”

The RAAF C-17 arrived in Albuquerque Tuesday night U.S. time.

DC-10 equipment Australia bushfires Albuquerque
Tires and other equipment being staged at Albuquerque for loading onto a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 to support the three DC-10 air tankers working on bushfires in Australia. 10 Tanker Air Carrier photo.
DC-10 equipment Australia bushfires Albuquerque
Tires and other equipment being staged at Albuquerque for loading onto a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 to support the three DC-10 air tankers working on bushfires in Australia. 10 Tanker Air Carrier photo.
DC-10 equipment Australia bushfires Albuquerque
Tires and other equipment being staged at Albuquerque for loading onto a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 to support the three DC-10 air tankers working on bushfires in Australia. 10 Tanker Air Carrier photo.

Australian Navy recovers helicopter from reservoir

The UH-1H helicopter ditched while working on a bushfire

helicopter recovery fire Ben Boyd Reservoir Eden New South Wales
An Australian Army Heavy Recovery Vehicle is used to successfully recover a NSW RFS-contracted helicopter that ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, NSW. Image by Royal Australian Navy SGT Bill Solomou.

On Sunday members of the Australian Army and Navy successfully recovered a UH-1H helicopter that had ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, New South Wales on January 9, 2020.

UH-1H helicopter submerged Ben Boyd Reservoir
A UH-1H helicopter partially submerged in Ben Boyd Reservoir in the Ben Boyd National Park at Edrom, New South Wales January 9, 2020. Photo by Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service.

According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, “While conducting aerial fire control operations, [the helicopter] lost power and collided with water.” The aircraft submerged but the pilot, the only person on board, was able to self-extricate and swim to shore. The helicopter is registered to Garlick Helicopters and was working on the Clyde Mountain Fire under contract with the government.

The Canberrra Times reported that the 47-year old pilot was treated at the scene by paramedics for shoulder, back, and ankle injuries before being taken to the South East Regional Hospital.

The ATSB is investigating the incident.

The reservoir is a drinking water source and there was concern that fuel could contaminate the water.

helicopter recovery fire Ben Boyd Reservoir Eden New South Wales
Royal Australian Navy clearance divers examine a NSW RFS-contracted helicopter that ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, NSW. Image by Royal Australian Navy SGT Bill Solomou.

Using floats secured by Navy Clearance Diving Team One, the helicopter was floated approximately 400 meters to a boat launching ramp while being held within containment and absorbent booms to alleviate potential water contamination.

The Bell UH-1H was then brought onto the shore by an Australian Army Heavy Recovery Vehicle.

helicopter recovery fire Ben Boyd Reservoir Eden New South Wales
Royal Australian Navy clearance divers prepare to recover a NSW RFS-contracted helicopter that ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, NSW. Image by Royal Australian Navy SGT Bill Solomou.
helicopter recovery fire Ben Boyd Reservoir Eden New South Wales
Australian Army soldiers and Royal Australian Navy clearance divers work together to recover a NSW RFS-contracted helicopter that ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, NSW. Image by Royal Australian Navy SGT Bill Solomou.

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

Helicopter ditches in lake while fighting bushfire in Australia

The pilot swam to shore and was taken to a hospital

UH-1H helicopter submerged Ben Boyd Reservoir
A UH-1H helicopter partially submerged in Ben Boyd Reservoir in the Ben Boyd National Park at Edrom, New South Wales. Photo by Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service.

Thursday afternoon January 9 at about 4 p.m. local time a helicopter under contract with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia ditched into a lake on the far south coast of NSW. After impacting the water the UH-1H helicopter submerged but the pilot was able to self-extricate and swim to shore. The pilot was the only person on board.

The Canberrra Times reported that the 47-year old pilot was treated at the scene by paramedics for shoulder, back, and ankle injuries before being taken to the South East Regional Hospital.

The helicopter was refilling with water at Ben Boyd Reservoir in the Ben Boyd National Park at Edrom, in the Bega Valley Shire.

The aircraft had been moved from the Clyde Mountain Fire to work on the Border Fire in Eden which has crossed from NSW into Victoria. It merged with another fire creating a massive 150,000 hectare (370,000 acres).

