Air tankers in Tucson’s Pima Air & Space Museum

Grumman AF-2S
Grumman AF-2S in the Pima Air Museum. Photo by Steve Stenkamp.

Steve Stenkamp sent us these photos he took at the Pima Air & Space Museum last March. “It’s an excellent way to spend 3-4 hours,” he said.

Thanks Steve!

C-123
C-123 in the Pima Air Museum. Photo by Steve Stenkamp.
P-2V
P2V-7 in the Pima Air Museum. Photo by Steve Stenkamp.
DC-7B
DC-7B in the Pima Air Museum. Photo by Steve Stenkamp.
C-119C
C-119C in the Pima Air Museum. Photo by Steve Stenkamp.

Over 400 historic aircraft are on display at the museum that encompasses 80 acres of exhibits.

We grabbed this photo of the museum from Google Earth:

Pima Air and Space Museum
Pima Air and Space Museum. Google Earth, August 18, 2018.

If you go:

Location: 6000 E Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85756
Tickets: $10 to $16
Website: pimaair.org

It is just south of Davis-Monthan AFB AMARG Facility and the military aircraft “boneyard” with over 4,400 planes in storage. From the Pima Museum you can board a bus to tour the boneyard but you have to apply for a security clearance at least 10 business days in advance of the desired tour date. You can apply for the clearance up to 90 days in advance.

Reports released about the helicopter that crashed on the Polles Fire in Arizona

The pilot was killed in the July 7, 2020 accident west of Payson

Polles Fire vicinity map
Polles Fire vicinity map

On July 7, 2020 a UH-1H helicopter crashed while transporting supplies to firefighters who were spiked out (camping) while working on the Polles Fire about 10 miles west of Payson, Arizona. The only person on board, pilot Bryan Jeffery “BJ” Boatman, 37 of Litchfield Park, Arizona was killed. We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Boatman, and to the forestry technicians who were at the fire.

Bryan Jeffery “BJ” Boatman
Bryan Jeffery “BJ” Boatman

BJ was born on June 8, 1983 in Provo, Utah. He was a third-generation pilot and worked alongside his parents to build their company, Airwest Helicopters of Glendale, Arizona.

3-D map of the Polles Fire from data at 10:36 p.m. July 7, 2020
3-D map of the Polles Fire from data at 10:36 p.m. July 7, 2020; looking north.

The helicopter, N623PB, serial number 64-13689, was manufactured in 1964. It is a UH-1H registered to Aero Leasing in Glendale, Arizona, the same city where Air West Helicopters is located.

Polles Fire - Payson helicopter crash fatality
Airwest Helicopters photo, N623PB.

Two reports have been released, a brief preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board, and a 23-page facilitated learning analysis (FLA) commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service.

The FLA is solely devoted to analyzing the response to the accident — the Incident Within an Incident and the actions taken in the following days. It does not address what caused the helicopter to crash. The report found very little to criticize and praised most of the actions that were taken. It goes into quite a bit of detail about how the fire’s Incident Management Team handled the emergency response during the first few hours, as well as organizing over the next several days to care for BJ’s family and the forestry technicians that were involved.

Anyone who could in the future find themselves in a similar unfortunate situation would benefit from reading the FLA. Firefighting is dangerous, and others will have to walk the same path.

During a 49-day period that began July 7, 2020 there were six crashes of firefighting aircraft — three helicopters and three air tankers. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Below is the text from the narrative portion of the three-page NTSB report. The complete report which will analyze the cause, might be released within the next year.


“On July 7, 2020, about 1213 mountain standard time, a Bell/Garlick UH-1H helicopter, N623PB, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Payson, Arizona. The pilot was fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 external load flight.

Illustration from the NTSB report
Figure 1: Depiction of helicopter flight path based on witness statements. From the NTSB preliminary report.

“The helicopter was owned by Airwest Helicopters LLC and operated by the United States Forest Service at the time of the accident. According to witnesses, the helicopter was transporting supplies using a long line for a hotshot firefighting crew that were repositioning on the ground. The pilot transported three loads to the new destination uneventfully prior to the accident and had been using an indirect route to the north to avoid a fire area (Figure 1). While transporting the fourth load, witnesses observed the helicopter begin to fly erratically while en route to its destination. During this time, a witness stated that he observed the helicopter enter a high nose-up pitch attitude and the external payload began to swing. The helicopter then displayed irregular movements for several seconds before the external payload settled and the helicopter appeared to stabilize. However, after about 3 seconds, multiple witnesses observed the helicopter wobble and bank erratically before it entered a steep nose up attitude and then descended rapidly. The witnesses did not observe the helicopter on fire during the accident flight, nor did the pilot report any anomalies over the helicopter crew’s common air-to-ground radio frequency or any other assigned frequencies for the fire.

