Three flying boxcars at Hemet-Ryan tanker base

Looking back at 1981

Three C-119s Ryan 1981
Three C-119s at Hemet-Ryan Air Tanker Base in 1981. Front to back, Tanker 81 (N13743), T-87 (N13746), and T-82 (N13745). Photo by Steve Whitby.

Steve Whitby took this photo in 1981 at Hemet-Ryan Air Tanker Base in southern California. Three of Hemet Valley Flying Service’s Fairchild C-119s are lined up in the pits where they are loaded with fire retardant for assisting firefighters on wildfires.

Steve said he’s been scanning negatives he took 39 years ago. Keep up the good work, Steve!

The last C-119 in line is T-82 (N13745) which was advertised by GSA as scrap for sale. It apparently sold for $10,400 February 1, 2016.

Tanker 82 C-119
C-119. Tanker 82 (N13745). GSA photo, possibly in 2016.

Judge refuses to reduce sentence for fatal crash on Iron 44 Fire

Seven firefighters and two pilots were killed in the 2008 helicopter crash

Carson Helicopters

A judge has refused to reduce the sentence for Steven Metheny, 50, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters whose 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.

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.

Below is an excerpt from a June 16, 2020 article in the Mail Tribune:

…[Metheny] argued last year that he wouldn’t have pleaded guilty in November 2014 to a count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Medford for lying about helicopter weight limits — which caused the Aug. 5, 2008, Iron 44 crash near Weaverville, California — had he known 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.

In a 13-page court order filed May 27, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken denied Metheny’s motion to vacate or correct his June 2015 sentence, saying it doesn’t match Metheny’s allegations of ineffective counsel by his defense lawyer, Steven Meyers, nor does it match the court record.

Judge Aiken also presided over Metheny’s trial.

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 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 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 Metheny.

The Forest Service awarded contracts to Carson, including option years, amounting to over $51,000,000. Carson received $18,831,891.12 prior to the FS canceling the contracts.

Levi Phillips, 45, the former maintenance chief of Carson Helicopters, agreed to cooperate with authorities in the case against Mr. Metheny and pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud. He was sentenced to 25 months in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised probation.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there was “intentional wrong-doing” by Carson Helicopters that under-stated the weight of the helicopter and over-stated its performance in the documents they provided to the U.S. Forest Service when bidding on their firefighting contract. The NTSB estimated that the actual empty weight of the helicopter was 13,845 pounds, while Carson Helicopters stated in their contract proposal that the weight was 12,013 pounds. For the purpose of load calculations on the day of the crash, the pilot assumed the weight to be 12,408 pounds, which was 1,437 pounds less than the actual weight estimated by the NTSB. According to the NTSB, for the mission of flying the firefighters off the helispot that day, the helicopter was already over the allowable weight even without the firefighters on board.

In Mr. Metheny’s plea agreement there was an admission that the helicopters had not actually been weighed.

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 Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Photos of firefighting aircraft on the Elizabeth Fire in southern California

Elizabeth Fire helicopter
This is a new-to-them HH-60L Blackhawk operated by the Ventura County Fire Department.

Jay Widdows sent us these photos he shot June 10 on the Elizabeth Fire north of the city of Ventura in southern California. The fire burned 289 acres. Thanks Jay!

Elizabeth Fire helicopter
Bell 205A-1, Coastal Helicopters.
Elizabeth Fire dozer
This photo by the Ventura County FD is included here to provide a glimpse of the terrain and vegetation.
Elizabeth Fire helicopter
Los Angeles County Firehawk.
Coulson Air Tanker 137
, a B-737.
CAL FIRE's Air Tanker 78
CAL FIRE’s Air Tanker 78, an S2-T
Elizabeth Fire dozer
A Ventura County Fire Department EH-1H.

Firefighters suppress Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California

photo Lakeville Fire Petaluma Calif
Photo of the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California, June 5, 2020. Photo by CAL FIRE.

