The U.S. Forest Service has awarded an aircraft engineering support services contract to Aeronautica. Issued on November 4, the specifications in the solicitation require the contractor to have experience as an engineer with the G222, C27A or C27J. It is also necessary for the contractor to have a Designated Engineering Representative on staff that is fluent in Italian.
The USFS hopes to acquire seven Italian-designed C-27Js from the U.S. Air Force, but the Coast Guard is battling them and wants to get all of the remaining 14, possibly giving the USFS some old Coast Guard C-130s instead. The C-27Js are almost brand new and the USFS wants to use them as air tankers, smokejumper platforms, or for hauling cargo and firefighters.
Since the engineering contract specifically mentions the C-27J, the USFS must have been pretty certain when the solicitation was issued August 2, 2013 that they were going to obtain the aircraft. However the one to five-year contract, with a not-to-exceed amount of $300,000, has provisions that could apply to other planes as well, including:
Aircraft operational loads monitoring
Assist in determining contract compliance for other aircraft
Small Scale Engineering Projects
Integration of retardant delivery systems on large aircraft
The fate of the 21 almost new C-27J Spartan aircraft that the Air Force wants to get rid of is still not clear. On October 28 Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the decision to give seven of them to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), but he has not determined the fate of the remaining 14 according to Pentagon spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. The U.S. Forest Service wants 7 of them for firefighting operations.
In the video above, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp said they wanted all 21, but “…we are going to press ahead and get as many of those [remaining 14] as we can.” The portion of the interview in which the C-27J is discussed begins at 4:25.
Adm. Papp also broke the news that the Coast Guard is negotiating with the U. S. Forest Service to give them some old C-130s if the Coast Guard can get all 14 C-27Js after SOCOM takes the first 7.
Of course this throws a large monkey wrench into the Forest Service plans. But, the C-27J would not qualify as a next-generation air tanker since it could only carry 1,850 gallons of retardant according to a study that cost the agency $54,000. They want large air tankers that can carry at least 3,000 gallons, however there is something to be said about a mix of aircraft with their individual niche capabilities. A C-27J might be better used as a smokejumper platform, to haul cargo to fires, and transport two or three 20-person fire crews.
The Admiral did not say what model of C-130s the Coast Guard wants to get rid of, although he did mention C-130Js at one point. Nor did he say WHY the Coast Guard wants to get rid of the old C-130s (and get almost brand new replacement aircraft!). If they are low-usage C-130Js in good shape with lots of life left in them, the USFS could create a government-owned, contractor-operated large air tanker program. But Coast Guard aircraft are used in a maritime environment, much like the old P2Vs which were converted to air tankers, which could accelerate aging issues.
The text below is a transcript of a portion of Adm. Papp’s statement in the interview:
We were interested in getting our hands on all 21 of them. Special Operations Command I believe is going to get 7 of them and some number of aircraft were promised or at least directed to the Forest Service for firefighting.
It’s difficult for me to talk about the details of the negotiations right now but we’re working with the Forest Service to make sure that that is the particular aircaft that would suit their needs. We have C-130s that we can convert and turn over to them that might be better for them but we have staff that are working right now. Ideally out of the remaining aircraft we would like to get 14, that allows us to fully outfit 3 air stations and anything less than that, we would have to go back and really reevaluate the project… We are going to press ahead and get as many of those as we can.
The report the USFS commissioned concluded the C-27J could carry 1,850 gallons of retardant if 3,200 pounds of unneeded equipment were removed, including flight deck armor (approximately 1,100 lbs), miscellaneous mission equipment such as litter stanchions, tie-down chains, ladders etc. (approximately 1,000 lbs), and the cargo loading system (approximately 1,200 lbs).
Smokejumpers could exit the C-27J through the two side doors or the aft ramp. Depending on how the aircraft was configured, it could transport between 24 and 46 jumpers. According to the report, the aircraft configuration can be changed and fitted with standard outer and center seating to accommodate 68 passengers with limited personal equipment plus 2 loadmasters. The maximum allowable flying weight for a hotshot crew is 5,300 pounds.
The study said the aircraft could carry between 12,222 and 25,353 pounds of cargo.
The bushfire season has historically started in late November or early December and lasted through February, but now that we have warmer and more extreme weather across the globe fire managers in Australia and around the world are having to adapt.
Most of the firefighting aircraft in Australia are privately owned and work under contracts for the government. The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) coordinates the procurement of the aircraft on behalf of the States and Territories.
Richard Alder, the General Manager of the NAFC, told Fire Aviation that about one third of the 75 contracted aircraft have started work already and the majority will be on by early to mid-December, depending how the fire season develops in the south part of the country. As the summer temperatures increase, the down under fire season moves from north to south. The 75 aircraft includes helicopters, Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs), and fixed wing aircraft that are used for reconnaissance and other purposes.
During last year’s 2012-2013 fire season, NAFC had the following on contract:
14 SEATs (Air Tractor AT 802 and AT 602)
3 Bell 206-L
2 Bell 205
5 Bell 212
2 Bell 214-B
5 Erickson S 64 Air-Crane
12 Eurocopter AS 350, 355, and 365
2 Kawasaki BK 117-B2
4 Sikorsky S 61-N
This season, 2013-2014, in addition to the smaller helicopters, Mr. Alder said they will have:
23 SEATs, which includes one water-scooping FireBoss. (All are on exclusive use, three-year contracts with options to extend to five years.)
