Alberta shuts down their rappel program and closes up to 30 fire lookout towers

The reductions will affect 63 firefighters who may be moved to other units. One air tanker group will also be cut.

Alberta Firefighters
Alberta firefighters in 2016. Alberta Wildfire photo.

5:42 p.m. MST November 7, 2019

The Canadian province of Alberta is eliminating their helicopter rappel program. Due to budget woes throughout the province the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is reducing its expenses by 9 percent, which translates to $23 million less funding for Alberta Wildfire this year.

Rappelers respond to wildfires in helicopters and if there is no suitable landing zone upon arrival, descend to the ground on a rope while the helicopter hovers. The concept is to arrive at a fire very soon after its reported and aggressively attack the fire while small to keep it from becoming large and endangering communities and private property.

Below are excerpts from an article at Globalnews:

The Wildland Firefighter Rappel Program — also known as the RAP program — has been in place for 36 years and employs 63 personnel each wildfire season.

According to [Minister Devin] Dreeshen, RAP firefighters spend only two per cent of the time rappelling from helicopters, and spend the rest of the time fighting wildfires on the ground — that played into the decision made in the budget.

“We found it’s better to utilize their ground work and that’s why we made the decision to have them on the ground fighting alongside the hundreds of other wildfire personnel that we have,” Dreeshen said.

According to the government, firefighters from the RAP program will be redeployed to different crews in Alberta Wildfire if they choose to return for the next wildfire season.

In 2016 Alberta had 64 four-person Helitack Crews, 2 eight-person Helitack Crews, 9 seven-person Rappel Crews, 8 twenty-person Unit Crews, and 35 eight-person Firetack Crews.

As part of the budget reduction between 15 and 30 of the province’s 127 wildfire lookout towers will no longer be staffed.

The province is also cutting their air tanker program, reducing the fleet from eight to seven air tanker groups. In 2014 there were nine air tanker groups, each consisting of an air tanker and an Air Attack Officer in a lead plane (or “Bird Dog”).

Alberta has never employed smokejumpers, or Parattack as they are called in British Columbia where they are based at Fort St. John and Mackenzie. The BC jumpers are occasionally used on fires in Alberta and Yukon.

In 2016 Alberta slashed their wildfire suppression budget by $15 million. One of the effects was cutting the tanker contracts from 123 to 93 days, saying goodby to the aircraft in mid-August.

The province had a very busy fire season this year, with a number of hand crews from the U.S. traveling north to lend a hand. In at least one location in Alberta last summer the peat moss was so dry that it turned to dust when disturbed, and in the presence of sufficient heat and oxygen was damn near explosive.

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

Former Tesla engineer developing drone with larger payload capacity that could be used on fires

Joshua Resnick Tesla Parallel Flight Technologies
Joshua Resnick was the lead electrical engineer who helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck. Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

The lead electrical engineer that helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck is one of the three people that have created a company that is developing an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, that could be used on fires, as well as other functions. Joshua Resnick, the CEO of a new company, Parallel Flight Technologies, said he worked on the Tesla semi project from the time it was first drawn up on a napkin through its introduction to the public in 2017.

Parallel Flight Technologies is building a drone with a much longer endurance and a larger payload capacity than those currently being used on wildfires. Most drones can only stay aloft for 20 to 30 minutes and can carry a few pounds of cargo — less if they are transporting more. Parallel Flight Technologies expects their aircraft to be able to transport 75 of pounds for one hour, or 50 pounds and stay airborne for 2.5 hours.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

On any aircraft the power to weight ratio is critical. Eliminate weight or add power and it can travel longer and farther. The primary limiting factor in electric-powered aircraft is the weight of the batteries. Until there is a huge leap in battery technology we’ll be unlikely to see them powering aircraft with more than 50 pounds of cargo while staying aloft for more than 15 minutes.

So we need new, or at least, different technology if we hope to see a drone carrying a portable pump, fire hose, and fuel to a remote site on a wildland fire.

“We are building a new drone technology and it can be used for a lot of different things, but wildfire would really be the use case that was the impetus for me to even start on this project,” Mr. Resnick said. “We had a fire not far from our home in Santa Cruz, California in 2017 either right before or right after the Santa Rosa Fire, and it was after that that I started looking into the different ways that unmanned systems could be used in a wildfire effort. That’s when I started understanding that using unmanned systems to resupply firefighters could be very useful especially when manned aircraft could not fly due to smoke inversions or nighttime.”

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

Hybrid systems, using a gas engine to drive a generator which powered electric motors to spin the propellers, have been tried before, but it was not much more than strapping a generator to a drone which added too much mass and weight to be practical. Also, the many power conversion steps led to a loss of efficiency.

