Now that all of the major bushfires in Australia have been knocked down by combined efforts of firefighters and rain, we can look back on one of the busiest fire seasons in Australia’s history.
In September, 2019 before the contracts were awarded, Richard Alder General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) said he expected that there would be approximately 45 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) on national exclusive use contracts in the 2019/2020 bushfire season, plus another six contracted directly to state government agencies. That was 8 less than in 2018/2019. Others could be activated on what we call in the United States Call When Needed agreements.
The SEATs being used in Australia are manufactured by Air Tractor and other companies. Air Tractor sent us information about how their SEATs played a role in battling the fires. Here are some excerpts:
The firefighting effort was a massive undertaking on the ground and in the air. While large airtankers (LATs) did much of the heavy lifting for the recent fires, it is estimated that 65 of the existing 81 Air Tractor AT-802 airplanes in Australia also saw action over the blazes.
The Australian National Aerial Fire Council (NAFC), which oversees the contracting on behalf of the various states, reported they contracted 54 AT-802’s. Four of seven Australia-based AT- 802F Fire Boss amphibious scooper airtankers were also under NAFC contracts. Additionally, some states engaged AT-802 firefighting airplanes on “as-needed” contracts. Sources estimated this accounted for as many as ten additional AT-802s put into service.
Most of the contracted AT-802F aircraft are equipped with the Pratt & Whitney 1,600 SHP PT6A-67F turboprop engine. It powers the airplane at speeds approaching 200 m.p.h. (174 kts.) while ferrying between the fire and its airtanker base or mobile retardant base. In most cases, NAFC-contracted AT-802 airtankers operate in pairs. This tactic multiplies the amount of retardant or suppressant delivered to the incident and reduces time between deliveries. Once over the fire, the AT-802F and Fire Boss deliver their retardant, gel or water with computer-controlled precision to knock down grass and brush fires or suppress fires in heavier canopies.
Australia’s devastating fires kept Air Tractors and the Australian aerial firefighting community working hard this season. Many Air Tractor operators had a slow agricultural spray season as a consequence of the very dry conditions leading up to the fires. And now that heavy rains have quelled the wildfires, AT-802 airplanes may be put into service for habitat restoration. Their 800-gallon capacity hopper, speed, and maneuverability make quick work of hydromulch application or reseeding for erosion control.
On August 14 a Single Engine Air Tanker made a forced hard landing while working on the Horns Mountain Fire in Northern Washington. The pilot was transported to a hospital.
Air Spray USA, Inc, the company that owns the aircraft, stated:
The aircraft experienced an unknown problem on the fire it was working near the US/Canadian border. The pilot executed a forced landing on a logging road and was able to exit the aircraft. He was transported to the hospital. No other information is available at this time. An investigation is in process.
Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said on Twitter that the pilot is OK and receiving medical attention.
KXLY reported that the Department of Natural Resources told them the pilot survived the crash and was able to crawl to a nearby road to get help.
The aircraft was one of five amphibious FireBoss air tankers assigned to the fire Tuesday.
The lightning-caused fire has burned 832 acres in Washington southeast of Christina Lake, BC since it started August 11.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Robert. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
Above: the Air Tractor display at the Aerial Firefighting conference.
Here are a few notes that I scribbled in a notebook at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week. This is Part One — I will post Part Two later.
Mike Schoenau, an Air Tractor dealer out of Tulare, CA, said a new single engine air tanker is being flight tested now. The model name is AT-1002 and will hold up to 1,000 gallons. You will be able to purchase one for yourself for about $2.5 Million.
The Bureau of Land Management has not released their list of SEATs on contract this year, many of which will be the amphibious Fire Boss, a variant of the Air Tractor 802. Fire Boss doesn’t know if they will be converting the new AT-1002 1,000-gallon SEAT to use floats.
Their fourth converted DC-10, Tanker 914, will be ready to fight fire this summer. Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said their approval by the Interagency Airtanker Board came to the end of its six-year term, so they retook the grid test in December. Their three DC-10s averaged about 300 hours on fires in 2017, which is more than usual.
I got into a long detailed conversation with Mr. Hatton about how their retardant delivery system can maintain a constant flow, adjusting for the amount of retardant in the tank, drop height, and speed. It usually drops at 150 knots and 200 feet.