6 Erickson S 64 Air-Cranes (from Kestral Aviation via Erickson)
2 Sikorsky S 61-N (from Coulson Aircrane Australia, a subsidiary of Coulson Aircrane in Canada)
10 Bell 214-B, which the NAFC considers a Type 1 helicopter (from McDermontt Aviation)
Other aircraft, including 30 SEATs, are available on call when needed contracts.
There are no air tankers larger than SEATs working in Australia, in spite of a request for proposals that NAFC issued in November, 2012. They advertised it at the time via Twitter:
NAFC has published a Request for Proposals for large fixed wing airtankers for 2013 onward. Visit http://t.co/V1Ovp4Vt for further info.
That RFP indicated their intention to contract not only for various types of helicopters, but also for water-scooping, large, and very large air tankers. We asked Mr. Alder what became of the effort to procure the larger aircraft. He responded:
The RFP is a component of a major project we have running to closely examine the applicability of larger fixed wing airtankers in the Australian situation. The project is ongoing and we are continuing to (actively!) gather and analyse data and related information on these capabilities (and are particularly grateful to our colleagues in the US for sharing their experiences over the recent season).
We have received two reports about a new CL-415 that has been at Winnipeg (CYWG) for the last several days. It is sporting an Aero-Flite logo and a registration number of C-GUZF. This is apparently the aircraft purchased by TENAX Aerospace which will be leased to Aero-Flite, the company that recently received a five-year contract from the U.S. Forest Service for a CL-415 water-scooping air tanker. We think this is designated Tanker 260.
A United States Senator has introduced legislation, S. 1628: Fallen Wildland Firefighters Fair Compensation Act of 2013, that would provide for contract wildland firefighters to be covered for death and disability benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act (PSOB). Currently contracted personnel fighting fire from the ground or the air who are not regular federal, state, or local agency employees are not eligible for death or disability benefits should they be killed or injured in the line of duty. For example, air tanker pilots and contract hand crew personnel are not covered. This bill, if it passes, would change that. The current version of the legislation as it was introduced yesterday is HERE. The progress of the bill can be tracked online.
This bill is long overdue. We encourage you to contact your federal Senators and Representative. Ask them to co-sponsor and vote for this legislation. Here is a link you can use to identify and contact your elected officials — http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
If you are in favor of this bill, you can sign a petition at Change.org.
Below is the text of the press release issued by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley:
“Merkley Introduces Legislation to Provide Benefits to Families of Fallen Firefighters
Legislation crafted after Oregon families were denied benefits
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley introduced the Fallen Wildland Firefighters Fair Compensation Act that would allow aerial and ground contracted firefighters to be covered for death and disability benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act (PSOB). Currently, these benefits are granted to state and local police, firefighters, EMTs and also federally employed wildland firefighters, but not contracted wildland firefighters, even though 40% of firefighters who battle blazes on federal land are contracted. Senator Merkley crafted this legislation after hearing from families of contracted Oregon firefighters who had been killed in 2008 and were denied death benefits.
“Every summer across Oregon, thousands of contract firefighters risk their lives fighting to protect our federal forests, grasslands, and lands,” said Merkley. “It is past time that we make sure that if the worst happens while on the job, the families of fallen firefighters are granted proper benefits.”
Typically, contracted firefighters account for 10,000-15,000 people each year. While these men and women work and train right alongside of and even receive direction from the U.S. Forest Service, in the unfortunate event of death or traumatic injury, contract firefighters cannot receive comparable benefits to federal employees.
This bill would give the surviving spouses and children of fallen firefighters the same survivor benefits that those of other firefighters and law enforcement receive.”
Six days after the crash of a Dromader single engine air tanker that killed pilot David Black, government investigators have reached the crash site. Firefighters built a helispot in the steep, rugged terrain, but strong winds prevented helicopters from flying the investigators into the area.
Below is an excerpt from the Guardian:
“…Seven other models of the same fixed-wing aircraft were grounded on Wednesday by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority as a precaution.
David Black, 43, died when his Dromader aircraft crashed in Budawang national park, 40 kilometres west of Ulladulla, about 10am on Thursday.
A witness saw one of the plane’s wings fall off before the aircraft plummeted.
Fire risks and rough terrain meant investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found it difficult to reach the crash site but on Wednesday a team of four got there.
“Rural fire service teams had completed clearing a helicopter landing site nearby. However, the site has not been accessible until today due to ongoing high winds,” a bureau spokesman said.
On the same day a Casa spokesman, Peter Gibson, announced that seven Dromaders had been grounded.
“It’s a precaution to make sure there aren’t any problems with the wings or other structures on the aircraft,” he said.
The aircraft were used for crop dusting in NSW and Queensland, Gibson said, and could be contracted for water bombing.
In April the bureau released a report after investigations into three fatal incidents involving Dromader aircraft.
On each occasion the aircraft were carrying increased weight and the bureau found associated safety risks, despite approval being granted for operation at takeoff weights of more than 4200kg.
The report outlined operating limitations under higher loads and recommended increased awareness among pilots.”