Photos of aircraft on Fern Lake Fire

Minden's Tanker 48 dropping on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer
Minden’s Tanker 48 dropping on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer

Paul Filmer took some excellent photos of aircraft working on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park west of Estes Park, Colorado, December 4, 2012. The photo above is the first one I can remember seeing of an air tanker dropping with snow in the background.

We thank Paul for allowing us to use his photos. You can see a couple of dozen more that photos he took December 4 at his web site. More information about the Fern Lake Fire can be found at Wildfire Today.

Air-Crane drafting water from a "pumpkin" on the Fern Lake Fire, Photo by Paul Filmer
Helicopter Transport Services’ Skycrane drafting water from a “pumpkin” on the Fern Lake Fire, Photo by Paul Filmer
HeliQuest Aviation's KMAX on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer
HeliQuest Aviation’s K-MAX on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer

Erickson buys back the Air-Crane it sold to power company

sunbird aircrane
SDG&E’s Sunbird Air-crane helicopter, scooping water at Lake Hodges, shortly after it was delivered in August, 2010. SDG&E photo.

Erickson Air-Crane has bought back an Air-Crane helicopter that it sold two years ago to a power company in California. In 2010 Erickson sold a $30 million S-64F Air-Crane to San Diego Gas and Electric which acquired it to facilitate the construction of a powerline in eastern San Diego County. The company also made it available for fighting wildfires, using the call sign Helicopter 729 when operating on a fire, and “Sunbird” when working on the powerline. The Air-Crane can carry 2,650 gallons of water when suppressing a fire.

Erickson paid SDG&E $21.75 million, according to Portland Business Journal, to purchase the Type 1 helicopter in October.

In conjunction with the aircraft transaction, Erickson entered into an agreement with SDG&E to provide an Air-Crane for fire suppression support in San Diego County this Fall. SDG&E leased the aircraft for a 3-month period from September through November 2012, with an option to renew the lease for the same period each year through 2016.

Erickson added the aircraft to its fleet which now expands to 18 Air-Cranes. The company said it will allow the Company to meet the growing demand for heavy-lift aerial services in the oil-and-gas and powerline construction sectors.

Erickson Air-Crane went public April 11, 20121, selling stock at an initial public offering. Listed as EAC on NASDAC, it sold for about $8 that day, which netted $32 million for the company, about half of what they hoped for a few months earlier. The company used the proceeds to help pay down their debt which as of December 31, 2011 was $130.6 million. Since the IPO the stock price has ranged from $5.35 to $8.50 and closed at $8.03 Friday.

In 2007, ZM Private Equity Fund bought the company, and in 2009 moved the headquarters to Portland. ZM retained 63 percent ownership after it went public with the sale of stock.

Australians gear up for bushfire season

"Elvis", an Erickson Air-Crane
“Elvis”, an Erickson Air-Crane. Credit: Erickson

At the beginning of the bushfire season in Australia, Peter Ryan, the Deputy Premier of Victoria, held a press conference to announce that “Elvis is back in the building”. The Premier was referring to an Erickson Air-Crane, a Type 1 helicopter which can carry 2,650 gallons of water. The Australians have a special fondness for the Air-Cranes, and especially for the one named “Elvis”, which is credited for helping to protect almost 300 homes near Sydney in 2001 and also for helping save the lives of 14 firefighters in the Burragorang Valley in New South Wales.

CFA air resources 2012-2013
Country Fire Authority air resources to be available beginning December 26 in Victoria for the  2012-2013 bushfire season. Credit: The Age

In addition to “Elvis” (N179AC), Victoria’s Country Fire Authority has contracted for a second Air-Crane, “Gypsy Lady” (N189AC).

Through contracts with various state and territory governments in Australia, Air-Cranes and Skycranes have been helping the Australians during their fire seasons since  “Millie” (N223AC) was deployed there in 1997. One of the more notable missions was the 2001-2002 bushfire season when “Georgia Peach” (N154AC) and “Incredible Hulk” (N164AC), were rushed out from the U.S.A on board a Russian Antonov An-124 air freighter to assist with bushfires near Sydney, working with “Elvis” which was already “in the building”.