Hours per CL-415
As we reported yesterday, Shawna Legarza, the USFS Director of Fire and Aviation, said the two CL-415 scooping air tankers that were on USFS contract in 2017 each had over 400 hours of fire flight time. Due to a reduction in the firefighting budget, the two scoopers had to be cut this year from the exclusive use list. At least a couple are still on a CWN contract, but they may or may not be available if the USFS Calls them When Needed.
Keith Saylor, Columbia’s Director of Commercial Operations, said the company will have three Type 1 helicopters, CH-47 Chinooks, on exclusive use contract this year. Two have internal tanks and one will use an external bucket.
Shawn Bethel, Conair’s Director, International Business Development, said the external tank on the Q400 can be removed in about three hours by 9 to 12 workers. They recently received a contract to supply six Q400’s to France’s Securite Civile (Department of Civil Defense and Emergency Preparedness).
The Q400 MR can carry up to 10,000 liters (2,600 gallons) of water or retardant. In addition to the nine S-2’s and two Q-400’s, France also has twelve CL-415’s and 40 helicopters.
Above: Aero Spray’s Tanker 210 makes a demonstration drop in San Diego County on June 22. Screen grab from San Diego Fire-Rescue’s video.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department will have the free use of an amphibious Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss single engine air tanker for about six weeks this summer. They worked out a deal with Aero Spray to have the aircraft available through the end of July. (The Aero Spray company should not be confused with Aero-Flite, Aero Tech, or Air Spray — all are different outfits.)
…hoist-air rescue, short-haul air rescue, shoreline rescue, helicopter swiftwater rescue, night vision goggle operations, patient transport, vehicle rescue, large animal rescue, fire mapping, infrared detection, disaster assessment, and have the ability to assist in high-rise fire incidents.
Joanna Clark, with Aero Spray’s communication firm, told us that three lakes have been approved as scooping sites, Lower Otay Lake, Sweetwater Reservoir, and Lake Hodges.
The Aero Spray Fire Boss can carry up to 800 gallons of water it scoops from a lake. It has a thermal infrared system to assist the pilot in targeting hot spots. Jamie Sargent from the company said half of their nine Fire Bosses have blending systems for mixing gel into the water to increase its effectiveness.
The arrangement between the City and Aero Spray was announced June 22 at Lower Otay Lake where a Fire Boss made demonstration drops for the media, as seen in the video below.
Northwest Territories has awarded a contract to Buffalo Airways to operate their eight new Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers. The government of the NWT inherited six CL-215 piston-powered scooper air tankers. They are being replaced by the FireBoss scoopers at a cost of about $26 million. Buffalo Airways scored a five-year contract to operate the new turbine-powered SEATs.
The FireBoss is amphibious, able to take off from a runway and land or scoop water on a lake.
Buffalo Airways previously operated the CL-215s for NWT. In their own fleet the company has eight air tankers: a Lockheed Electra, three Douglas DC-4s, and four CL-215s. As far as we know they have not yet starting operating the P3 they bought in 2014 as an air tanker. The last we heard it was receiving some maintenance in Florida.
In the last few weeks the U.S. Forest Service has brought on ten additional air tankers on a temporary basis. This includes CL-415 water-scoopers, CV-580’s, and Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130’s. Two of the aircraft were acquired through Call When Needed (CWN) agreements; four via agreements with Alaska and Canada; two MAFFS through an agreement with the Department of Defense; and two water scoopers through other contracts.
The U.S. Forest Service expects to have two HC-130H aircraft at McClellan Air Field in September. These are part of the seven aircraft fleet of HC-130H’s that the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard.
Last year one of the HC-130H’s worked out of McClellan using a MAFFS, a slip-in 3,000-gallon pressurized retardant system that pumps the liquid out the left side troop door. That was aircraft #1721 designated as Tanker 118, still painted in military colors. T-118 is now undergoing scheduled depot-level maintenance and should be replaced in September of this year by #1708 designated as Tanker 116. It will also use a slip-in MAFFS unit, one of the eight owned by the USFS, but should be sporting a new USFS air tanker paint job. After T-118 left, another former Coast Guard aircraft took its place, #1706. It is being used for training the contracted pilots and will not serve as an air tanker.
