NWCG typing for Unmanned Aerial Systems

erickson air-crane
An Erickson Air-Crane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group establishes the standards to describe the capabilities of firefighting aircraft, crews, and equipment. For example, a Very Large Air Tanker  must be able to carry at least 8,000 gallons of water or retardant, while a Type 4 air tanker carries less than 800. This makes it possible to order a resource that fits a specific need.

NWCG standards types aircraft
NWCG standards for types of aircraft, December 13, 2019. NWCG.

(Download the chart above)

The chart above is the latest released by the NWCG. The only significant changes I could detect are the addition of examples of resources and a new category of aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

With the increasing use of UAS, or drones, the organization felt the need to set up standards for these aircraft that have a wide variety of designs. The new requirements specify endurance, altitude for data collection, and maximum range. Surprisingly the NWCG did not establish a requirement for payload capacity. In the foreseeable future drones will be delivering supplies to firefighters in remote areas. It will be necessary to set up categories for aircraft that can carry 25 pounds, 6,000 pounds, or anything in between.

Australian government increases aerial firefighting funding by 57%

Three Mile Fire at Wisemans's Ferry
Screenshot from video shot by an aircraft over the Three Mile Fire at Wisemans’s Ferry in New South Wales. NSW RFS photo December 3, 2019.

The federal government of Australia is committing an additional $11 million to beef up the nation’s aerial firefighting capability. The extra funding will supplement the $14.9 million existing budget to bring the total up to nearly $26 million. The southern hemisphere has just entered their summer, but Australia has been experiencing an extremely high level of wildfire activity for at least a month. The one large air tanker that the government owned, a 737 purchased last Spring, was busy off and on for much of the winter assisting firefighters on the ground.

Tanker 138 737 New South Wales
Tanker 138, a 737, in New South Wales, August 8, 2019 U.S. time. Coulson Photo.

The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) will be able to decide how to spend the money, which will be sent to the organization as a grant immediately.

The NAFC had originally planned to contract for five large air tankers brought in from North America, but after numerous fires and severe criticism from former fire chiefs, they hired two more, with one of them being a DC-10 very large air tanker.

Australia's large and very large air tanker fleet
Australia’s fleet of large and very large air tankers, updated November 13, 2019 after adding two additional air tankers. The dates are DD/MM. Information confirmed by NAFC.

Before the infusion of the additional funds, Australia had 63 fixed wing and 45 rotor wing aircraft devoted to fire suppression. There are an additional 51 aircraft used for other fire-related missions.

The minister for natural disasters, David Littleproud, said the additional funding would allow lease periods of firefighting aircraft to be extended.

“It is clear we are facing longer and more intense seasons, and as this summer has only just begun we have already seen devastating fires tear through communities right across the country,” Littleproud said.

“Sadly, bushfires are part of the Australian landscape and while we cannot always prevent them, we can prepare for them and ensure that we are responding in the most effective way.”

Forest Service to sign 35 air tankers on Call When Needed agreements

air tanker dropping Cave Fire Santa Barbara California
Tanker 12, a BAe-146, drops on the Cave Fire Nov. 26, 2019. Photo by Mike Eliason for Santa Barbara County FD.

The U.S. Forest Service will be signing Call When Needed (CWN) agreements for air tanker services with six companies for a total of 35 aircraft. The agency made it official on December 5, exactly 555 days after the process began May 30, 2018. If that sounds familiar, it took the same amount of time to award the Next-Generation air tanker contracts,  Version 1.0, in 2013.

The number of aircraft on this new CWN Basic Ordering Agreement can be deceiving, since it includes in some cases air tankers that already have Exclusive Use (EU) contracts, plus of course air tankers that have never been on a USFS contract. Vendors with aircraft currently on the EU contract would also want them on the CWN agreement in case there is a need for tankers outside the Mandatory Availability Period (MAP) specified in the EU contract.

This year there have been 13 air tankers on EU contracts and 8 on CWN agreements. One vendor told me that the USFS personnel said they could submit a tanker that is not built yet as long as it is fully certified by June, 2020. On the other hand, a person from a tanker company told me they were  required to fly their ships to Boise to be inspected, even the ones that were actively working on an EU contract, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

Lessons  were learned after the first Next-Generation contracting process in 2013 gave EU contracts to some planes that never became reality. One of the earlier CWN agreements had many aircraft listed that only appeared in the dreams of the potential vendors.