US Park Police aviation unit

USPP helicopter
National Park Service Director Jarvis arrives at Fort Wadsworth on the northeastern shore of Staten Island during the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Fort Wadsworth was the location of the Incident Command Post for the National Park Service Incident Management Team after the hurricane. It is in Gateway National Recreation Area near New York City. NPS Photo.

Most people don’t know the U.S. Park Police exists, but the organization, created by President George Washington in 1791, is one of the oldest uniformed federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. Today they provide law enforcement services to designated areas within the National Park Service system, primarily the Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

Here are some recent photos of one of their helicopters.

USPP helicopter
US Park Police helicopter at the Statue of Liberty. The structures and piers at the site suffered substantial damage during Hurricane Sandy.

A description of the USPP’s aviation unit, from Wikipedia:

=============================================================

The Aviation Unit of the United States Park Police began in April 1973 and was placed under the command of Lt. Richard T. Chittick. It started with one Bell 206B JetRanger and a staff of three pilots and three rescue technicians based at the Anacostia Naval Air Station in a shared space with the MPD Aviation Branch. A second helicopter, a Bell 206B-3 JetRanger, was added in 1975 and the unit relocated to Andrews AFB.

The Aviation Unit moved to its present facility in Anacostia Park, the “Eagle’s Nest,” in 1976. In 1983, the 206B-3 was upgraded to a Bell206L-3 LongRanger. Their first twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412SP, and the third helicopter to carry the designation “Eagle One,” was placed in service in January 1991. The unit grew to its current staff, and began providing 24-hour coverage in January 1994.

In August 1999, the unit took delivery of its second twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412EP. It became the fourth helicopter in the unit’s history to carry the designation “Eagle One” and the same registration number as that of an earlier aircraft whose crew effected the rescue of victims after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.

The missions of the United States Park Police Aviation Unit include aviation support for law enforcement, medevac, search and rescue, high-risk prisoner transport and presidential and dignitary security. The Aviation Unit has provided accident-free, professional aviation services for over 28 years. This is due to the dedication of the flight crews, the support from within and outside the Force, and the state-of-art equipment used in the performance of its missions.

Composite video of all planes landing at San Diego in a 4-hour period

Landings at San Diego Int Airport Nov 23, 2012 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

The 26-second video above put together by Cy Kuckenbaker is a composite of the 70 planes that landed at San Diego International Airport during a four and a half hour period on November 23. It turns out, he explains, that with a blue sky background, it was not a huge challenge (for him) to superimpose video of all of the aircraft, placing many of them on the video screen at the same time. If I understand it correctly, the aircraft were shot on a beautiful, cloudless day, and time-lapse videos of the bridge and the clouds were added later.

It’s hard to explain… just do me a favor and watch it. 🙂

You’re welcome.

Non-profit organization provides rescue helicopter

Flathead Emergency Aviation ResourcesA non-profit organization is providing a helicopter for rescue services in the Flathead Valley of Montana. Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR) is a non-profit, volunteer organization which provides air support to emergency service providers in the greater northwest region of Montana.

According to DailyInterLake.com, venture capitalist Michael Goguen has provided funding as well as a Bell 407 which belongs to Mr. Goguen’s company, Two Bear Management. FEAR has ordered a new $5 million twin-engine Bell 429 which will include a hoist, making it possible to more easily extract injured members of the public. The Bell 429 is being built now and should be available in the Spring.

Former Flathead County Undersheriff Jordan White, who now works for Two Bear Management, said:

To have met someone like Mike Goguen, with the unprecedented level of philanthropy he’s contributed to this program to make sure it not only happened but was a world-class program, is mind-blowing to me to imagine that it would ever get to this point.

One year ago we hoped that maybe in five years we’d have raised half a million dollars to buy an aircraft, and within a few months I had quit my job in order to make this whole thing happen and then was able to begin searching for a brand new twin-engine rescue-class helicopter.

