The aircraft and crews will be assisting firefighters in Chile and Australia
Coulson Aviation is in the process of deploying firefighting aircraft to the Southern Hemisphere for the summer wildfire seasons in South America and Australia.
For several weeks they have had three Sikorsky S-61N helicopters in Australia and in November flew air tanker 137, a Boeing 737 (N137CG), across the Pacific to join the helicopters. They will also have a Sikorsky S-76B in the country.
Two C-130 air tankers, T-131 (N130FF) and T-132 (N132CG), departed from San Bernardino, California December 12 for Australia. They both recently received new livery, featuring a new paint design for the Coulson aircraft.
In the last week or so Coulson loaded two CH-47 Chinooks (N47CU and N40CU) and a Blackhawk onto a large ship to begin a voyage to Chile where they will assist firefighters.
One of the two DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers that deployed to Chile is en route back to the United States now that the wildfire activity has slowed and the contract has ended. It is scheduled to land at San Antonio at 6:59 p.m. CST today, March 2, after a stop in Manta, Ecuador. On FlightAware it is operating as TNKR910, N612AX. 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s headquarters is at Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The second DC-10, Tanker 914, arrived in Chile on February 11. Its contract ends next week and then it will be heading back north.
The two DC-10s have been working out of three airports stretched across 572 miles of the long, narrow country — Santiago, Concepción, and Puerto Montt.
As of March 1, the two aircraft have completed 133 missions dropping a total of 1.2 million gallons, an average of 9,022 gallons per mission, said John Gould, President of 10 Tanker Air Carrier. For the first week or two they were dropping plain water since there is no fire retardant in Chile, but later fire officials requested they use BlazeTamer, a concentrated water enhancer that can be injected into the tank using the existing equipment on the air tankers. The product was used on 33% of the missions.
A Chilean Navy P-295 (as seen below) is serving as a lead plane for the DC-10. Also known as a Casa, a P-295 served as a lead plane ahead of the 747 when it worked in Chile in 2017. He was not allowed to fly it, but former smokejumper and lead plane pilot Jamie Tackman went along as a passenger in the Casa in 2017, kneeling between the pilots, giving them instructions on where and when to drop. This year there are no U.S. lead plane pilots in the P-295.
A DC-10 very large air tanker was damaged when a tire failed upon landing at the Carriel Sur airport in Concepción, Chile Friday November 8. The tread separated on a main landing gear tire and damaged an inboard flap. John E. Gould, President of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said the crew immediately began repairing the flap and that work will be completed Monday afternoon.
When tires on a race car or aircraft disintegrate at high speed as shown in the photo, chunks of rubber flying off the tire can damage sheet metal and other components.
Very roughly translated news reports indicate that the aircraft completed either four sorties or four drops on its first day of operations in Chile before the tire failed. T-910 departed from San Bernardino, California on February 6, arrived in Chile the following day, and went to work dropping on wildfires February 8.
Mr. Gould said a second DC-10, Tanker 914 has been ordered and is en route, expected to arrive in Santiago, Chile Monday afternoon. It is not necessarily to replace T-910; CONAF, the contracting organization, wanted a total of two very large air tankers under contract.
The video below shows both a Russian IL-76 and the DC-10 making drops. It is possible that a water enhancing chemical has been added to the water to increase its effectiveness in suppressing the wildfires. The DC-10 can carry up to 9,400 gallons. The IL-76 footage may be from 2017.
One of 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s DC-10 very large air tankers is en route to Chile. Tanker 910, N612AX, departed from San Bernardino, California Wednesday. It made a stop at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala later in the day, and information on Flight Aware appears to indicate that it will also stop at Pisco, Peru.
John Gould, President of 10 Tanker said the aircraft is expected to arrive at Santiago, Chile early Thursday morning. He said it will be working for the National Forest Corporation, or CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal), which is a Chilean private, non-profit organization, through which the Chilean state contributes to the development and sustainable management of the country’s forest resources. CONAF is overseen and funded by Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture. There is no one governmental agency that has the authority, responsibility, and resources to manage wildfires in the Country.
On Tuesday Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of catastrophe in some regions of the country due to unusually hot weather and numerous wildfires. Below is an excerpt from Prensa Latina:
[Undersecretary of the Interior, Rodrigo] Ubilla said that this extreme measure seeks to strengthen the network of logistical support to deal with these disasters, and that these commanders will be responsible for ‘controlling public order, operationally support the tasks of prevention, fire fighting and adopt all necessary measures to avoid risks to the population.
More than 8,000 hectares [19,000 acres] of forests and pastures have already been burned by flames, dozens of homes have been destroyed and hundreds of people evacuated, according to reports from the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) and the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior (ONEMI).
Two years ago Global Supertanker’s 747 very large air tanker spent a month or so fighting fires in Chile working out of Santiago. Andrea Avolio, a vice president of the company, said their aircraft is presently down for several weeks undergoing heavy maintenance. She said the company has not received any inquiries from officials in Chile about it being deployed.
Dan Snyder, CEO and President of Neptune, said he has recently had some informal discussions with folks in Chile but no orders have been placed. Neptune sent one of their BAe-146s, Tanker 03, to Concepción, Chile two years ago at the same time the 747 was farther north in Santiago.
A spokesperson for Aero-Flite said as far as she knew the company has no plans to send one of their RJ85 large air tankers to South America. Currently three of them are working in Australia.
