CAL FIRE’s Tanker 119 is sporting new livery

Tanker 119
Tanker 119 at McClellan, shortly after getting new paint. Photo by Mike McKeig November 20, 2020.

Mike McKeig sent us an excellent photo of CAL FIRE’s Tanker 119 taken after the aircraft received a new paint job.

This is at least the third of seven HC-130H aircraft the agency is getting from the Coast Guard that have been painted in CAL FIRE livery. The plan is for all seven to receive internal gravity-powered retardant tanks so they can be used as air tankers. In May we had photos of Tankers 116 and 118.

The rudder on T-118 was also one of the last components to be painted, like T-119 at the top of the article.

A new contract awarded to DynCorp specifies that in addition to maintaining and supplying pilots for CAL FIRE’s fleet of S-2T air tankers, they will do the same for the HC-130H tankers.

Here is a “before” photo of T-119:

T-119 McClellan 5-5-2020
T-119, an HC-130H, was seen at McClellan May 5, 2020. Photo by John Vogel.

Below are Tankers 118 and 116:

CAL Fire air tanker 118 C-130
CAL FIRE air tanker 118 at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Photographed by John Vogel March 4, 2020.
CAL Fire air tanker 116 C-130
CAL FIRE air tanker 116 at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Photographed by John Vogel March 4, 2020.

Video of 3,000-gallon drop from CH-47 Chinook

CH-47 Chinook 3,000-gallon water drop
CH-47 Chinook 3,000-gallon water drop November 17, 2020. Image from OCFA video.

A CH-47 Chinook Very Large Helitanker (VLHT) with night-flying capability operated by Coulson Aviation is working under an 83-day contract in collaboration with Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).

Registered as N42CU, the Chinook is crewed 24/7 and available for responses day and night within the 15 counties served by SCE. The daily availability costs of $2.1 million for the contract period are being paid by SCE, while the hourly costs will be covered by the agencies responsible for the fire protection where the fires occur.

The Chinook is based at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Orange County. It can fill it’s 3,000-gallon internal tank while on the ground, or while hovering over a water or retardant source using its retractable snorkel hose.

To the best of our knowledge, here are the maximum capacities of firefighting helicopters, in gallons:

CH-47 Chinook   3,000
S-64 Air-Crane   2,650
S-70i Firehawk    1,000
CH-107   1,000
S-61    1,000
UH 60    900 or 1,000?
K-Max    700 or less
214-B    660
212    359
412EP    375

DynCorp receives contract to continue work on CAL FIRE aircraft

DynCorp maintenance facility at Sacramento McClellan Airport
DynCorp maintenance facility at Sacramento McClellan Airport, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

DynCorp International (DI) has been awarded a new contract to continue supporting the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) aviation program. Work will be performed at McClellan Park in Sacramento, California and aircraft are deployed across 13 air tactical and 10 helitack bases throughout the State.

The competitively awarded contract has a three-year base period with two one-year options for a total potential value of $352 million, subject to legislative appropriation.

DI team members will continue to provide line to depot-level maintenance on CAL FIRE’s fleet of 57 aircraft including S-2T air tankers, OV-10A aircraft, UH-1H helicopters, S-70i helicopters, and A-200CT King Air training aircraft. DI also provides full flight operations, with pilots, for CAL FIRE’s fixed-wing fleet of aerial firefighting aircraft including the new-to-them HC-130H aircraft that are in the process of being converted from Coast Guard missions to firefighting air tankers with internal gravity-powered retardant tanks. Pilots for the helicopters are CAL FIRE employees.

Aircraft maintenance services include repair, overhaul, modification, and manufacturing of airframes, engines, propellers, helicopter rotating components, and various aircraft parts and components.

OV-10
A lineup of CAL FIRE OV-10 air attack ships at Sacramento McClellan Airport, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Former Carson Helicopters Vice President requests release from prison, fearing COVID-19

Steven Metheny’s falsification of records for a helicopter led to the deaths of nine firefighters and crew members in 2008

Carson Helicopters

This article was first published at Wildfire Today.

Steven Metheny, 50, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters has requested compassionate release from prison because he fears he will contract COVID-19 while serving time in the federal prison in Lompoc, California.

