Dynamic Aviation’s Cessna Citation lead planes

Citation, Dynamic Aviation
One of two Cessna Citations Dynamic Aviation has under contract as lead planes. Photo by Dynamic Aviation.

When the folks at Dynamic Aviation saw a photo I took of one of their Cessna Citation lead planes last year, they sent me “a more recent picture” (above). They were too polite to say so, but I’m thinking the marketing department may have been uncomfortable with the photo that showed laundry hanging out of the forward luggage compartment.  🙂

Currently Dynamic Aviation, based in Bridgewater, Virginia, has the following aircraft under contract with the USFS and/or the BLM, according to Katie Dillon their Communications Manager:


Aircraft over the North Fire

Citation lead plane
One of the two Cessna Citation jet-powered lead planes under contract with the BLM. North Fire.

I took these photos of the television screen as Los Angeles Channel 7 was covering the North Fire — the carmeddon fire that trapped scores of vehicles on Interstate 15 in southern California, burning 22 of them.

The temperature on the screen says 76 degrees, but that must have been at downtown Los Angeles, because about that time it was 88 degrees in San Bernardino, not too far from the fire.

air tanker 105 North Fire
Tanker 105, an MD-87, on the North Fire.
Tanker 912, a DC-10
Tanker 912, a DC-10, just beginning a drop on the North Fire.

Video of MAFFS training with lead planes

MAFFS approach
MAFFS approaching the drop area. Screen grab from the video.

The video below shows Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130J aircraft from the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing conducting training drops with lead planes. The video was uploaded to YouTube July 14, 2015, but it appears that the training occurred in April in the Angeles National Forest and in Kern County, California.

The image you see before the video begins had to have been taken years ago, since it shows the original version of the MAFFS which pumped retardant out the rear ramp. In the MAFFS2 that is used today water or retardant exits the aircraft out the left side troop door.

Jet lead plane
Jet lead plane producing smoke to mark the target for the following MAFFS air tanker. Screen grab from the video.

Beginning at 3:30 you’ll see a jet-powered lead plane. This could be the Dynamic Aviation Cessna Citation CJ, N10R, that received a Bureau of Land Management Contract in 2014. In May, 2014, Aviation Week had an interesting article about the history of Dynamic Aviation. The company also has a contract for a Beechcraft King Air E90 being used as an air attack aircraft.

Citation lead plane, N10R,
Cessna Citation lead plane, N10R, at Boise, July 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

On July 13 N10R flew from Boise to Fort Wainwright, Alaska at 28,000 feet and 350 knots (403 mph). Flying for about 5.7 hours in three hops, it got there considerably more quickly than the Type 3 BLM helicopter on contract, N173BH, that spent four days in June flying from Rifle, Colorado to Fairbanks.

BLM awards contract for first jet-powered lead plane in the U.S.

Dynamic Aviation Citation lead plane
A Dynamic Aviation Cessna Citation. Photo courtesy of Dynamic Aviation.

The Bureau of Land Management has awarded a contract for the first jet-powered lead plane in the United States. Lead planes fly ahead of the much larger air tankers that drop retardant on fires. They identify the targets and evaluate the fire and wind conditions. Dynamic Aviation, with headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia, will be supplying a Cessna Citation CJ to serve as a lead plane and Air Supervision Module (ASM) this fire season. With the jet-powered air tankers now in use, including DC-10s, BAe-146s, and MD-87s, there is a need for a lead plane that can keep up with the “next-generation” air tankers.

The Dynamic Aviation aircraft is not the first jet-powered lead plane. British Columbia currently operates two Citations as Bird Dogs, according to information we received from a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.

In January the Citation was for sale at Controller.com with an asking price of $1.1 million. During the off season it will be at their headquarters, where they operate a heavy maintenance and modification center, engine shop, and a privately owned airport. The company employs over 550 people and in September of last year began construction on their fifth hangar, named Hangar E. In addition to the new (to them) Citation, they have Beechcraft King Airs and Bombardier Dash 8-100s.

Dynamic Aviation King Airs
Dynamic Aviation’s King Airs. Photo courtesy of Dynamic Aviation. (click to see larger version)

Caleb T. Stitely, an account manager at Dynamic Aviation, told us that the company has a contract with the BLM to supply two additional Cessna Citations beginning in 2015.

Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the BLM said this year the agency will have three lead plane/ASMs on exclusive use contracts (the Citation and two King Air E-90s) and a fourth one on call when needed status (a King Air E-90). All four will be supplied by Dynamic Aviation. In addition, the Department of the Interior owns a King Air BE-200 that the BLM will use for Lead/ASM operations this coming fire season.

The U.S. Forest Service owns a Cessna Citation Bravo II equipped with a system for mapping fires using infrared imaging technology. It can download the imagery in near real time once each night to infrared interpreters on the ground who use it to make maps showing the location of fires.

The BLM will also have nine Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) platforms on contract this year. Three are on contract now and the other six are still out for bid. Spur Aviation will operate an Aero Commander AC690B, and Ponderosa Aviation will also have an Aero Commander AC690B and one Aero Commander AC680T.

We are working on collecting information about the U.S. Forest Service’s fleet of lead planes and Air Tactical platforms and hope to write about that in a day or so.