Helicopter crashes into lake while fighting wildfire in Australia

The crew of three swam to shore

Christine 341 Air-Crane crash
File photo of Air-Crane 341, known as “Christine”. Photo taken in November, 2018 by Uniform Photography.

(UPDATED at 8:49 p.m. MT [USA] January 28, 2019)

9 News has an update on the crash. Video shows the Air-Crane on its side with a portion of the tail boom and main landing gear protruding above the water. Also the white skimming tube is visible which can be lowered as the helicopter flies near the surface of a body of water, using the same principle to refill the tank as the Be-200, Fire Boss, and CL-215/415. Drafting or skimming with the Air-Crane takes 45 seconds. It is unlikely that the aircraft was skimming when the accident occurred due to the lack of sufficient space. The Air-Crane also has a snorkel or drafting hose that is more often used for refilling while hovering over water.

Below is an excerpt from an article at ABC News Australia that was updated Monday evening, US time:

Five similar Air-Cranes — in NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria — were grounded while the crash was investigated.

Kestrel Aviation managing director Ray Cronin, whose company manages the fleet, said the ground was a “precautionary measure” while the company interviewed the crew and determined a probable cause.

He said after an initial investigation, the company and authorities had agreed that the grounding of the Aircrane fleet would be lifted.

“The Aircranes will return to service almost immediately,” Mr Cronin said.

“The crews are with the aircraft ready to rejoin the fire fight in Victoria.”

He said while he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) investigation, he understood “the serviceability of the Aircrane” was good at the time of the crash.

Air-Crane crash Australia
Parts of the Air-Crane can be seen above the water in this screengrab from the 9 News video.
Air-Crane crash Australia helicopter
The Air-Crane crashed in a valley surrounded by rising terrain. Image from ABC Australia video. Arrow added by Fire Aviation.

(Originally published at 12:47 MT [USA] January 28, 2019)

A helicopter crashed into a lake while fighting a wildfire Monday in Victoria, Australia. The Erickson Air-Crane had a crew of three, two pilots and an engineer, while it was working on the Thomson Complex Catchment fires in Gippsland. The personnel are safe after swimming to shore. Ambulance Victoria will assess the crew members. Emergency Management Victoria said the helicopter was Air-Crane HT 341, known as “Christine”.

The aircraft was one of ten aircraft working on the fire. The site of the crash, in the Yarra Ranges National Park, is about 50km (31 miles) south of Benalla.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said that he was grateful that the crew are safe.

The Flight Safety Foundation reports the helicopter is “damaged beyond repair”.

The two Air-Cranes under contract in Victoria can carry more than 2,500 gallons of water or retardant. The state also has 47 other aircraft on contract.

A total of six large fixed wing air tankers from North America have been working in Australia during their 2018-2019 summer.  Tankers with their primary base at Richmond, New South Wales include a RJ85, (Tanker 166); a  737 (T-137); a C-130Q (T-134); and another RJ85 (T-165). Based at Avalon in Victoria are a C-130Q (T-131); and an RJ85 (T-163).

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

Ventura County is converting military Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
Ventura County is converting military HH-60L Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS. VCSO photo, Capt. Romano Bassi.

Ventura County has purchased three military HH-60L Blackhawk helicopters and is in the process of converting them into FIREHAWKS that will be used for fighting wildland fires, personnel transport, search and rescue, law enforcement, and medical evacuation.

Ventura County Battalion Chief Gary Monday said heavy maintenance and minor modifications were completed on the aircraft at HSI Sikorsky in Huntsville, Alabama, then two of the helicopters were painted at the United Rotorcraft facility in Decatur, Texas. One of them is now being ferried to United Rotorcraft in Englewood, Colorado to receive navigation and communication systems, cabin interiors, and a 1,000 gallon external fixed water tank with a retractable snorkel system. The landing gear will be replaced with higher gear to enable the installation of the belly tank.