He filed the request in October and on November 2 Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter wrote in a response, “The mere existence of COVID, without more, is not sufficient to justify compassionate release.” Potter argued that Metheny’s weight is the only eligible health condition that increases his risk of COVID-19. “But, obesity alone should not result in defendant’s release,” Potter wrote.

Mr. Metheny’s falsification of records for a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter under contract to the U.S. Forest Service led to the deaths of nine firefighters and crew members in 2008.

Mr. Metheny was accused of falsifying performance charts and the weights of helicopters his company had under contract to the U.S. Forest Service for supporting wildland fire operations. As of a result of his fraud, a Carson helicopter crashed while trying to lift off with too much weight from a remote helispot on the Iron 44 Fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California in 2008. He was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in prison in 2015 for attempting to defraud the government out of more than $32 million and has been serving time in Lompoc, California.

Nine people were killed, including the pilot-in-command, a U.S. Forest Service check pilot, and seven firefighters. The copilot and three firefighters were seriously injured.

Mr. Metheny went to great lengths after the crash to attempt to conceal the fraud. When he knew that investigators would be examining the company’s operations, he directed other employees to remove weight from other similar helicopters, including taking off a fuel cell and replacing a very heavy battery with an empty shell of a battery. Some of the employees refused to participate in that deception, with one explaining that he was done lying about the helicopter’s weight.

During the trial in 2014 defense lawyer Steven Myers argued that the helicopter pilot could have avoided the crash by doing a standard maneuver on takeoff, where the pilot hovers and checks his gauges.

Judge Aiken who presided over the trial dismissed that argument, noting her father had flown helicopters in the Korean War, crashing 13 times. “Whether the gauges were right or not, the pilot didn’t have the right information,” Aiken told Mr. Metheny.

In June, 2020 the same judge refused to reduce Mr. Metheny’s sentence when he argued he had ineffective counsel. He said he would not have pleaded guilty in 2014 if his attorney had told him that crash victims were going to be allowed to testify at his sentencing, or that he’d be ordered to repay tens of millions of dollars in restitution upon release from prison. Judge Aiken called Mr. Metheny’s claims that his defense lawyer made false promises “palpably incredible.”

The next hearing on Mr. Metheny’s motion for compassionate release is a phone conference scheduled for November 13 in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon.

Killed in the crash were pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54; USFS check pilot Jim Ramage, 63; and firefighters Shawn Blazer, 30; Scott Charlson, 25; Matthew Hammer, 23; Edrik Gomez, 19; Bryan Rich, 29; David Steele, 19; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21. The copilot and three other firefighters were seriously injured.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Pat and Kelly.

A look at the Ventura County helicopters

Ventura County helicopter
The first time that Ventura County Copter 2 was used on a wildfire, June 10, 2020. Photo by John Carman.

Ventura County, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, has an air unit which is a cooperative enterprise of the Fire District and the Sheriff’s Office. The unit has four Bell UH-1 helicopters and one Bell Long Ranger. In addition, they purchased three military HH-60L Blackhawk helicopters in order to convert them into FIREHAWKS to be used for fighting wildland fires, personnel transport, search and rescue, law enforcement, and medical evacuation.

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
Ventura County Copter 5. Ventura County is converting military HH-60L Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS. VCSO photo, Capt. Romano Bassi January, 2019
Ventura County helicopter
Ventura County Copter 8. Photo by Ventura County Air Unit
Ventura County helicopter
Ventura County Copter 8. Photo by Ventura County Air Unit
Ventura County helicopter
Ventura County Copters 6, 8, 9, and 2. Photo by Ventura County Air Unit
Ventura County helicopter
Ventura County Copter 3. Photo by Ventura County Air Unit

Night-flying Chinook begins fire contract in Orange County, California

October 2, 2020 | 3:12 p.m. PDT

N42CU Coulson CH-47 Chinook helicopter
Coulson’s CH-47 Chinook N42CU. Coulson photo.

A 3,000-gallon night-flying firefighting helicopter is available starting today October 1 in Southern California.

The CH-47 Chinook Very Large Helitanker (VLHT) operated by Coulson Aviation is working under an 83-day contract in collaboration with Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).