Eventually the USFS hopes to have all seven converted to air tankers with removable retardant tanks. A contract for the installation of the retardant delivery systems was awarded to the Coulson Group in May. There is also much other work that has to be completed on the aircraft including programmed depot maintenance, painting, and wing box replacement on most of them. The work is being done or coordinated by the U.S. Air Force. They were directed by Congressional legislation to use their own funds, up to $130 million, so it is no surprise that the schedule keeps slipping as delays continue to occur in awarding contracts and scheduling the maintenance.
The USFS has two water-scooping CL-415 air tankers on exclusive use contract. As noted above they recently temporarily brought on two more on a call when needed basis. All four are operated by AeroFlite and as seen in the photo above were together at Cody last week.
There was some discussion in the comment section of another article on Fire Aviation about the status of the BAe-146 aircraft being converted to air tankers by Air Spray. The company has five of the 146’s; two are out of the country and the other three are at the company’s Chico, California facility. Ravi Saip, their Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told Fire Aviation that they expect to begin flight testing one of them in air tanker mode around the first of the year. After they receive a supplemental type certificate from the FAA, work on the second one would shift into high gear. Then conversion of the other three would begin.
Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 single engine air tankers that they have purchased since 2014. Five of them have received the amphibious conversion by adding floats, and the other three are stock, restricted to wheels.
Air Spray’s Tanker 498, an L-188 Electra, is currently in Sacramento being inspected and carded by CAL FIRE so that it can be used in a Call When Needed capacity.
Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, told us that the FAA has awarded a supplemental type certificate for their reborn 747 SuperTanker — a major and sometimes very difficult barrier to overcome. Within the next two weeks they expect to receive the airworthiness certificate.
Beginning next week representatives from the USFS will observe some additional static tests and then there will be an airborne descent test, a new test added in 2013, releasing retardant in a downhill drop. That test was not required when Version 1.0 of the 747 was certified. It may have been added after it was discovered that the first BAe-146’s that were converted and issued contracts still retained hundreds of gallons of retardant after downhill runs.
These steps should take less than two weeks, Mr. Wheeler said, after which they will submit the results to the Interagency AirTanker Board.
Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told Fire Aviation that the company was offered an opportunity to submit a proposal for a call when needed contract solicitation in 2015, along with numerous other companies, but declined to do so. Their next opportunity to obtain a contract will be when another general solicitation is issued in 2017, or perhaps sooner, Ms. Jones said. The agency issued a Request for Information a few weeks ago, which is usually followed some months later with an actual solicitation.
Judging from the list of CWN air tankers with contracts, apparently it is possible to submit a proposal and receive a USFS CWN contract even if the aircraft exists mostly on paper and could be years away from being FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board certified.
In the meantime Mr. Wheeler realizes that the USFS is not the only organization that hires air tankers and has been talking with a number of other agencies in various states and countries as well as companies involved in marine firefighting.
Global SuperTanker is in the process of finishing repairs on the 747 in Arizona after some of the composite flight control surfaces (flaps, spoilers, elevators) and engine cowlings were damaged by golf ball sized hail at Colorado Springs several weeks ago. There was no windscreen or fuselage damage.
Mr. Wheeler said that was the first severe hailstorm within the last seven years at the Colorado Springs airport. But, after the aircraft left to be repaired in Arizona a second hailstorm struck the airport that some have said was a 100-year event and did much more damage than the first one.
Since then no decisions have been made. Ms. Jones told Fire Aviation:
The U.S. Forest Service continues to cooperate with the Department of Defense to identify potential federal facilities, which must be considered first.
It is unlikely that more than one or two of the seven HC-130H’s would be at the new base at at any one time, except during the winter when they would not have to be dispersed around the country to be available for firefighting. While the base might not be a huge expansion of the aerial firefighting capabilities in an area, the stationing of the flight crews, maintenance, and administrative personnel would be a boost to the economy of a small or medium-sized city.
Four of the water scoopers made practice drops on Tuesday.
The Chico ER has an article about four of Air Spray’s 802F Fire Boss air tankers making training drops at Black Butte Lake prior to be deployed around the western United States. You can access the article HERE, which has a gallery of photos.
Air Spray, which is headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, has had a facility at the Chico, California airport since 2012, where they are converting BAe-146 airliners into air tankers. They also work on their single engine air tankers there.