A proposal for countries to share air tankers resurfaces

Water scooping air tankers would travel between hemispheres on a repurposed or custom designed ship

Canadian Australian Strategic Firefighting Initiative vessel
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Canadian Australian Strategic Firefighting Initiative vessel. (Davie Shipyard)

A concept for sharing firefighting air tankers between the northern and southern hemispheres proposed in 2016 has resurfaced. The wildfire seasons in opposite times of the year could provide windows for the same aircraft to travel back and forth annually between North America and Australia or South America.

In 2016 Quebec-based Davie Shipyard suggested that the water scooping air tankers in Canada could be transported on a custom designed or converted ship and delivered to Australia at the end of the northern hemisphere fire season. Then the aircraft could be shipped back north before the Canadian fire season began.

For decades Canada has had success with CL-215/415 water-scooping air tankers first made by Bombardier. British Columbia based Viking Air Ltd presently owns the rights to Bombardier’s CL-415 air tanker. The company is now taking orders and deposits for its new-production CL-515 “First Responder” air tanker.

Below are excerpts from a January 14 article at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

“I think when we initially proposed the idea, it was too soon,” said Spencer Fraser, chief executive officer of Federal Fleet Service, the Davie Shipyard’s sister company. “There were still people within Canada and society that were denying extreme weather events and climate change. What’s important today is — look, it’s real. So let’s do something about it.”

No one from the Liberal government was willing to comment Monday — but there was word last week that officials in two federal departments had dusted off the proposal and had asked questions of Viking Air Ltd., the B.C. company which now owns the rights to Bombardier’s CL-415 water bomber.

Greg Mullins, the former fire commissioner of the state of New South Wales, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Jan. 3 that the country should tap into Canadian expertise and assets.

“Our prime minister should be on the phone with Justin Trudeau from Canada, right now, saying, ‘Justin, we need 20 or more of your water-scooping, purpose-built water bombers that are in mothballs during your winter,'” he said.

Fraser said the companies originally involved in the pitch in 2016 studied the logistics of flying water bombers between Canada and Australia and concluded it would be complicated, even perilous, to refuel the aircraft along the way in less-than-friendly nations.

In November, 2019 a group of 23 former fire and emergency services leaders and other former fire chiefs said they were concerned that with longer fire seasons now being experienced the current air tanker fleet in Australia is not adequate for keeping up with the increasing bushfire activity.

The acquisition and contracting of large air tankers in Australia is coordinated by the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC). They recently purchased a Boeing 737 air tanker, but like the federal government in the United States, the country depends on contractors to supply most of their large air tankers.

NAFC had planned on having five large air tankers available during the 2019/2020 bushfire season (including the government-owned 737), but as wildfire activity grew exponentially the agency kept adding more. By the end of next week they will have 10 large air tankers on contract plus the government-owned 737.

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

Conair to acquire five flight simulators

The three-axis motion platforms will be part of what is being called the world’s first aerial firefighting training and tactics center

Conair acquire five flight training devices
Conair to acquire five flight training devices from Quantum3D

The Conair Group has awarded a contract to Quantum3D to design, build, and deliver five fully Networked Flight Training Devices (FTD) for the world’s first aerial firefighting training and tactics center in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. Quantum3D will be working with aerial firefighting subject matter experts from Conair to jointly develop advanced wildfire simulation software and training scenarios to improve the efficiency and safety of aerial firefighting.

Partnering with Aerx Labs for the reconfigurable cockpits, Q4 Services for the visual displays, and DBox for the three-axis motion platforms, Quantum3D has assembled an experienced and established team to provide cost-effective and proven components for the flight simulators.

The five integrated training devices are being designed to be reconfigurable to simulate the cockpit and flight dynamics for eight aircraft platforms performing different roles during an aerial firefighting mission.  Each of these reconfigurable FTD’s will be able to perform individual or joint training encompassing different aircraft platforms and scenarios.

“Quantum3D will also emphasize the coordination and interaction of multiple elements in the execution of a mission”, said Mark Matthews, President, Quantum3D.

The custom wildfire simulation software being developed will not only be simulating the ground fire and effects of the aerial retardant being applied by the trainees but will also be simulating the dynamic and dangerous environmental changes created by the fire that pilots may encounter.

“We are excited to be working with Quantum3D to develop a Mission Training System in which our pilots can practice aerial firefighting tactics, techniques and procedures in a safe and risk free environment.  Our goal with the integrated simulators is to mitigate the risks and produce the best-trained and most effective aerial firefighting pilots in the world.  This technology is a quantum leap in training for our industry and the scenarios that we train to will save lives”, said Mark Baird from Conair.

The expectation is that the five new simulators, with eight different aircraft configurations will be available for training before the 2020 fire season.

Small plane with engine failure deploys parachute, lands in Quebec forest

The pilot was rescued

small plane engine failure parachute landing
Screenshot from the video shot by the pilot before he was extracted by helicopter.

Pilot Matt Lehtinen, flying over a forest in Quebec July 27, 2019, could not have been better prepared for a loss of oil pressure and engine failure:

  1. The plane was a Cirrus-SR22 that had a ballistic parachute recovery system, what the company calls a Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS).
  2. He had a Garmin emergency communication device (that probably sent text messages via satellite).
  3. He had a survival kit.
  4. He remained alert, kept calm, thought clearly, and acted decisively.