We will post a list of the 35 individual aircraft on this new agreement when it is available, but we know they represent six companies:

  • 10 Tanker Air Carrier, Albuquerque, NM
  • Aero Air, Hillsboro, OR
  • Aero Flite, Spokane, WA
  • Coulson Aviation USA, Portland, OR
  • Global SuperTanker Services, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Neptune Aviation Services, Missoula, MT

This is the first CWN agreement that includes both large and very large air tankers (VLATs). When the process began in 2018 it was only for large, and excluded the DC-10 and 747 operated by 10 Tanker and Global SuperTanker. But after extensive negotiations between vendors and the government, and at least one protest, VLATs were finally allowed to participate. The original solicitation was amended at least 10 times. Some of the people presently running the USFS air tanker program think VLATs can only be effective on large fires, and not initial attack. Others might say if a section of a fire, say, 1,000 linear feet, is going to be knocked down or slowed by an air drop, from a scientific point of view what difference does it make if that 1,000-foot section of fire is on initial attack or a larger fire? And after that drop it can circle around and make another one. And another one after that, etc., without additional ferry and reload time between drops.

Quick, aggressive initial attack with overwhelming force on a fire from both the ground and the air can prevent a small fire from becoming a megafire.

Even though the final decision by the USFS of which aircraft would be part of the new CWN agreement was made December 5, the five companies that we were able to immediately contact today were not aware they were receiving the awards. One of them told me later that after we had talked he contacted the USFS who told him official letters would be sent out later this week.

The CWN Basic Ordering Agreement is different from the EU contracts. There is no guarantee that an aircraft on CWN will ever earn a dime. One of the vendors said that even though the application process requires the submission of pricing for daily and hourly rates, those are not etched in stone and may be renegotiated if and when it is activated. In contrast, an aircraft on one of the 13 coveted EU contracts will almost certainly work at least during the agreed upon MAP, earning the promised daily and hourly rates. However most federal contracts contain a clause allowing termination for convenience or default. Termination for convenience allows the federal government to terminate all or part of a contract for its convenience, while termination for default means the government doesn’t think you’re performing adequately.

Below is the list of large and very large air tankers that have been on EU contracts and CWN agreements in August.

Air Tanker List
Air tankers under U.S. Forest Service Contract, August 12, 2019. Source: USFS.

Hard landing for firefighting helicopter in New South Wales

The pilot walked away with minor injuries

helicopter hard landing New South Wales fire
Hard landing for a helicopter that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales. A dislodged rotor blade can be seen nearby. Screenshot from ABC video.

A helicopter in Australia that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales experienced a mechanical problem Saturday morning which led to a hard landing. Firefighters on the ground were able to quickly put out a fire in the engine which spread to some grass around the helicopter.

“As a result, all aircraft in the area have been grounded to undergo routine safety checks,” said a spokesperson for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Paramedics treated the pilot at the scene for minor injuries but he did not need to be taken to a hospital, Matthew Doran of ABC News reported.

The privately owned helicopter was operating under a firefighting contract for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

helicopter hard landing New South Wales fire
Hard landing for a helicopter that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales. Screenshot from ABC video.

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

NPS selects Ody Anderson as Aviation Safety Manager

Mr. Anderson is a certified UAS pilot

From the National Park Service

Ody Anderson
Ody Anderson. NPS photo.

Alton “Ody” Anderson has been named national aviation safety manager for the National Park Service (NPS). Ody is currently the regional aviation manager (RAM) for DOI Unified Regions 1 and 2, as well as National Capital Area.

In his current position, Anderson oversees a highly complex aviation program for the regions that includes year-round aviation operations at Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. The regions have two fleet helicopters, exclusive use helicopter contract, other contracts for helicopter services, one fleet fixed wing, and four unmanned aircraft system (UAS) fleet programs. Anderson is also a certified UAS pilot.

Prior to becoming the RAM, Anderson served as the Fire Management Officer (FMO) at Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS) and the Atlantic Zone in NPS’s Southeast Region. As the FMO of the Atlantic Zone, he oversaw fire planning and operations at eight NPS units. The Atlantic Zone used robust collaborative efforts with local, state, and federal partners to manage fire across agency boundaries, resulting in the presentation of the Pulaski Award in 2015 to the Greater Okefenokee Association of Land Owners (GOAL), of which CUIS is a partner. Ody maintains several wildland fire and aviation qualifications and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the aviation management position. Prior to joining the NPS, Anderson served as a fuels specialist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where he planned fuels treatments in Colorado. Throughout his career in fire and aviation, Ody served in several other positions that prepared him for his new role. During his time in Colorado and California with the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, he held positions on hand crews, wildland fire modules, engines, and helicopter crews.