New mission for Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft

Monday night it was investigating the drone activity that has been observed in Colorado and other states

Drone Swarms
CBS News

One of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-Mission Aircraft”, primarily used for detecting and mapping wildfires, took on a new mission January 6.  Its new job that night was related to the swarms of drones that have been seen in recent weeks over Colorado and Nebraska.

There are reports that up to 30 drones at a time have been flying in sparsely populated areas of the two states. A number of agencies are trying to figure out what the drones are doing, including the FBI, FAA, Air Force, and the Army. Authorities are looking for a closed box trailer or a large van with antennas that could be used as a command vehicle.

The operators of the drones may not have broken any laws, but the very unusual aviation activity has generated many questions.

PC-12 multimission durango airport
Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 multimission aircraft, and Durango airport’s Oshkosh crash rescue truck. Photo by Rick Freimuth May 31, 2019.

The PC-12 spent almost five hours Monday night flying at 14,750-feet in an irregular pattern northeast of Denver. According to Fox News in Denver, “The joint operation found no verification of suspicious drones,” said Caley Fisher, a spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

On January 9 the Colorado Department of Public Safety released a statement about the PC-12 mission. Here is an excerpt:

On Monday, January 6, 2020, the MMA flew for 4.8 hours in northeast Colorado, communicating with law enforcement vehicles on the ground.

As calls came in reporting potential suspicious drone activity, the MMA was prepared to identify which ground resource was closest to the sighting in order to deploy that vehicle in search of more information. The aircraft typically flies 10,000 feet above ground level (AGL), well above drone operations.

The MMA has the capability to detect heat signatures; it did not detect any suspicious heat signatures or drones related to the drone reportings during its flight. During the flight of the MMA, every report of a suspicious drone was investigated and was resolved, and none was substantiated.

From the Daily Mail, January 9, 2020:

…Meanwhile, another drone sighting was reported near Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday night. Television cameras for WOWT-TV spotted the mysterious flying object just outside of Mead, Nebraska.

An unmanned aircraft measuring about four-to-six feet was seen flying overhead. According to the news channel, the drone flew so close to the ground that the sound of the propellers could be heard on camera.

Local officials are baffled as to why anyone would operate a drone over an area that is entirely made up of rural farmland.

‘There’s not much out here to look at, so it kind of makes you wonder, well, if they’re not looking at anything, what are they planning, you know? Or whoever or whatever is going on?’ Saunders County Deputy Kyle Kennenbeck said.

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

Two MD-87 firefighting air tankers will deploy to Australia

This will bring Australia’s fleet of large air tankers up to 11 for the 2019/2020 bushfire season

Air tankers 101 and 105
Air tankers 101 and 105. Erickson Aero Tanker photo.

The companies supplying the four additional large air tankers that will be mobilizing to help the firefighters in Australia have been identified. On January 4 we wrote about the two DC-10s that 10 Tanker Air Carrier will be sending down.

Today we learned that two MD-87s will also be deploying. Matt Isley of Erickson Aero Tanker said Tankers 102 and 103 will be under contract with the Australian federal government. T-102 will be leaving January 13 and T-103 is scheduled for January 16.

One of the DC-10s, T-912 is expected to arrive in Australia on January 15 to be followed by Tanker 914 around January 25 after their heavy maintenance is wrapped up. They will join another DC-10, Tanker 911 that arrived in November.

This additional surge capacity was announced by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on January 4, saying $20 million would be provided for leasing four more large air tankers as supplementary to the normal fleet for the current season only. Mr. Morrison also said 3,000 Australian Defense Force reservists would be brought in to help with bushfire recovery efforts.

Contracts were already in place in Australia for four large privately owned large air tankers and nine large Type 1 helicopters. In addition they have the 737 that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service purchased earlier this year. A C-130Q and a DC-10 were added in November when it became painfully obvious that the 2019/2020 bushfire season was going to be much busier than average. The DC-10s and the MD-87s that will be there in a matter of days will bring the Aussie large air tanker fleet up to 11 for this fire season.

Before 2010 Australia’s air tanker fleet consisted almost entirely of single engine air tankers. That year they began trials of large and very large air tankers, including a DC-10.

In 2018 and 2019 the United States Forest Service had 13 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts.

Australian Prime Minister says four more large air tankers will be ordered

Two of them will be DC-10s

Tanker 912 Horse Butte Fire Idaho
File photo of Tanker 912, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Horse Butte Fire in Idaho, July, 2019. Photo by Mike Krupski.