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
A Ventura County HH-60L Blackhawk before being painted and converted into a FIREHAWK. VCFD photo.

The military had the aircraft originally configured by United Rotorcraft as dedicated MEDEVAC helicopters with medical equipment and patient litter systems, some of which will be repurposed in the new FIREHAWK configuration.

Ventura County, in Southern California, has a joint Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit. In addition to the FIREHAWKS, they have one Bell 206 Jet Ranger, one 212 HP, one 205B, and two UH-1A Hueys.

“We are a full service 24/7 operation capable of Night Vision Goggle rescues and firefighting”, Chief Monday said, “with three 375 simplex tanks for nighttime water dropping missions, S & R missions, LE missions, and anything else.”

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
Ventura County is converting military HH-60L Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS. VC FD photo.

In 2016 one of the Hueys, Copter 7, developed a mechanical problem while fighting the Pine Fire on the Los Padres National Forest. It had to be stripped down in order to transport it via truck on a route that included a tunnel with a height restriction.

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

Beriev made deals to sell up to 15 Be-200ES amphibious air tankers

Two companies in the U.S. and South America will be purchasing the aircraft

Be-200ES air tanker
Be-200ES air tanker. Beriev photo.

Beriev PJSC has signed orders for up to 15 Be-200ES amphibious air tankers, which are manufactured in Taganrog, Russia. The sales documents were signed at the Hydroaviasalon amphibian air show in Gelendzhik, Russia in September, 2018.

Two are being purchased by a private company, CBP Asesorías Aeronáuticas. The aircraft will be civilian registered and leased to the government of Chile during the wildfire season. The company has options to buy three more. Work has already started on the first two at PJSC Taganrog Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex n.a. G.M. Beriev, Russia. Beriev expects to deliver them in 2021.

Be-200ES
In September, 2018 the Beriev Company signed contracts with companies in the USA and Chile to deliver a total of up to 15 Be-200ES amphibious aircraft. In the photo on the left, going left to right: the Regional Governor; Patrick Massardy, Airbus executive and president of Seaplane Global Air Services; David Baskett, Seaplane Global Air Services; and Yuri Grudinin, General Designer Beriev. In the photo on the right, Yuri Grudinin, General Designer of Beriev; and presumably two executives of CBP Asesorías Aeronáuticas. Beriev photo.

U.S.-based Seaplane Global Air Services ordered four and has options for an additional six. Patrick Massardy of Airbus and David Baskett of Seaplane Global Air Services signed the agreement with Beriev in September.

Beriev began manufacturing the Be-200 in 2003. It is one of the few purpose-built air tankers, designed primarily for fighting wildland fires. The aircraft can land or take off on water or land, and the firefighting version can scoop water to refill its tanks which can carry up to 3,167 gallons near the end of the fuel cycle.  Within two hours it can be converted to haul passengers or serve as a search and rescue aircraft, landing on water to retrieve personnel if necessary.

David Baskett, who has been associated with Pacific Skyway Airline, International Emergency Services, TTE International, and Seaplane Global Air Services has been attempting to gain support for and purchase Be-200s since at least 2009.

In 2010 he arranged to have the aircraft at Santa Maria airport in Southern California where it made a demonstration water drop. The late Walt Darran, a former CAL FIRE S-2T pilot, flew the aircraft, as did Robert Forbes. Walt was favorably impressed with the power and maneuverability and hoped at some point to see it being given a fair evaluation in the U.S.

Mr. Baskett told us in 2012 his plan was to purchase 10 of the aircraft and lease them to air tanker operators in the United States.

In 2012 the manufacturer of the aircraft, Beriev, covered the costs for two U.S. Forest Service employees to travel to Taganro, Russia, the home base of the Beriev company, to determine if the Be-200 met the criteria established by the Interagency Airtanker Board. IAB approval is necessary in order to qualify for an air tanker contract with federal agencies in the U.S. There are reports that they evaluated water drops from the Be-200 and found that it performed well. They did not test the performance with retardant.