Registered as N42CU, the night-flying Chinook will be crewed 24/7 and available for responses day and night within the 15 counties served by SCE. The daily availability costs of $2.1 million for the contract period are being paid by SCE, while the hourly costs will be covered by the agencies responsible for the fire protection where the fires occur.

The Chinook will be based at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Orange County. It can fill it’s 3,000-gallon internal tank while on the ground, or while hovering over a water or retardant source using its retractable snorkel hose.

As a comparison, the two Orange County Fire Authority Bell 412EP helicopters are capable of dropping up to 375-gallons. Water capacities of other helicopters: Bell 214B, 660 gallons;  K-MAX, 700 gallons; FireHawk S-70i, 1,000 gallons; and S-64 Skycrane, 2,650 gallons.

RADS tank N42CU Coulson CH-47 Chinook helicopter
The RADS internal 3,000-gallon tank in Coulson’s CH-47 Chinook, N42CU. Coulson photo.

In 2019 the OCFA also had an arrangement with SCE for a 24/7 night flying helicopter. In that case Coulson supplied an S-61 capable of 1,000 gallons and, a Sikorsky S-76 to provide intelligence, evaluate effectiveness, and identify targets with a laser designator. This year the contract is just for one helicopter, the CH-47 Chinook.

N42CU Coulson CH-47 Chinook helicopter
Coulson’s CH-47 Chinook N42CU. Coulson photo.

Russian plane transports three fire engines from New Jersey to California

September 13, 2020 | 9:05 a.m. PDT

Antonov-124-100 transports New Jersey engine to California
An Antonov-124-100 transported three New Jersey fire engines to California. Photo: San Francisco Fire Department, September 12, 2020.

An Antonov-124-100 transported three New Jersey Forest Fire Service engines and 10 firefighters to San Francisco on Saturday.

Volga Dnepr operates 12 of the aircraft.

Antonov-124-100 transports New Jersey engine to California
An Antonov-124-100 transports New Jersey fire engines to California. NFFS photo by Michael Achey.
Antonov-124-100 transports New Jersey engine to California
An Antonov-124-100 transported New Jersey fire engines to California. Photo: San Francisco Fire Department, September 12, 2020.

And, speaking of very large airplanes, the image below is a screenshot from a great video on Helga Desclouox’s Facebook page of a DC-10 dropping on the Almeda Fire in Southern Oregon, September 8, 2020.

DC-10 dropping Almeda Fire Oregon September 8 2020
DC-10 dropping on the Almeda Fire in southern Oregon. Screenshot from video by Helga Descloux.

The image above of a DC-10 dropping on the Almeda Fire in southern Oregon is a screenshot from a video on Helga Desclouox’s Facebook page.

 

It was “by far the toughest flying I have ever done”, said helicopter pilot about rescuing trapped people at the Creek Fire

Over 300 were rescued

rescued by California National Guard helicopter
Civilians in a Chinook that were rescued by a California National Guard helicopter and crew. CNG photo.

As of noon Tuesday, California National Guard and U.S. Navy helicopters had rescued 362 people and 16 dogs that had become trapped as roads were blocked by the fast moving Creek Fire northeast of Fresno, California. Civilians extracted from the Edison Lake and China Peak areas were flown to the Fresno airport in Blackhawks, Chinooks, and a Navy Seahawk.

Rescued people arrive at Fresno Creek Fire
People who were rescued from the Creek Fire arrive at Fresno airport September 8, 2020. California National Guard image.

Examples of their missions Tuesday at Lake Edison:

  • A Stockton-based Cal Guard Ch-47 chinook evacuated 46 people and four dogs.
  • A U.S. Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter rescued 17 people and one dog.
  • Two Cal Guard UH-60 Black Hawks and one CH-47 Chinook rescued 65 people.

Not all of the attempts to rescue people were immediately successful. On some missions poor visibility caused by smoke forced pilots to abort and try again later. Some of the flights were at night and were accomplished with the assistance of night vision goggles.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Creek Fire click HERE.)

One of the helicopter pilots said in an interview posted at the Sacramento Bee (below) that he has been shot at while flying for the Army but, “[T]he stress and added workload of going in and out of that fire every time is by far the toughest flying I have ever done.”

Map of the Creek Fire
Map of the Creek Fire at 8:41 p.m. PDT September 7, 2020.