NPS aviation branch chief, John Buehler looks forward to having Ody join the team that also includes fleet and helicopter specialists. “Ody will be a great addition to the national aviation team and fill a needed position to give the NPS the best customer service and excel in our safety record for aviation. His numerous years of operational experience within the wildland fire and aviation community will bring additional knowledge to the aviation branch, which will positively impact the overall NPS aviation program.”

Excited to begin his new role, Anderson said, “I look forward to engaging in this new role. It should prove to be both challenging personally and vital to the aviation program as a whole. I intend to work with managers, pilots, crews, partners, and vendors to create a safe aviation environment for the NPS. I am also very excited to be working as part of our national aviation team and collaborating to ensure that we have an efficient, effective, and safe aviation program.”

Anderson will officially begin his new role around February 3, 2020 at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID.

Helicopter struck by suspected drone over downtown Los Angeles makes precautionary landing

This could happen over a wildfire

Drone Damage ABC7 helicopter
Damage on the ABC7 helicopter’s horizontal stabilizer believed to have been caused by midair collision with a drone. Screenshot from ABC7 video.

Wednesday night a news helicopter from ABC7 flying over Los Angeles was struck by what the crew believes was a drone. Not sure exactly what had been hit, they executed a precautionary landing to look for damage, and found a hole in the horizontal stabilizer.

If it had hit the windshield or a rotor blade the event could have had a very different outcome.

Drones are sometimes illegally flown over active wildfires, which requires all aerial fire suppression to be halted until the air can be declared safe again.

This is the FAA’s position on flying drones over fires (from 2018):

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is warning drone operators to avoid unauthorized flights near wildfires or face civil penalties totaling more than $20,000.

“If you fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire, you could get someone killed,” the FAA warned earlier this week. Unauthorized drone flights not only constitute a collision hazard for fire fighting aircraft but also can distract pilots of firefighting aircraft, the FAA said.

“If you own a drone, do not fly near or over a wildfire,” said FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell. “It’s against the law, and firefighting aircraft could be grounded, disrupting time-critical fire fighting efforts. Your hobby is not worth another person’s life.”

Intrusions by unauthorized drones into fire traffic control areas have repeatedly forced the suspension of aerial firefighting operations (“Fire Traffic Control,” ASW, 7-8/16), and reports from wildland fire agencies indicate the extent of the disruptions.

For example, the FAA cited several such reports: “Drone spotted by pilot at eye level during [helicopter] bucket work.” “[S]potted a drone over fire. All helicopter operations shut down.” “UAS [unmanned aircraft system] intrusion into TFR (temporary flight restriction). Helicopters disengaged from fire.”

Looking back at the Martin Mars

Martin Mars 2009
The Hawaii Martin Mars was photographed near Hemet, California by JD Davis, October 2009.

In spite of the fact that it has been about four years since the massive Martin Mars has assisted firefighters on the ground by dropping 7,200 gallons of water, the unique nature of the huge flying boat remains  vividly in the memory of those who worked with it, under it, or were a part of the air crew on the seven aircraft that were built in the 1940s. It is hard to forget the sound of those four 18-cylinder big-ass 2,500 hp radial engines. They could typically carry 32,000 pounds of cargo, 133 troops, or up seven Willys MB Jeeps.

Don Hoover worked on Martin Mars crews while he was in the US Navy, serving as 2nd or 3rd Engineer on the last four that were still in service when the U.S. Navy shut down the program in 1956. He said his tasks included setting power, wing checks, weight and balance, fuel transfers,  tracking fuel vs. time/distance, and assisted in attaching mooring lines. A common configuration was for 40 passengers, from all branches of the military and dependents. Cargo consisted of anything from medicines to aircraft engines. Some of the more memorable flights, Mr. Hoover said, were when they lost an engine after taking off from Hawaii, and the time they replaced an oil strainer in flight after departing from NAS Alameda at San Francisco Bay.

Philippines Mars Jet Assisted Take Off
Philippines Mars conducting a Jet Assisted Take Off. U.S. Navy.

He said he also remembers the time they used Jet Assisted Take Off rockets at Kihi Lagoon in Hawaii as they departed with 92,000 pounds gross weight on the way back to California.

All seven of the Martin Mars had names–

  • Old Lady, delivered in 1942. The prototype; was scrapped in 1945.
  • Hawaii Mars I, delivered in 1945. Sank in the Chesapeake Bay in 1945 and was scrapped.
  • Marshall Mars, delivered in 1948. It was destroyed by an engine fire and sank April 5, 1950 off Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii.