In 2014 a Colorado company that proposed to convert the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt into an air tanker announced that they signed an agreement to produce the Be-200 in the United States. USA Firefighting Air Corps (USAFAC) said they signed a collaboration agreement with California-based International Emergency Services, Inc. (IES) to develop a U.S.-built Beriev Be-200 in Colorado.

In 2016 Mr. Baskett announced that he was working with the Beriev Aircraft Company, Global Seaplanes, and Airbus to manufacture the Be-200 in Santa Maria after the first 10 aircraft were delivered.

As far as we can tell there have been no concrete on-the-ground results from these proposals. However the agreement that Mr. Baskett and Airbus signed with Beriev in September, 2018 appears that it will result in an actual purchase of at least four Be-200ES-E aircraft.

Some Airbus personnel are involved with the project.

“They are authorized and supported by Airbus to work on the Be-200 program, which has long term recognition, and they help in development issues,” Mr. Baskett said. “Airbus is not a formal shareholder in Global.”

Mr. Baskett told us that he expects delivery of the first two in the Spring of 2020, with the next two arriving later in the year. Four more are scheduled for 2021, to be followed by the last two. The plan is for Seaplane Global Air Services to lease them to International Emergency Services for operation in the United States.

Knowing that the Be-200 does not have FAA or IAB certification I asked Mr. Baskett what he planned to do with the aircraft after receiving them.

“I plan on flying them on fires around the Western Hemisphere”, he said. “In Australia, to here, and over in Europe. So it’s a joint effort between the Europeans, the Australians, and us on using these 10 aircraft when they come off the production line. We’re in the process right now of bidding [on contracts for] the use of the aircraft with various governments.” He declined to specify which governments, other than to say it is “western governments”.

Don Oaks, the former Fire Marshall for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, is working with Mr. Baskett and Seaplane Global Air Services, providing advice and serving as a wildland fire subject matter expert for the company. He said they expect the aircraft to follow the fire seasons around the world, moving from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and to Europe.

When I asked him what the chances are of receiving FAA approval, he said “Very high”.

Explaining what work, if any, would have to be done to the Be-200 to facilitate the approval, he said, “No, there’s no additional work that would have to be done. The aircraft is approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, certified by them. The FAA has told me, and they authorized me to report what they told me, that they want 110 percent to certify the aircraft. And that was the head of the FAA International Certification Division.”

Mr. Baskett said the contract for the 10 aircraft requires that they have English language cockpits and for them to have FAA certification.

Training for two mechanics and five pilots will begin in May of this year in Russia. Mr. Baskett said engineers are working on plans for a Be-200 heavy support base that he intends to build in Santa Maria.

Volunteers prepare Mann Gulch C-47 for a flight to Normandy, France

It will participate in a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in World War II

C-47 D-Day
On D-Day 821 C-47s flew in a V of Vs formation to Normandy.

For months volunteers have been working on the C-47 that took smokejumpers to the Mann Gulch Fire in 1949. The blaze claimed the lives of 12 of them and also one former jumper who had been fighting the fire for 4 hours before the others arrived.

The Missoulian has an interesting article about what is being done to the plane to prepare it for a flight to Europe to participate in a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in World War II. Below is an excerpt from the article:

…[Kim] Maynard, of Missoula, was one of the nation’s first female smokejumpers in 1982. She and husband Al Charters, a former Green Beret high-altitude jump specialist — the “sky god,” she called him — were among the first to sign on to a crew that will take to the skies over Normandy, France, with vintage chutes for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in World War II.

Like dozens of other volunteers, they’ve been showing up for months to work on the iconic Douglas C-47 Miss Montana that’ll take them there.

“When this came to the museum it was the Mann Gulch plane. Now it’s getting a whole new life,” Maynard said, referring to the aircraft’s history in its Johnson Flying Service days. Fifteen smokejumpers were dispatched on a fire north of Helena in 1949. All but three died that tragic August day.