(This article first appeared on WildfireToday)

Yesterday the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California burned about 141 acres before being suppressed by firefighters assisted by air tankers. The origin of the fire was near the 4500 block of Lakeville Highway.

Map Lakeville Fire Petaluma Calif
Map showing the location of the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California, June 5, 2020. Wildfire Today/Google Earth.

If the firefighters in the photo below (at top/right) are carrying drip torches as it appears, they may be burning out from a retardant line to consume the fuel between the retardant and an already burned area.

More photos on Twitter.

LA County Firehawk loses engine, makes precautionary landing

All four personnel onboard safely on the ground

LA County Firehawk helicopters
LA County Firehawk helicopters, photo by Bill Gabbert, Jan. 26, 2020.

It was first called an “emergency landing” by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, but was later downgraded to a “precautionary landing.”

LA County Firehawk helicopter Precautionary Landing

Another Firehawk arrives at McClellan

A Sikorsky S-70i is added to CAL FIRE’s fleet

Helicopter 205 at McClellan
Helicopter 205 at McClellan. Photo by John Vogel 5-21-2020.

Another new Sikorsky S-70i Firehawk has been delivered to CAL FIRE’s base at Sacramento McClellan Airport. John Vogel spotted it May 21, two weeks after Paul Filmer photographed it being flight tested at the Centennial, Colorado Airport. It is helicopter 205, N485DF, and “VINA” can be seen near the engines.

Thanks John!

News from the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento

aerial firefighting Conference Keynotes MCC
Keynote addresses. Tangent Link photo.

The two-day Aerial Firefighting North America conference just wrapped up at Sacramento McClellan Airport in Sacramento. It began Tuesday with a series of keynote and welcoming addresses delivered by Chief Thom Porter, Director of CAL FIRE, Brian S. Marshal, State Fire and Rescue Chief and Director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, followed by Jeffrey Rupert, Director of the Office of Wildland Fire in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Conair confirmed at the conference that they expect to open the world’s first Aerial Firefighting Training and Tactics Centre early this spring. It will have five fully Networked Flight Training Devices that are reconfigurable to simulate the cockpit and flight dynamics for eight aircraft platforms performing different roles during an aerial firefighting mission.

Viking Air Limited introduced the Canadair CL-515 First Responder, a new production multi-mission scooping amphibian and purpose-built aerial firefighting aircraft.

Coulson Aviation announced they have installed a large capacity internal helicopter tank in a CH47 Chinook. It will be able to carry up to 3,000 gallons.

Columbia Helicopters introduced a Type 1 multi-mission Standard Transport Category helicopter – the Columbia Model 234 LR Chinook. It can be configured to carry up to 19 passengers, a 2,800 gallon internal tank, a 2,600 gallon bucket, or internal and external cargo.

Trotter Controls recorded a video tour of some of the exhibits at the conference.

Interview with a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot

Firefighting, rescues, and medical aids using an Agusta Westland 139

Los Angeles Fire Department helicopters
Two Los Angeles Fire Department helicopters prepare to take off on a mission to rescue a hiker in distress.

I interviewed one of the pilots that fly multi-mission helicopters for the Los Angeles Fire Department with the goal of obtaining enough information to write an article about the Department’s aviation program.

I recorded the interview, with Pilot Brandon Prince’s permission, so that I would not have to attempt to take detailed notes and in doing so miss some of what he was saying. But in playing the recording back it was obvious that Mr. Prince was very well-spoken and eloquent. He was describing the program better than an article I would have written.

So I put the interview in a video, and dressed up the audio with still photos taken at the Department’s base at Van Nuys Airport and 28 seconds of video showing two of their Augusta Westland 139 helicopters warming up before they departed on a mission to assist a hiker in distress.

In the interview Mr. Prince discusses the makeup of the seven-helicopter fleet, making decisions about where to drop water on a wildfire, hot refueling, how much fuel and water they begin a firefighting mission with, and the amount of training necessary to be qualified to serve on a helitack crew.

(If you’re having trouble viewing the video you can see it on YouTube)