For several days military ships and helicopters have been used to evacuate residents and holiday makers in Australia who were forced to the coastal beaches by wildfires in New South Wales and Victoria. On Saturday New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons was blindsided upon finding out from the media that Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that 3,000 ADF reservists would be brought in to help with bushfire recovery efforts. In addition, $20 million would be provided for leasing four additional firefighting aircraft the Prime Minister said.

John Gould, President of 10 Tanker, said their company will be sending two more DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers to Australia as soon as the heavy maintenance presently underway is complete. He expects Tanker 912 to arrive in Australia on January 15 to be followed 10 days later by Tanker 914. They will join Tanker 911 that arrived in November. The DC-10  can carry up to 9,400 gallons of water or retardant.

fire Helicopters Australia’s Department of Defence transporting fire refugees
Helicopters from Australia’s Department of Defence has been transporting fire refugees to safer ground. DOD photo.

Here is the text of a January 4 announcement from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council:


“Following a request from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) representing 31 fire and emergency service Chiefs and Commissioners, the Prime Minister has announced $20m additional funding for the lease of large firefighting aircraft to assist the ongoing bushfire crisis in Australia.

“AFAC President and Commissioner Fire and Rescue New South Wales, Paul Baxter QSO, welcomed the news.

” ‘On behalf of AFAC, we are heartened by the Prime Minister’s announcement of additional funding and ongoing commitment from the Commonwealth to AFAC through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC). This ongoing commitment will support states and territories working together with us to advance long term planning and resourcing arrangements for aerial firefighting. AFAC is working with the Commonwealth to make the necessary arrangements to have these four large aircraft operational as soon as possible. We will also be working with states and territories on the strategic positioning of the aircraft, so that there is flexibility for them to be able to move around the country to protect life and property, supporting the efforts of crews on the ground’.

“The Commonwealth will fund leasing costs, with operational costs to be covered by the states and territories.

“The announcement today is an example of national collaboration, facilitated through AFAC and its business unit, NAFC.

“On behalf of the states and territories, NAFC contracts and manages a fleet of over 140 special aircraft across Australia and maintains arrangements to share access to firefighting aircraft to meet jurisdictional demands.”

Pilot of medical helicopter becomes unresponsive while in flight

Looking back at a story from January, 2019

Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger
File photo of an example of a Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger, operated by CTV in BC. Photo by Marek Wozniak. (This is not the helicopter in the story)

Wildland firefighters on large incidents commonly fly in helicopters, many of them with a single pilot. It is possible that some of those passengers may have thought about what would happen if the pilot was suddenly incapacitated due to a medical event or being struck by a bird or drone. The most-read story on Vertical magazine’s website in 2019 was about just that.

Elan HeadA Bell 206 LongRanger had just lifted off after loading a patient when the pilot became unresponsive. The story covers what happened during the flight and importantly, the long term effects.

It is an excellent article written by Elan Head, a helicopter pilot. Here is how it begins:

“Where are we going?”

It was Jan. 12, 2018. The Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter had just lifted from a scene call near its base in Kinder, Louisiana, north of Interstate 10 between Lake Charles and Lafayette. The patient was a frail, elderly woman who had been sedated and intubated on scene.

In the back of the Bell 206L LongRanger, flight nurse Tara Coupel and flight paramedic Lane Abshire were attending to the patient when the pilot’s voice came over the intercom: “Where are we going?”

“Lafayette General,” Abshire replied, referring to Lafayette General Medical Center, around 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the southeast.

“OK, where?” the pilot asked.

Abshire and Coupel thought at first that there was a problem with the intercom system. They unplugged their helmet cords and plugged them back in; tried telling the pilot again. But he repeated, “OK, where?”

The helicopter was now about 800 feet over the ground. Abshire asked Coupel to get out of her seat and tell the pilot where they were headed. She unbuckled her seatbelt, removed her helmet, and moved forward to tap on the pilot’s shoulder.

“Lafayette General!” she shouted at him. Although she was disconnected from the intercom, she could see him mouthing the words beneath his mic boom, “OK, where?”

After you read the full article, here is a link to a follow-up story about the incident: How Air Evac Lifeteam is helping crews prepare for a pilot incapacitation event