“The helicopter wreckage came to rest about 0.5 nm north of its drop off destination, oriented on a heading of 074° magnetic and was mostly consumed by postcrash fire. All major structural components of the helicopter were accounted for at the accident site. The helicopter’s external payload was found 123 ft southeast of the main wreckage.

“The wreckage was retained for further examination.”

New hybrid quad-rotor UAS is being used on fires this summer

It can stay aloft for 12 hours mapping the fire and providing real-time video

FVR-90 hybrid Unmanned Aerial System
FVR-90 hybrid Unmanned Aerial System. Bridger Aerospace photo. (N171RE)

Bridger Aerospace has been operating an unmanned aerial system (UAS) on wildfires this year that first went into production in 2019 built by L3 Latitude Engineering. Their FVR-90 Hybrid quadrotor vertical take-off and landing unmanned aircraft has four rotors and a pushing propeller that can stay aloft for 12 hours. Orbiting over a fire above other aircraft at 12,000 feet it can use standard visual video cameras or heat-sensing infrared technology to monitor and map fires in real time.

In June the system was used on the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona, flying all night to map the perimeter and monitor spread of the fire. The next morning the UAS crew gave briefings to the Operations personnel so they could be armed with the latest intelligence.

Unlike drones that need a catapult to take off or a net to be recaptured, the FVR-90 can use the electrically-powered rotors to take off and then engage the gasoline-powered propeller for forward flight.

The Ravalli Republic has an interesting article about the aircraft being used this week on the Cinnabar Fire southeast of Missoula, Montana. Firefighters on the Sawtooth Fire made an 80-second video about the use of the aircraft in Arizona.

FVR-90 hybrid UAS
FVR-90 hybrid UAS. L3 Latitude Engineering photo.
FVR-90 hybrid UAS
FVR-90 UAS taking off at the Cinnabar Fire, August 30, 2020. (N151RE) InciWeb.
Bridger Aerospace
Bridger Aerospace’s UAS at the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona, 2020. The map was produced using data collected by the aircraft overnight. Bridger Aerospace image.

Preliminary information released about fatal helicopter crash in Arizona

Bryan Jeffrey Boatman
Bryan J. Boatman

The U.S. Forest Service has released preliminary information about the helicopter crash in which pilot Bryan Jeffrey Boatman, 37, was killed.

It occurred on the Polles Fire in central Arizona when Mr. Boatman was approaching a helispot delivering supplies by long line to firefighters in a remote area.

He was the only person on board the aircraft.

Below is the narrative from the Forest Service’s Preliminary Brief:

Narrative: On Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at approximately 1216 MST, a UH-1H helicopter, N623PB, impacted terrain with one occupant on board. The aircraft was performing long-line cargo delivery operations in support of fire suppression on the Tonto National Forest when the mishap occurred. The aircraft was under exclusive use contract with the USFS.

The NTSB investigation into this accident is ongoing. At this time, there are no indications of immediate safety concerns with other similar make/model of aircraft. All matters related to public information must be disseminated through the NTSB.

Mr. Boatman flew for Airwest Helicopters out of Glendale, Arizona. He leaves behind his wife Elizabeth Marie Boatman and his 8-year old daughter Claire Elizabeth Boatman. The family chose to hold a private funeral service. Donations in his memory may be made to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (wffoundation.org).

UH-1H N623PB
UH-1H N623PB. Training in 2016. Photo: Jose Navarro.

Pilot killed in helicopter crash near Payson, Arizona

The helicopter was transporting supplies for firefighters in a remote area

(Updated at 8:35 p.m. MDT July 7, 2020)

July 7, 2020 helicopter crash
General area of the July 7, 2020 helicopter crash. ABC15 image.

Officials from the Tonto National Forest confirmed that a helicopter crashed July 7 while working on the Polles Fire in central Arizona. The only person on board was the pilot, who was deceased. He was identified in a press conference as Bryan Boatman, 37, with Airwest Helicopters out of Glendale, Arizona. He leaves behind a wife and 8-year-old child.

The Chief of the Pine-Strawberry Fire District said the pilot’s wife arrived at the Payson Airport as the body was being retrieved from the accident scene.

The helicopter crashed while transporting supplies for hand crews north of the main fire in a remote area only accessible on foot or by helicopter. After the crash was reported to the fire’s Incident Commander at 12:22 p.m. Tuesday, a Sergeant with the Sheriff’s office was transported to the scene by short haul, suspended on a rope under a helicopter. He and others began the process of the investigation and removing the pilot’s remains.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the UH-1H helicopter went down about 10 miles west of Payson.