It appears that he was not seriously injured. He sent a message that included his location and then started a small fire to create smoke to make it easier for him to be seen. Eventually a C-130 flew over and dropped para-cargo for him that included a radio. Next a Royal Canadian Air Force  helicopter appeared, dropped off a crewman or two, and extracted him with a hoist. All within five hours.

And the reason we know all this is that he documented every step on video.

He wrote at the end of the video, “Thank you to the service members of the Canadian Royal Air Force, Mounted Police, law enforcement, search and rescue, air traffic control and Nav Canada. You are my heroes, and you saved my life. Sincerely, A Grateful American.”

Great job, Mr. Lehtinen, the Air Force crew, and the other agencies!

small plane engine failure parachute landing
Screenshot from the video shot by the pilot just before he was extracted by helicopter.

Air tankers working the Chuckegg Creek Fire in Alberta

Air tankers Chuckegg Creek Fire
Air tankers on the Chuckegg Creek Fire. Alberta Fire photo.

The large aircraft on the left is the Electra L-188. It has four turbine engines, can cruise at 592 km/hr (368 mph), and can carry 11,365 liters (3,000 gallons) of fire retardant.

To the right of the Electra are four of the Air Tractor 802F amphibious aircraft. They can work as land-based or skimmer air tankers. They have a cruising speed of 260 km/hr (161 mph) and can carry up to 2,430 liters (644 gallons).

The Chuckegg Creek Fire in northern Alberta has burned 276,000 hectares (682,000 acres).

Three killed in plane crash while mapping fire in B.C.

A small plane checking a fire that burned last year crashed in British Columbia Saturday May 4 killing three occupants. The pilot of the single engine Cessna 182 and two passengers died in the accident while one passenger survived and is being treated after being flown to a Vancouver hospital by a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre helicopter.

Precision Vectors was under contract to the British Columbia Wildfire Service to use airborne infrared equipment to check fires from 2018 for residual holdover heat that persisted through the winter. Two of the deceased have been identified, both affiliated with the company — Lorne Borgal the CEO and founder of Precision Vectors, and Amir Ilya Sedghi who provided data analysis.

The Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the aircraft went down about 57 miles north of Smithers, B.C.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and coworkers.

Manitoba converts to contractors for operating the Province’s air tankers

A contract was awarded to Babcock and Air Spray

Manitoba CL-415 air tanker
An employee polishes one of the Manitoba CL-415 air tankers in Manitoba that was delivered around 2012. (screen grab from ChrisD204 video)

The Canadian Province of Manitoba has decided to turn over the operation of its air tankers to a private company. The process began in June of this year when the province issued a request for proposals (RFP) which has resulted in a 10-year contract with Babcock who will work with Air Spray to operate the aircraft.

The deployment of the tankers will remain under the direction of Manitoba Wildfire Program staff.

The Wildfire Suppression Services contract includes the management, maintenance, and operation of Manitoba’s fleet of seven Canadair water-scooping amphibious aircraft (four CL-415s and three CL-215s), supported by three Twin Commander “bird-dog” aircraft. Manitoba will retain ownership of the air tankers, parts, inventory, special tools, and equipment but will transfer care and custody to the contractors.

In 2017, Babcock aircraft and crews carried out over 5,500 firefighting missions, dropped 174 million liters of water and logged over 20,000 hours in support of wildfire suppression.

The Manitoba government purchased four CL-415 scooping air tankers for $126 million that were delivered between 2010 and 2012, replacing some of the much older CL-215 tankers built between 1969 and 1990.

Based on operations in prior years, the Wildfire Suppression Service will provide approximately 1,400 flying hours and 3,750 water drops per year. Operations will cover the entire Province of Manitoba and will help to protect communities in a population of 1.3 million people.

“Our government is committed to protecting Manitobans from wildfires and that’s what this agreement delivers,” said Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler. “It will ensure faster response times, enhanced safety and a superior aircraft maintenance program.  It will make Manitoba’s wildfire suppression system even better.”

Lynn Hamilton, owner and President of Air Spray Ltd., said “the Province of Manitoba can be assured that our years as a leader in the air tanker industry and experience fighting wildfires throughout Western Canada can be relied on to provide outstanding service to the Province.”

Representatives of Babcock will be meeting with affected government employees in the very near future to discuss employment opportunities under the new operating structure, Mr. Schuler said.

A government employee’s union issued a statement in July a month after the RFP was announced.

“Our skilled members at Manitoba Government Air Services provide an essential, life-saving public service to Manitobans, getting critically ill patients to hospitals and protecting communities from forest fires,” said Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Michelle Gawronsky at a press conference Friday. “These essential services should not be auctioned off as profit opportunities for private airline corporations.”

Manitoba still has a RFP out for both general transportation air services and for air ambulance services.

Interview with Mikey McBryan of Buffalo Airways

The company has 11 DC-3’s

Mikey McBryan

During the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week I interviewed Mikey McBryan, the General Manager of Buffalo Airways in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories which was founded by his father,”Buffalo” Joe McBryan. He talked about the company’s P3 air tanker, their numerous other air tankers, their 11 DC-3’s, his father’s 10,000 flight hours in a single DC-3, the history of Buffalo Airways, and the additional aircraft in their fleet. And he gets in a plug for “Ice Pilots” on Netflix.