The Bell 407 has been used for about eight missions since August.

FEAR’s web site lists the following types of missions for which they expect to use the helicopter:

  • Search and Rescue – Conducting hasty searches in both urban and rural environments.
  • Tactical operations – Providing tactical teams with overhead security during high risk operations.
  • Body recoveries – Hauling deceased victims from remote locations back to their loved ones.
  • Evidence transportation
  • Environmental protection
  • Border security
  • Education
  • Aerial surveillance and search
  • Aerial photography
  • Transportation of personnel andequipment
  • Flying divers outside of Flathead County for a more expedient response.
  • Long Line operations
  • Transporting ground search personnel to and from remote loctations.
  • Mobile remote radio repeater services

****

UPDATE November 8, 2013: The company changed their name from Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR) to Two Bear Air.

Two air tankers still on active duty

Tanker 48 at Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21
Tanker 48 at Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21. Photo by Bill Gabbert

(Revised at 7:37 a.m. MT, December 4, 2012)

The mandatory availability periods for the nine large air tankers on national contracts ended in August, September, and October, but two P2Vs are still working today due the warm, dry weather that some areas of the country are experiencing. Tanker 48, operated by Minden, and Neptune’s Tanker 43 are the two that are working on a day by day basis through “optional use” provisions in their contracts, according to Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service in Boise.

Air tankers were requested early Saturday morning, December 1, for the rapidly spreading Fern Lake Fire that was moving toward structures west of Estes Park, Colorado. Fire managers were told that the only large air tankers sill working were in California but were unavailable due to weather in the Bay Area, according to David Eaker, a spokesperson for the Fern Lake Fire.

Today two large air tankers were supposed to be parked on the ramp at JEFFCO air tanker base northwest of Denver after being ferried in from California, but only one made it, Tanker 48. The other one, Tanker 43 had to stop in Durango, Colorado, unable to climb over the continental divide due to weather. We’re thinking the old P2V does not have de-icing equipment.

If the USFS is going to keep air tankers working into the winter, maybe a better choice of which ones to keep on would be a couple of the BAe-146s, which I assume have de-icing equipment.

The one tanker at JEFFCO, 48, has not been used on the Fern Lake Fire yet due to strong winds over the fire. Mr. Eaker told Wildfire Today that they may be used very soon to pretreat some areas where large burnouts are planned, thanks to improving weather forecasts indicating decreasing winds.

Tanker 43 was responsible for closing the Rapid City Airport for 40 minutes on June 20 when an engine failure on takeoff resulted in the crew jettisoning the 2,000-gallon load of retardant on two runways and a taxiway.

Tanker 43 landing at Rapid City Air Tanker Base
Tanker 43 landing at Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert

 

(This article was edited to reflect the fact that one of the air tankers was delayed ferrying to JEFFCO. Thanks Rob.)

Thoughts about the Air Force report on the crash of MAFFS #7

(Revised at 9:22 MT, November 30, 2012)

It takes a while to digest the 49-page report on the July 1 crash of MAFFS #7, the military C-130 air tanker, in which four crew members were killed. Earlier we posted a summary of the report, but here are some additional thoughts.

MAFFS crash, radar at 1733L
MAFFS crash, radar at 1733, five minutes before the crash.

The radar image above, 5 minutes before MAFFS #7 impacted the ground at 1738 local time, recorded a very large thunderstorm cell southwest of the crash site. The middle of the concentric circles is the location of the crash. The circles indicate 5, 10, and 15 nautical miles from the impact site. The light green areas may have been virga, rain that was not reaching the ground. The red, light brown, dark green, and possibly the yellow areas were most likely rain, accompanied by strong winds. The longest east-west line is the South Dakota/Nebraska state line. The longest north-south line is the boundary between Wyoming and the states of South Dakota and Nebraska.

In addition to the C-130 working on the fire, there was also a Bureau of Land Management Air Supervision Module aircraft which was flown by a lead plane pilot and also carried an Air Tactical Group Supervisor. It was acting as the lead plane at the time of the accident.