The four Martin Mars below were retired by the US Navy in 1956 and sold in 1959 to Forest Industries Flying Tankers, a consortium of British Columbia forest companies, who converted all four into 7,200-gallon firefighting air tankers with retractable scoops on the hull to refill the tanks while skimming across the surface of a lake.

  • Philippine Mars, delivered in 1946. Still exists at Coulson Aviation near Port Alberni, BC. It has not been used on a fire since about 2007. The livery has been restored to the original Navy colors. Internally it is still in airtanker configuration with the tank and probe system.
  • Marianas Mars, delivered in 1946. Crashed into Mount Moriarty near Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, on June 23, 1961. While working on a wildfire the water drop mechanism failed, leaving the aircraft unable to climb quickly enough to clear a mountain. The crew of four were killed.
  • Hawaii Mars, delivered in 1946. Still exists at Coulson Aviation near Port Alberni, BC. After being acquired by Coulson it was on contract to fight wildfires for BC until 2013 but was rarely used. It was last operated commercially in 2015 to train Chinese flying boat pilots and also worked on a 30-day firefighting contract that year with British Columbia.
  • Caroline Mars, 1948. Using a special configuration, it set the record for passenger lift on February 25, 1949 when it carried 218 men from NAS North Island, San Diego to NAS Alameda on San Francisco Bay. On October 12, 1962 while parked on its beaching gear onshore at the Victoria International Airport on Vancouver Island, it was damaged beyond repair by Typhoon Freda when she was blown 200 yards across the airport.

In 2007 the two that had survived, Hawaii and Philippine, were sold to what is now Coulson Aviation, based near Port Alberni, British Columbia. The Hawaii Mars was used to fight fires in BC, and in 2008 and 2009 the US Forest Service used it on call when needed contract assignments in California at Lake Shasta and Lake Elsinore. In 2011 it received a 20-day contract to fight fires in Mexico.

“We have a team working on getting [the Hawaii and Philippine Mars] back in serviceable condition and have big plans for them for the end of 2020 or early 2021”, Britt Coulson of Coulson Aviation said December 5. “We have not released what our plans are yet.”

The first two minutes of the video below has some excellent shots of the Hawaii Mars dropping on a small fire near Powell River, BC in 2013.

Before FireAviation.com was born in 2012 we wrote about the Martin Mars numerous times on Wildfire Today. The articles are tagged Martin Mars.

Coulson's Martin Mars
Coulson’s Martin Mars Flying Boat during a take off run at Lake Elsinore at in Southern California.

Continue reading “Looking back at the Martin Mars”

Conair to acquire five flight simulators

The three-axis motion platforms will be part of what is being called the world’s first aerial firefighting training and tactics center

Conair acquire five flight training devices
Conair to acquire five flight training devices from Quantum3D

The Conair Group has awarded a contract to Quantum3D to design, build, and deliver five fully Networked Flight Training Devices (FTD) for the world’s first aerial firefighting training and tactics center in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. Quantum3D will be working with aerial firefighting subject matter experts from Conair to jointly develop advanced wildfire simulation software and training scenarios to improve the efficiency and safety of aerial firefighting.

Partnering with Aerx Labs for the reconfigurable cockpits, Q4 Services for the visual displays, and DBox for the three-axis motion platforms, Quantum3D has assembled an experienced and established team to provide cost-effective and proven components for the flight simulators.

The five integrated training devices are being designed to be reconfigurable to simulate the cockpit and flight dynamics for eight aircraft platforms performing different roles during an aerial firefighting mission.  Each of these reconfigurable FTD’s will be able to perform individual or joint training encompassing different aircraft platforms and scenarios.

“Quantum3D will also emphasize the coordination and interaction of multiple elements in the execution of a mission”, said Mark Matthews, President, Quantum3D.

The custom wildfire simulation software being developed will not only be simulating the ground fire and effects of the aerial retardant being applied by the trainees but will also be simulating the dynamic and dangerous environmental changes created by the fire that pilots may encounter.

“We are excited to be working with Quantum3D to develop a Mission Training System in which our pilots can practice aerial firefighting tactics, techniques and procedures in a safe and risk free environment.  Our goal with the integrated simulators is to mitigate the risks and produce the best-trained and most effective aerial firefighting pilots in the world.  This technology is a quantum leap in training for our industry and the scenarios that we train to will save lives”, said Mark Baird from Conair.

The expectation is that the five new simulators, with eight different aircraft configurations will be available for training before the 2020 fire season.