Air Force hauls firefighting supplies to assist firefighting efforts in Alaska

Fire Supplies transported on Air Force plane

The U.S. Air Force joined the massive firefighting effort currently underway in Alaska on Sunday by helping to expedite an enormous load of firefighting supplies to Alaska from the Defense Logistics Agency to replenish the warehouse at the Alaska Fire Service. The bulk of the shipment, which weighed more than 127,000 pounds, was flown to Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks in a C-5M Galaxy transport plane from the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base northeast of San Francisco.

The Defense Logistics Agency is the normal supply source for the federal wildland fire supply system and firefighting supplies are normally trucked to Alaska from the Lower 48. However, given the urgency of the situation, the U.S. Air Force offered to ferry the supplies to Alaska. The shipment included pumps, chainsaws, water handling equipment, prepackaged meals, fire clothing and assorted other kinds of durable and consumable supplies that are in demand due to the high fire activity in Alaska.

Air force plane hauling fire supplies

Eielson AFB southeast of Fairbanks was used as the delivery point because the Galaxy requires a longer runway than is available at Fort Wainwright just east of Fairbanks. Personnel from the Alaska Fire Service and Eielson Air Force Base then loaded the supplies onto flatbed tractor-trailers for transport to the Alaska Fire Service warehouse on Fort Wainwright.

Some of the supplies were transported to Alaska on previously scheduled USAF DC-10 flights.

These photos were taken Sunday, June 28, by BLM Alaska Fire Service public information officer Sam Harrel.

Fire supplies on ramp

U.S. air tankers in Alaska

palmer alaska air tankers
A photo of six air tankers at Palmer, Alaska on June 18, 2015, showing T-260, T-160, T-55, T-52, T-47 and T-43 (photo courtesy of John Bell). Click to enlarge.

In addition to the Canadian air tankers being assigned to Alaska (seven recently that we know of) there are three air tankers under contract with the U.S. Forest Service in the state, according to information we received from today from Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the agency:

  1. T-160 Aero-Flite RJ85
  2. T-10 Neptune BAe-146
  3. T-101 Aero Air MD87
BAe-146 and RJ85
A BAe-146, T-10, and an RJ85, T-160, on the BLM-Alaska Fire Service Tanker Base tarmac, May 23, 2015, on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright.

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

Additional resources arrive in Alaska

Smokejumpers in Alaska
Smokejumpers from BLM Boise, Idaho, board a CASA-212 to make their practice jump Saturday afternoon, May 23, 2015, at the BLM Alaska Smokejumpers Base on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright.

Because of the recent high fire danger, additional resources, including three air tankers and 16 smokejumpers, have arrived in Alaska to bolster the aircraft fleet and jumpers already in place. These photos were taken and portions of the captions were written by Sam Harrel of the Bureau of Land Management/Alaska  Fire Service.

Smokejumpers in Alaska

Smokejumpers in Alaska
Smokejumpers from BLM Boise, Idaho, log their chutes as they prepare to make their practice jump Saturday afternoon, May 23, 2015, at the BLM Alaska Smokejumpers Base on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright. Because of high fire danger in Alaska, 16 additional smokejumpers were brought to the state. Once the crews from Boise have completed their orientation to Alaska they will enter into the fire assignment rotation.
BAe 146and CL-415
Neptune’s Tanker 10, a BAe-146, and Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415 water scooper, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at BLM Alaska Fire Service at Fort Wainwright. The two aircraft are new to fire suppression efforts in Alaska.
T-260 CL-415
Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415 water scooper, sits on the BLM-Alaska Fire Service tarmac at Ladd Field on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at Fort Wainwright. T-260 is less than a year old.
BAe-146 and Convair CV580
A BAe-146 and a Convair CV580 at the BLM- Alaska Fire Service retardant tanker base Tuesday, May 19, 2015, on Ladd Field at Fort Wainwright. The Convair turboprop tankers have been used in Alaska for several years. This is the first season in Alaska for the jet propelled BAe 146.
BAe-146 and RJ85
A BAe-146, T-10, and an RJ85, T-160, on the BLM-Alaska Fire Service Tanker Base tarmac Saturday morning, May 23, 2015, on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright.

Alaska state troopers helicopter crash caused by flight into bad weather and department’s “punitive culture”

I would be interested in hearing from our readers about how any lessons learned from this accident (summarized by the NTSB below) might be applicable to fire aviation. Often, the weather that allows for large wildfires is not in the form of rain, snow, and icing, however it can involve strong winds, turbulence, thunderstorms, and high density altitude conditions. Add the hazards of flying into canyons low and slow at 150 AGL and it can be a challenging, unforgiving environment.

One fatal accident that comes to mind is the MAFFS 7 crash that occurred July 1, 2012 as the aircraft was attempting to drop retardant on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota, killing four on board. It was basically blown into the ground by a downburst out of a thunderstorm as it was attempting to drop on the fire.

Below is the NTSB’s very brief summary of a helicopter crash in Alaska that killed three people.

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“WASHINGTON –The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the March 30, 2013 crash of an Alaska Department of Public Safety helicopter was caused by the pilot’s decision to continue flying into deteriorating weather conditions as well as the department’s “punitive culture and inadequate safety management.”

The crash occurred on a mission to rescue a stranded snowmobiler near Talkeetna, Alaska. The pilot, another state trooper and the snowmobiler were all fatally injured. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s “exceptionally high motivation to complete search and rescue missions,” which increased his risk tolerance and adversely affected his decision-making, the Board found.

Among the recommendations the NTSB made today as a result of the investigation was for Alaska and other states to develop and implement a flight risk evaluation program.

“These brave few take great risks to save those in harm’s way,’’ said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “There needs to be a safety net for them as well.”

Among the Board’s findings was that the Alaska Department of Public Safety (DPS) lacked policies and procedures to ensure that risk was managed, such as formal weather minimums, formal training in night vision goggle operations and having a second person familiar with helicopter rescue operations involved in the go/no-go decision.

During the investigation of this accident, the Board found that the pilot had been involved in a previous accident. The Board found that the DPS’s internal investigation of the earlier accident was too narrowly focused on the pilot and not enough on underlying risks that could have been better managed by the organization.

The Board concluded that DPS had a “punitive culture that impeded the free flow of safety-related information and impaired the organization’s ability to address underlying safety deficiencies relevant to this accident.”

Since 2004, the NTSB has investigated the crashes of 71 public helicopters responsible for 27 deaths and 22 serious injuries.

“Public agencies are not learning the lessons from each other’s accidents,” Hart said. “And the tragic result is that we have seen far too many accidents in public helicopter operations.”

As a result of the investigation, the Board made recommendations to Alaska, 44 additional states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Federal Aviation Administration.”

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The complete NTSB reports on the Alaska accident.