USFS looking for high-tech aerial supervision aircraft

The U.S. Forest Service intends to contract for 7 and later up to 15 aircraft outfitted with high-tech sensors to serve as platforms for aerial supervision on wildfires. Today the agency issued a Request for Information to find out what is available and which companies may be interested. The aircraft would not only be able to conduct aerial supervision of other firefighting assets, but would also provide a platform for training of aerial supervision personnel. This will require an aft crew station that provides the capability to manage aerial supervision operations in its entirety. The airplanes would be able to carry one pilot, an aerial supervisor, a trainee aerial supervisor, and an instructor.

Two of the seven aircraft would be able to support day and night operations and would be located at Lancaster, California, and McCall Idaho.

Some of the hardware the aircraft must have would include:

  • Infrared/Electro-Optical sensing systems with color camera and FLIR systems. The ability to manually “select” an area of interest upon which the system will autonomously (without user input) remain pointed at that area as the aircraft maneuvers.
  • The ability of the system to provide and display target location (latitude, longitude, altitude). If laser is used, it must be eye safe. The ability to provide a visible (within the visible light spectrum, with and without the aid of NVG’s) marking capability of a target that can be viewed by other aircraft within 1 mile and at off-axis viewing angles at night.
  • The ability to auto-detect non-participant aircraft.
  • Data link dissemination for near or near real-time video image viewing and analysis.
  • Track ground force and air force position location. Data entry to assign naming/labeling/text convention to ground and air forces engaged on the fire.

The Forest Service might be looking for aircraft similar to the Aero Commander 690A that is being used with their night flying helicopter.

The Request for Information has a response due date of September 13, 2013. They expect to publish the solicitation by October, 2013 for an anticipated contract award in February 2014.

Scooper drops on a truck fire

When an 18-wheeler crashed into a road grader and caught fire in northern Canada on July 29, an air tanker was called in to help prevent the fire from spreading farther into the vegetation. This video was shot on a cell phone by Shawn Noseworthy, a manager with Humber Valley Paving, who was part of a work crew on site when the crash occurred about 30 miles from Churchill Falls, a town of 650 residents.

Here are a couple of screen grabs — the video is below.

Scooper drop on truck fire

Scooper drop on truck fire

According to the Daily Mail:

The Royal Newfoundland and Labrador Constabulary says the driver of the tractor-trailer rig slammed head-on into the road grater. He was trapped inside as the big rig caught fire, but the grater driver managed to pull the big rig driver to safety. He was taken to Goose Bay-Happy Valley and treated for non-life-threatening injuries at the hospital.

I am not sure if it’s a CL-215, CL215T, or CL-415. I can’t see any winglets at the end of the wings, but I think there are some ‘finlets‘ – two vertical stabilizers on each side of the horizontal tail surface. The presence of both would indicate either a turbo-converted CL-215 or a CL-415. In the audio, it sounds like turbine engines.


Thanks go out to Tristan.

Firefighters fill bucket while helicopter hovers

Over on Wildfire Today an article about some recent wildfires in central Europe had these photos that were captured from a video, of firefighters in Germany using hoses to fill a helicopter’s bucket while the aircraft hovered overhead —  a technique that was new to us.

Firefighters refill a helicopter bucket
Firefighters use two hoses to refill the bucket of a hovering helicopter.
Firefighters refill a helicopter bucket
Firefighters use two hoses to refill the bucket of a hovering helicopter.

Kamov KA-32 helicopter crashes while fighting wildfire in B.C.

Kamov 32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal
Kamov KA-32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal, similar to the one that crashed in B.C. Sunday. Photo by Bill Gabbert, August 29, 2012.

A Russian-built Kamov KA-32 helicopter made a crash landing in British Columbia Sunday, August 4. Jen Norie of VIH Aviation Group confirmed that one of their helicopters was conducting water dropping operations on a wildfire near Bella Colla, British Columbia using an external bucket when the aircraft developed an engine problem. The ship made a hard landing on uneven terrain collapsing at least one landing gear, which caused the aircraft to tip over about 30 degrees. The twin overhead counter-rotating main rotors struck the ground, which of course destroyed them.

Thankfully the two pilots walked away with no injuries, so in that sense it was a “good landing”. There were no passengers on board.

Ms. Norie said the company has been operating KA-32s since the mid-1990s, accumulating over 46,000 flight hours without a major incident, until Sunday.

Photos of Tanker 910 at Falls Fire

10 Tanker Air Carrier has some very impressive photos on their Facebook page of Tanker 910, one of their DC-10s, dropping on the Falls Fire at Lake Elsinore, California yesterday. We don’t have rights to the pictures, but you can view them here.

There are a couple of more plus a video at Wildfire Today. Below is one that was photographed on a TV screen during a live broadcast yesterday.

DC-10 finishing drop on Falls Fire

USFS issues solicitation for a scooper air tanker

CL-415, LA County photo

The U.S. Forest Service issued a solicitation on August 5 for one “amphibious water scooper aircraft”. It has a quick turnaround, with a response due date of August 19, 2013. Like some of the previous solicitations for air tankers, this one holds open the possibility of adding one additional aircraft during the contract period. The USFS expects to have the air tanker begin this calendar year, but the agency’s recent aircraft contracting history shows that may be a very optimistic goal. It took over 500 days to award the “next-gen” contracts.

The solicitation requires the following: amphibious and scooping capability, turbine engines, 180-knot cruise speed, 1,600-gallon capacity, and 7 days a week coverage. It also has to have previous approval by the Interagency Airtanker Board. The specs appear to limit the qualifying aircraft to only the CL-415. The BE-200 could possibly meet the operational specs, but does not have FAA or IAB approvals.

We are glad to see the requirement for 7 day a week coverage, instead of shutting down a firefighting resource one day a week like in some other air tanker contracts.


Thanks go out to John

Update on Tanker 131

Coulson's T-130, a C-130QBritt Coulson sent us these photos and told us that last week they ran the engines and conducted calibration static tests on Tanker 131, their C-130Q air tanker. The aircraft was over at the USFS Tanker Base at the San Bernardino airport for some of the tests. They expect to complete the calibration next weekend and begin flight testing in the next few days.

If any of the other air tanker vendors with new exclusive use contracts would like to send us information and photos, we would certainly appreciate it.

Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q

Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q

Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q

Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q