Three more of Neptune’s BAe-146 air tankers are being brought into the current fleet. Tom Harbour, Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service, confirmed today at the Large Fire Conference in Missoula that two BAe-146s came on in the last few days and a third will be on board by June 1.
The three aircraft are being added to Neptune’s “legacy” air tanker contract using the “additional equipment” provision.
These three air tankers are being added to the fleet along with the two additional DC-10s that were announced last week. 10 Tanker Air Carrier had one DC-10 already working on a next-gen contract and a second was converted last week from a call when needed contract to exclusive use, using the additional equipment provision on their contract. 10 Tanker is converting a third DC-10 that will also be on the next gen exclusive use contract when it is complete this summer.
When Marines are involved in a fire fight, it usually means bullets, not flames, are in the air. There have been at least 22 military aircraft available for fighting the wildfires in southern California over the last five days, from Camp Pendleton and the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar. The latter has an official Twitter account where we found these photos:
Today the South Dakota National Guard Aviation Unit conducted their annual fire certification at Angostura Lake and the Hot Springs Airport. It was coordinated by the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division so that the National Guard Black Hawk helicopters can assist in suppressing wildland fires.
Crews were tested on fire aviation procedures which included dipping buckets attached to helicopters at a water source and accurately dropping the water on a target.
The helicopters used were Blackhawks and a Lakota. It was quite windy during the exercise, increasing the level of difficulty for the crews.
During the press conferences for the fires in southern California this week there were always several questions from reporters about the DC-10 air tanker, especially on Thursday at the Cocos Fire when the aircraft was shut down because it was the pilot’s day off. Most of the U.S. Forest Service air tanker contracts require that the aircraft shut down one day a week, or 14 percent of the time. Some of the air tanker vendors would prefer to keep them working 7 days a week and earn that extra money. They need maintenance, but that can usually be done at night, rather than out on the blistering hot tarmac during the day.
Many people, especially when they see houses burning, don’t understand why an air tanker has to sit at an airport, unused, 14 percent of the time. It is possible that the U.S. Forest Service received some, uh, input about this issue on Thursday when the Cocos Fire was hauling ass through San Marcos, burning houses, and Tanker 910, the only DC-10 on exclusive use contract, was cooling its wheels on the tarmac. The next day we heard that they put two more DC-10s on exclusive use contracts.
Of course there are other air tankers, but a sexier story is a jumbo jet that carries four to five times more retardant than a conventional air tanker, so it receives more media coverage when it’s flying — and even more when it’s grounded.
If the contractors had to supply a relief crew for that 7th day, then they would probably work out a way to give the pilots more days off, and even the opportunity to GO HOME and reintroduce themselves to their family now and then. There is a large turnover in air tanker pilots, at least in part because the U.S. Forest Service requires that they shut down one day a week. This makes it very tempting for the parent company to not trade out the crews, and just keep them on the road away from home for four to six months. It’s hard on a family. And with a large turnover, it can be difficult to hire enough replacement tanker pilots that meet all of the stringent requirements needed to drive one of those beasts. P2V, CL-415, and BAe-146 pilots don’t grow on trees, and if they did, they would still have to be trained as an air tanker pilot.
The U.S. Forest Service and the other federal land management agencies require that their ground-based firefighters return home and have two days off after a 14-day fire assignment. This is for their health and safety, and so that they can take care of things at home, including their families. Why are pilots not given the same treatment? If a pilot or aircraft mechanic gets burned out and tired, and has family issues they can’t deal with 1,000 miles from home, bad things can happen.
With the shortage of air tankers, cut by about 75 percent since 2002, it would be a wise decision to make them available seven days a week instead of six. This would keep the pilots happier, their families happier, reduce the turnover, and maybe even improve the accident rate without having to resort to creative writing in annual reports.
And it would increase the availability of air tankers by 14 percent.
The U.S. Forest Service has added a second DC-10 on the exclusive use “next-gen” air tanker contract. Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, told Fire Aviation that their second DC-10 very large air tanker, Tanker 911, has been added to the exclusive use fleet. It had been on a call when needed contract, and would only be activated occasionally, and only if it was available.
Mr. Hatton said their third DC-10 which is being converted now, Tanker 912, should be airborne “by mid-season”, and it is also is being added to the exclusive use contract. So by sometime this summer, there will be three DC-10s available to fight fire.
10 Tanker owns three other DC-10s that are awaiting modification, Mr. Hatton said.
A total of 19 military helicopters are providing fire suppression support to firefighters in southern California, including eight Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, seven CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters and four UH-1Y Huey helicopters.
A report from the military:
“SAN DIEGO – Six flight crews from the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 provided firefighting support to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) in response to wildfires throughout San Diego County May 15.
At the request of CAL FIRE, the six specially-equipped MH-60S Seahawks are supporting firefighting efforts in the vicinity of Camp Pendleton, Calif. by conducting aerial water drops.
“The critical part of our role is supporting CAL FIRE to help save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate great property damage,” said Lt. Cmdr. Todd Stansfield, Third Fleet’s Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) lead. “We have Navy personnel and their families that live and work in the areas of San Diego threatened by the fires. Our efforts support both our people and the communities we live in.”
In August 2011, U.S. Third Fleet, Naval Air Forces Pacific and Navy Region Southwest entered into a memorandum of understanding with CALFIRE. Under the agreement, naval units provide helicopters when notified by CALFIRE of weather conditions favorable to wildfires.
Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Wing Pacific prepares ready, trained and certified resources to combat wildfires and crews conduct semi-annual training with CAL FIRE to ensure an immediate response capability in support of local authorities for emergency events. The assigned crews are capable of being airborne within four hours of receiving a request for assistance to combat fires.”
The video shows one of the DC-10 very large air tankers making a drop on the San Miguelito Fire south of Lompoc, California. More information about the fire can be found at webpronews. The DC-10 carries 11, 600 gallons of retardant.
UPDATE: in response to some of the comments, below is a video of the DC-10 making a drop on what is definitely not a long, flat flank.
And another, suggested by “R”:
And, by Steve:
This next video is from the Falls Fire on the west side of Lake Elsinore in southern California, August 5, 2013. Photos taken at the fire, including one from overhead as the DC-10 made the drop, are at Wildfire Today.