“We have developed a parallel hybrid drone,” Mr. Resnick said, “where the propellers are powered by a combination of gas and electric. The electric motors provide the responsiveness so the aircraft can maneuver and the gas supplies the duration and the high power to weight ratio.”

The aircraft is powered by four hybrid power modules, each with a gas-electric combination. The 2-cycle gas engines work in combination with the electric motors, which provide very high peak thrust as well as redundancy. Larger aircraft in the pipeline could be powered by other fuels, such as diesel or jet fuel.

In fall of 2018 the company built a proof of concept aircraft, and in August, 2019 successfully demonstrated heavy lift capability and duration with a new prototype aircraft. In 2020 they expect to be ready for joint exercise missions with several agencies interested in the aircraft.

“I want to find ways to integrate this new technology with the existing solution,” Mr. Resnick said. “I don’t see it as a replacement for helicopters, we’re talking about a much smaller payload. I’m seeing, for example, smoke inversions where helicopters are grounded at nighttime or early dawn before manned aircraft are flying, to be able to operate our drones to do some of this work, while finding ways to deconflict the airspace between drones and manned aircraft.”

I noticed that in photos of the prototype the props appear to be made of wood. When I asked Mr. Resnick if that really was the case, he yes, the props on the prototype are wood due to the cost. If a prop was damaged during testing, they would be out about $100. If made of carbon fiber, such as might be used on the production version, the cost would be about ten times higher.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has leaped into the use of drones in the last few years and currently has over 800 unmanned aircraft. In 2018 they flew over 10,000 drone missions. Parallel Flight Technologies is consulting with personnel in the DOI who have experience in establishing and operating a drone program.

The DOI was recently in the news when their entire drone fleet was grounded except for those needed for firefighting and other emergency services. It turns out that all of the DOI drones are either entirely made by a Chinese company, DJI, or have chips or other parts that are manufactured in China. The Wall Street Journal reported that “the Department of Homeland Security was concerned about drones’ capacity to observe and transmit prohibited infrastructure surveillance and conduct cyberattacks.” Mr. Resnick said the Parallel Flight Technologies drones will be American made and will conform to security specifications required by the DOI and Department of Homeland Security.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

Mr. Resnick said they are working closely with Drone Amplified who they hope can build a larger drone-mounted plastic sphere dispenser (PSD) system for Parallel Flight Technologies’ upsized drones so that they can be used to ignite burnouts or prescribed fires. Drone Amplified recently introduced a PSD, Ignis 2.0, that can hold 400 to 450 spheres that ignite 30 to 45 seconds after being released from the drone. Their previous system, Ignis 1.0, carried 150 spheres.

Parallel Flight Technologies is raising funds through an equity crowd funding effort which is open to the public for anyone to invest in the company.

Parallel plans on selling a small number of initial aircraft in late 2020 to its first customers before full production begins in 2021.

Three DC-10s and other air tankers assisted firefighters on the Maria Fire east of Ventura, Calif.

DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914
Left to right, DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914 at Santa Maria, CA Nov. 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

These photos and the text below are from RK SMithley who was the Captain on Air Tanker 911 while the DC-10 (and many other aircraft) were assisting firefighters on the 9,412-acre Maria Fire east of Ventura, California by dropping 9,400 gallons of retardant on each sortie. He starts off by describing the photo above.

“Sunset comes to the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base 11/01/19, after a fairly busy day of fire operations on the Maria Fire at Santa Paula, CA. At right in the loading pit is our T914, which concluded its duty and is released by the USFS off contract with T911 at left, which continues active service. Both ships, along with T910 worked the Maria this date and 910 recovered to Santa Maria where she continues active duty. T914 will be flying the SBD Fest airshow at San Bernardino with two demonstration water drops both Saturday (about 2:30) and Sunday (about 11:00) so come on out and see her perform. T912 has concluded service with Cal Fire and will reposition back home from the Cal Fire Air Tanker Reload Base at Sacramento-McClellan Airport to ABQ this morning. Incidentally, that’s Erickson T107,
a Douglas MD-87, on the right. Their T105 also operated from SBD on the Maria Fire with us as well as Aeroflite T167 and a whole host of other large tankers from other bases in SoCal. The Maria Fire was pretty much out after being pounded by all the air tankers and helicopters today, with fixed-wing air ops starting shortly after daybreak.”

Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.
Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

(The tweets below of DC-10s working the Maria Fire are obviously not from Mr. Smithley)

And, from our archives:

DC-10 air tankers
File photo of three of the four DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers at Albuquerque, NM May 3, 2019,– Tankers 910, 911, and 914. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Roundup of fire aviation tweets

external retractable tank Blackhawk
Composite Approach external retractable tank for Blackhawk.