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) was issued at the Payson airport due to the crash, Airport Coordinator Dennis Dueker said, grounding all flights in the area.

As of Monday night the Polles Fire had burned 580 acres 11 miles west of Payson, Arizona.

The Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT) #2 led by John Pierson assumed command of the fire July 6 at 6 a.m.

Six hotshot crews and three other hand crews are working in conditions described by the incident management team as extreme. They have been working shifts late into the evening for the last few nights, spiked out in remote locations relying on helicopters to fly in their food, drinking water, and supplies.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot, and the firefighters that were working on the Polles Fire.

Map helicopter crash Arizona Payson Polles Fire
Map showing heat detected on the Polles Fire by satellites at 2:06 a.m. MDT July 7, 2020.

Helicopters refill tanks at golf course while battling Central Fire north of Phoenix

N7095B, a Sikorsky CH-54A Skycrane fire wildfire
N7095B, a Sikorsky CH-54A Skycrane from Siller Helicopters, drafts from the Rancho Manana Golf Club en route to fight the Central Fire burning in the Tonto National Forest near New River, AZ on June 21, 2020. Photo by John Hall.

John Hall took these photos yesterday of skycranes refilling their tanks at a golf course while fighting the Central Fire east of New River, Arizona, 35 miles north of Phoenix.  You can see more of his photos on Instagram (@jdhimg).

Thanks John!

Skycrane “Isabelle” N178AC, a Sikorsky S-64F fire wildfire
Skycrane “Isabelle” N178AC, a Sikorsky S-64F from Erickson Incorporated fills her 2,500 gallon tank at the Rancho Manana Golf Club while fighting the nearby Central Fire burning in the Tonto National Forest near New River, AZ on June 21, 2020. Photo by John Hall.

Air Tanker 914 drops on the Central Fire north of Phoenix

The fire is 4 miles east of Interstate 17 near New River

Air Tanker 914 DC-10 drops retardant Central Fire Arizona Phoenix
Air Tanker 914, a DC-10, drops retardant on the Central Fire, June 20, 2020. Photo by JDH Images.

John Hall of JDH Images took these excellent photos of Air Tanker 914, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Central Fire at about 5 p.m. June 20, 2020.

Mr. Hall told me that he was a firefighter 18 years ago. You can see more of his photos on Instagram (@jdhimg).

The fire has burned about 2,000 acres east of New River, Arizona. Wildfire Today has more information about the Central Fire.

Air Tanker 914 DC-10 drops retardant Central Fire Arizona Phoenix
Air Tanker 914, a DC-10, drops retardant on the Central Fire, June 20, 2020. Photo by JDH Images.
Air Tanker 914 DC-10 drops retardant Central Fire Arizona Phoenix
Air Tanker 914, a DC-10, drops retardant on the Central Fire, June 20, 2020. Photo by JDH Images.
Air Tanker 914 DC-10 drops retardant Central Fire Arizona Phoenix
Retardant dropped by Air Tanker 914, a DC-10, on the Central Fire, June 20, 2020. Photo by JDH Images.

(UPDATE at 4:38 p.m. MDT June 2, 2020)

I asked Mr. Hall if the retardant line created by the DC-10 Saturday held the fire. He said:

I drove by on New River Road yesterday and it looked like that retardant line held.  It kept the fire from spreading laterally, but it *raced* up the steep slope vertically and then crested onto the New River Mesa.  They’ve been chasing it up top since then. I don’t recall seeing any fire burn through any of the retardant lines on Saturday.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Photos of aircraft working the Bighorn Fire near Tucson

As of June 17 the fire had burned over 31,000 acres five miles north of the city

Bighorn Fire RJ85
An RJ85 operated by Aero Flite. Ned Harris photo.

Ned Harris sent us these excellent photos of air tankers and helicopters assisting firefighters on the Bighorn Fire, which as of yesterday had burned over 31,000 acres five miles north of Tucson, Arizona. Thanks Ned!

More information about the Bighorn Fire is at Wildfire Today.

Chinook Bighorn Fire
Billings Helicopters and Heligroup Chinooks. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 164, an RJ85
Tanker 164, an RJ85 operated by Aero Flite. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 105 Tanker 10 BAe-146
Tanker 105 (foreground), an MD-87 (N295EA) operated by Erickson Aero Tanker, and Tanker 10, a BAe-146 (N472NA) operated by Neptune Aviation. Ned Harris photo.
Sikorsky UH-60A Bighorn Fire
A Sikorsky UH-60A operated by Coulson/Unical. N160CD. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 910, a DC-10
Tanker 910, a DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier drops on the Bighorn Fire. N612AX. Ned Harris photo.