Wildfire Today was the first to report the day after the crash that:

The ASM/Lead experienced a severe downdraft while approaching the intended retardant drop zone with the C130 in trail. This is being investigated by the US Forest Service as a separate Incident With Potential.

The third fixed wing aircraft to arrive at the White Draw fire that was mentioned in the report served as Air Attack. It was piloted from the left seat by Air Attack 3 (AA3 in the report), and in the right seat was the Air Tactical Group Supervisor. Both were employed by the State of South Dakota.

Before the crash, the air attack aircraft encountered sudden updrafts and downdrafts with airspeed fluctuations between 20 to 40 knots, which forced the aircraft into bank angles of approximately 90 degrees.

Here are some interesting passages from the report that discuss the weather conditions:

At 17:38:18L, MP1 ordered an e-dump of the retardant, which was immediately conducted. At the same time, Firefighter 1 (FF1) a ground firefighter, was located approximately 1.5 miles west-southwest of the future mishap site. FF1 witnessed the MA [mishap aircraft] jettison their retardant load, at which time she experienced variable surface winds with estimated gusts up to 50 miles per hour. At the same time, in Air Attack, ATGS observed the smoke lying down and “sheeting” of the fire, indicating to him “hellacious” surface winds. ATGS and AA3 lost altitude, experienced updrafts and downdrafts with airspeed fluctuations of 20 to 40 KIAS and severe turbulence. Air Attack lost an estimated 1,000 ft due to the weather conditions. ATGS did not see the MA jettison the retardant load.

Between 1730L and 1745L, Incident Commander 1 (IC1), a member of the Army National Guard, was traveling on a motorcycle, southbound on Highway 18 approximately seven miles north of Edgemont attempting to get to an 1800L meeting at the White Draw Fire incident command center in Edgemont, South Dakota. While heading towards Edgemont, IC1 witnessed the MA flying to his right, approximately one mile away, making a bank as the MA prepared for their approach to the drop area. IC1 lost sight of the MA while going down the hill towards Edgemont, at that same instant, IC1 was “hit with this extreme, fierce wind”. IC1 described it as side wind because it “pushed me over to the other side of the highway”.

The MAFFS crew received a briefing on the weather for the Arapahoe fire they dropped on earlier in Wyoming, but they did not have any specific weather information on the weather for the White Draw fire in southwest South Dakota and no update was requested when they were diverted to that fire.

From the report:

On 1 July 2012 at 1650L, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch for northeast Wyoming and western South Dakota encompassing the area surrounding Edgemont, South Dakota and the White Draw Fire. The severe thunderstorm watch, valid from 1650L to 2300L, was issued for potential hail up to two inches in diameter and wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour. However, there was no evidence the MC requested or received forecast weather information for South Dakota or the White Draw Fire area at any time on 1 July 2012.

After dropping on the Arapahoe fire in Wyoming, the MAFFS was dispatched to the Highlands fire west of Custer, South Dakota. But en route they were diverted to the White Draw Fire which was 24 miles southeast of the Highlands Fire.

At that time I was taking photos at the Highlands Fire and the Oil Creek Fire, the latter being farther west  across the state line near Newcastle, Wyoming. Between 1730 and 1830 I remember seeing massive, very dark thunderstorm clouds to my southeast. The photo below taken at 1715 is looking south toward the Highlands Fire. In the background the dark clouds farther south can be seen.

Highlands Fire
Highlands Fire, 1715 MT, July 1, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert

From 1630 until 1645 a Canadian “Bird Dog” and a CV-540 were over the Highlands fire. They were asked to drop, but refused, saying there were too many people on the ground in the intended drop area. It would be interesting to know where they went after being released from that fire, or if the weather affected the decision about their destination.