Two companies in the U.S. and South America will be purchasing the aircraft
Beriev PJSC has signed orders for up to 15 Be-200ES amphibious air tankers, which are manufactured in Taganrog, Russia. The sales documents were signed at the Hydroaviasalon amphibian air show in Gelendzhik, Russia in September, 2018.
Two are being purchased by a private company, CBP Asesorías Aeronáuticas. The aircraft will be civilian registered and leased to the government of Chile during the wildfire season. The company has options to buy three more. Work has already started on the first two at PJSC Taganrog Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex n.a. G.M. Beriev, Russia. Beriev expects to deliver them in 2021.
U.S.-based Seaplane Global Air Services ordered four and has options for an additional six. Patrick Massardy of Airbus and David Baskett of Seaplane Global Air Services signed the agreement with Beriev in September.
Beriev began manufacturing the Be-200 in 2003. It is one of the few purpose-built air tankers, designed primarily for fighting wildland fires. The aircraft can land or take off on water or land, and the firefighting version can scoop water to refill its tanks which can carry up to 3,167 gallons near the end of the fuel cycle. Within two hours it can be converted to haul passengers or serve as a search and rescue aircraft, landing on water to retrieve personnel if necessary.
David Baskett, who has been associated with Pacific Skyway Airline, International Emergency Services, TTE International, and Seaplane Global Air Services has been attempting to gain support for and purchase Be-200s since at least 2009.
In 2012 the manufacturer of the aircraft, Beriev, covered the costs for two U.S. Forest Service employees to travel to Taganro, Russia, the home base of the Beriev company, to determine if the Be-200 met the criteria established by the Interagency Airtanker Board. IAB approval is necessary in order to qualify for an air tanker contract with federal agencies in the U.S. There are reports that they evaluated water drops from the Be-200 and found that it performed well. They did not test the performance with retardant.
In 2016 Mr. Baskett announced that he was working with the Beriev Aircraft Company, Global Seaplanes, and Airbus to manufacture the Be-200 in Santa Maria after the first 10 aircraft were delivered.
As far as we can tell there have been no concrete on-the-ground results from these proposals. However the agreement that Mr. Baskett and Airbus signed with Beriev in September, 2018 appears that it will result in an actual purchase of at least four Be-200ES-E aircraft.
Some Airbus personnel are involved with the project.
“They are authorized and supported by Airbus to work on the Be-200 program, which has long term recognition, and they help in development issues,” Mr. Baskett said. “Airbus is not a formal shareholder in Global.”
Mr. Baskett told us that he expects delivery of the first two in the Spring of 2020, with the next two arriving later in the year. Four more are scheduled for 2021, to be followed by the last two. The plan is for Seaplane Global Air Services to lease them to International Emergency Services for operation in the United States.
Knowing that the Be-200 does not have FAA or IAB certification I asked Mr. Baskett what he planned to do with the aircraft after receiving them.
“I plan on flying them on fires around the Western Hemisphere”, he said. “In Australia, to here, and over in Europe. So it’s a joint effort between the Europeans, the Australians, and us on using these 10 aircraft when they come off the production line. We’re in the process right now of bidding [on contracts for] the use of the aircraft with various governments.” He declined to specify which governments, other than to say it is “western governments”.
Don Oaks, the former Fire Marshall for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, is working with Mr. Baskett and Seaplane Global Air Services, providing advice and serving as a wildland fire subject matter expert for the company. He said they expect the aircraft to follow the fire seasons around the world, moving from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and to Europe.
When I asked him what the chances are of receiving FAA approval, he said “Very high”.
Explaining what work, if any, would have to be done to the Be-200 to facilitate the approval, he said, “No, there’s no additional work that would have to be done. The aircraft is approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, certified by them. The FAA has told me, and they authorized me to report what they told me, that they want 110 percent to certify the aircraft. And that was the head of the FAA International Certification Division.”
Mr. Baskett said the contract for the 10 aircraft requires that they have English language cockpits and for them to have FAA certification.
Training for two mechanics and five pilots will begin in May of this year in Russia. Mr. Baskett said engineers are working on plans for a Be-200 heavy support base that he intends to build in Santa Maria.
The Chinook will be working for a private company, assisting wildland firefighters
On Christmas Eve Billings Flying Service unloaded one of their CH-47D Chinooks off a ship in Chile. Two days later after reinstalling the rotor blades they flew it to a base just east of Concepción where it will begin a firefighting contract for one of the largest pulp and paper companies in Latin America. Compañía Manufacturera de Papeles y Cartones (CMPC ), which translates to Manufacturing Company of Papers and Cartons, employs over 15,000 people in Chile and seven other countries in South Ameria.
The helicopter that Billings shipped to Chile is N303AJ, a Boeing CH-47D manufactured in 1989 that fights fire with an external water bucket. At least one of the company’s ships was testing a new 2,500-gallon internal tank last summer. Billings became the first non-military owner of CH-47D Chinook helicopters when they purchased their first two in 2014. Gary Blain, co-owner of the company, and another pilot flew those aircraft from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River. Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.
Billings has seven other Chinooks, one Sikorsky UH-60, five Bell 206s, five Airbus AS350 B3s, one MD 500, and one Hiller 12B.
All of these photos in Chile were provided by Brian Jensen of Billings Flying Service.