The mission in the museum hangar is to make Miss Montana airworthy to join the D-Day Squadron and Daks Over Normandy and fly on to a commemoration of the Berlin Airlift. Then she’ll return to spend her next life traveling across the country, representing Montana and those who died in the service of the United States…

FYI: A C-47 is a variant of the Douglas DC-3. From Charlesmcccain.com:

According to the history section of Boeing (which acquired the legacy corporation which had merged with the Douglas Aircraft Company), only 455 DC-3 commercial aircraft were actually built for the airlines. After making requested modifications to the DC-3 design, a further 10,174 aircraft were produced for the armed forces as the C-47 military transports during World War II. The design specifications are slightly different.

A day in the Northwest dropping fire retardant from a P2V — pilot’s eye view

view from P2V dropping fire retardant
Screengrab from the video.

This video has been out for a couple of years but check it out if you enjoy a pilot’s eye view from a P2V flying around forest fires a few hundred feet off the ground. If you have a fast internet connection and a medium to large-sized screen, bump up the quality on the video to 4K. It was uploaded to YouTube by Bob Webb in 2016.

Be sure and check out the drop at 10:32.

The last of the working P2V air tankers retired September 30, 2017.

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

Portable air tanker base at Canberra used for the first time

It is the first time a portable retardant base has been used at Canberra

Air tanker 166 RJ-85 reloading Canberra Airport
Air tanker 166, an RJ-85, reloading retardant at Canberra Airport. Photo provided by the airport.

A portable air tanker reloading base at Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory was used recently for the first time. Christening the new facility was Conair’s Tanker 166, an RJ85 from Canada that is spending the Northern Hemisphere winter down under. T-166’s main base this summer is Richmond (near Sydney).

The aircraft was working on a wildfire near Michelago, New South Wales (map).

A total of six large air tankers from North America have been working in Australia during their 2018-2019 summer.  Three other tankers with their primary base at Richmond include a 737 (T-137), a C-130Q (T-134), and another RJ85 (T-165). And based at Avalon airport in Melbourne, a C-130Q (T-131), and an RJ85 (T-163).

Air tanker 166 RJ-85 reloading Canberra Airport
Air tanker 166, an RJ-85, reloading retardant at Canberra Airport. Photo provided by the airport.

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

Kamov helicopter shipped to Chile on IL-76

Photographer Heath Moffatt grabbed some photos of a Kamov Ka-32A11BC being loaded onto a Volga-Dnepr Ilyushin IL-76TD in Victoria, B.C. The IL-76 used internal cranes to lift and load the helicopter which was then flown to Chile. On Christmas Eve Billings Flying Service unloaded one of their CH-47D Chinooks off a ship in Chile. Both helicopters will be working on firefighting contracts.

The IL-76 can be loaded with a slip-in retardant or water delivery system that can hold over 11,000 gallons. In 2017 one of them was used to fight fires in Chile along with the 747 and a BAe-146.

IL-76 747
An IL-76 and 747 at Santiago Chile, January 30, 2017.

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

CAL FIRE receives new Firehawk helicopter

The agency is replacing its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey firefighting helicopters.

CAL FIRE's new S-70i
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i. Photo provided by CAL FIRE.

CAL FIRE posted these photos today of a new addition to their fleet of helicopters.

A year ago the agency received approval to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks) from United Rotorcraft. These will replace its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey helicopters.

CAL FIRE's new S-70i
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i. Photo provided by CAL FIRE.

United Rotorcraft reported on October 26, 2018 that it had a contract from CAL FIRE for 12 Firehawks, worth a total of $240 million.

United Rotorcraft is also outfitting various configurations of Firehawks for Ventura County, San Diego Fire Rescue Department, and Los Angeles County.

Firehawks can carry up to 1,000 gallons of water in a belly tank while cruising fully loaded at 130 knots (150 mph), or 150 knots (173 mph) unloaded.