A retractable external water tank for a Blackhawk:

Helicopters working on the Saddleridge Fire:

A helicopter water drop in the Los Angeles area:

Erickson signs a contract in Greece:

It’s not exactly a “new” water bomber:

New hangar in Saskatchewan for firefighting aircraft

Nigeria to deploy 18 drones

An interesting photo of a helicopter water drop:

This appears to be a full load, 19,200-gallon drop by the 747:

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

Numerous firefighting aircraft are working the Maria Fire in southern California

aircraft over the Maria Fire
Map showing aircraft over the Maria Fire at 10:44 a.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019. Tanker 910, a DC-10, is working closely with a lead plane, N556MC, a Hawker Beechcraft B200GT owned by Tenax Aerospace. N722HT has a fixed wing icon, but it is a helicopter, an Air-Crane owned by Helicopter Transport Services.

Since the Maria Fire started on South Mountain at 6:15 p.m. October 31 it has burned over 8,000 acres 4 miles east of Ventura, California.

Today firefighters are attacking it aggressively from the ground and the air. As of 10:30 a.m. PDT on November, here is a partial list of the aircraft working the fire:

Air Tankers with their tanker numbers:
DC-10: 910, 911, and 914
MD87: 105
BAe-146: 02
RJ85: 167

Helicopters:
Blackhawk: Coulson’s “new” camo-painted helicopter
Air-Crane: N722HT
(and numerous other Medium helicopters)

Today, Friday, most of the air tankers are reloading at Santa Maria, 86 miles northwest of the fire.

Maria Fire
The Maria Fire as seen from the camera on Sulphur Mountain (Willet) at 9:55 a.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019.

DOI grounds their entire fleet of drones

More than 800 drones will be parked except when used on fires

Matrisse Drone Springs Fire aerial ignition
Technicians attend to a Matrisse 600 drone which in August, 2019 was being used for aerial ignition on the Springs Fire on the Inyo National Forest in California. Photo: incident management team.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) has grounded its entire fleet of more than 800 drones due to concerns about Chinese spying and cyber security. All of the drones have some components manufactured in China and 121 were made by the Chinese company DJI, one of the largest drone companies in the world.

Drones used for firefighting and other emergency services may continue to be used by the DOI.

This was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Below are excerpts from an article at CNET:

…The fleet will remain grounded until a full review is completed by Secretary David Bernhardt, the department said Thursday. However, drones being used for emergency rescues and disasters will remain in flight.

The move, earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal, highlights US-Chinese trade tensions, which have escalated since the blacklisting of Chinese tech giant Huawei by the US government in May. The DOI’s decision also follows a May warning from the Department of Homeland Security about data security issues involving the use of Chinese-made drones, particularly those made by DJI. DHS said it was concerned about drones’ capacity to observe and transmit prohibited infrastructure surveillance and conduct cyberattacks…

In the last few years small drones have been increasingly common in the skies over fires led by an aggressive adoption of the concept by the DOI. Incident Commanders have used them for enhancing situational awareness, looking for spot fires, mapping perimeters, search and rescue, and as an aerial ignition platform for conducting burnouts and prescribed fires.

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

Fire Alert cameras grab photos of helicopters attacking Beaumont Fire

The fire burned approximately 11 acres near Redlands, California

Beaumont Fire

11:00 a.m. PDT October 21, 2019

Firefighters in southern California stopped the spread of the Beaumont Fire after it burned about 11 acres near Redlands and Loma Linda Monday morning (see map). It was reported between 8 and 9 a.m. at 26000 Beaumont Road at San Timoteo Canyon and was aggressively attacked from the ground and the air.

Conveniently, it was within range of the San Timoteo and Crestline cameras, part of the Alert Wildfire network of fire cameras. I grabbed some of the still images as they each appeared for about 20 seconds before being refreshed. Unfortunately the San Timoteo camera lens was not in pristine condition.

Beaumont Fire

Beaumont Fire

Beaumont Fire
Continue reading “Fire Alert cameras grab photos of helicopters attacking Beaumont Fire”

Rugby coach becomes firefighting drone coach

drone coach
Screenshot from the Boise State video below.

After 20 years on the frontline fighting wildfires across the nation, Boise State alumnus and men’s rugby coach Matt Dutton was ready for a change. In 2014, Dutton and his family moved to Boise and he took a job in training and development with the National Interagency Fire Center, recruiting and teaching firefighters to become drone pilots in the center’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program.