CV-540, T44, over Highlands Fire
CV-540, T44, over Highlands Fire, at 1708 MT, July 1, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The MAFFS has a capacity of 3,000 gallons, but each time MAFFS #7 reloaded that day they refilled with less retardant. At the White Draw fire it was only carrying 2,346 gallons which it split into two drops on the fire.

Crew rest or fatigue were not issues, according to the report.

Regarding the radio transmissions from the lead plane pilot saying “I got to go around” after encountering the downdraft and coming within 10 feet of the ground, and a few seconds later calmly advising the MAFFS to “drop your load when you can”, (meaning an emergency release of retardant to lighten the load, enabling the aircraft to more easily maneuver) the report said:

MAFFS aircrew members attested that a call for a go around is most commonly heard regarding misalignments for drops rather than urgent situations. It is possible that [the lead plane’s] call for a go around while meant to abort the mishap drop, was not interpreted by the [MAFFS Crew] as significantly urgent, based on their prior experience.

According to the report the overall flying experience of the MAFFS crew was high.

However [the pilot, the aircraft commander] had limited experience as a MAFFS aircraft commander and [the navigator] was participating in his first MAFFS mission. [The pilot] was a current and qualified Senior Pilot with over 1,900 total C-130 hours, however prior to the day of the mishap he had accomplished only seven drops as a MAFFS copilot and zero drops as a MAFFS aircraft commander.

The second pilot was more experienced with MAFFS and served as a MAFFS instructor pilot for this sortie.

The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) failed to activate when the C-130 crashed. One of the survivors called 911 on his cell phone and reported the crash but he said he didn’t know where he was.

The flight data recorder for the C-130 was found and shipped to the Air Force Safety Center for data retrieval and analysis. The report said the last 12.8 hours of data on the device were corrupt and unusable for investigation purposes.

There was no evidence that aircraft weight or the MAFFS unit in the cargo hold were factors in the crash. “Prior to the mishap, the MAFFS unit was operating at 100 percent capability and an emergency dump was successfully completed.”

About 34 minutes after the crash, firefighting helicopter crews assigned to the fire that were on the ground at the nearby Edgemont Municipal Airport were notified about the crash. But they were unable to fly at that time due to heavy rain, gusty winds, and a low ceiling. While waiting, an EMT loaded medical equipment on N935CH, call sign 5CH.

At the time of the crash the air attack ship was at 1,500 feet above the ground and following the MAFFS aircraft, observing the drop. On that pass the air attack ship had their hands full, experiencing extreme turbulence which resulted in bank angles of approximately 90 degrees. After the crash it had to leave the area due to the strong turbulence and the approaching thunderstorm. It loitered at a safe distance for about 30 minutes before it was able to access the area again, after which it led one of the fire’s helicopters, H-535, to the site.

During the last pass, the lead plane over-temped (or “smoked”) the aircraft engines while attempting to recover from being pushed down to within 10 feet of the ground and had to go to the Rapid City Airport.

When the weather improved, the two helicopters, N911FS, call sign H-535 (from the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California), and 5CH, departed and proceeded toward the mishap site. When they landed at the site at approximately 1850, the EMT on 5CH met the survivor who was still talking to the 911 operator on his cell phone. The EMT assessed and began treating him while the other helicopter crewmembers searched for other survivors, eventually finding the second survivor “wandering near the mishap site”. Helicopter 5CH transported both survivors to the Custer Airport, about 10 minutes away. One of them was then flown by an emergency medical helicopter to Rapid City while the other went by ground ambulance to a hospital.

As Wildfire Today reported on September 17, the pilot and at least two crewmembers of H-535 were given awards for their actions related to the crash. It is possible that others involved in the emergency response to the incident also received awards.

MAFFS 7 awards
Firefighters Daniel Diaz (center), Kevin Walters (left), and pilot Chuck MacFarland (right) receive their awards for their actions following the crash of MAFFS 7. Photo credit: San Bernardino National Forestx

Wildfire Today has an article about the differences between a military and a US Forest Service accident investigation.

 

A paragraph in this article was revised November 30, 2012 to clarify the actions of the air attack and lead plane immediately after the crash.