New mission for Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft

Monday night it was investigating the drone activity that has been observed in Colorado and other states

Drone Swarms
CBS News

One of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-Mission Aircraft”, primarily used for detecting and mapping wildfires, took on a new mission January 6.  Its new job that night was related to the swarms of drones that have been seen in recent weeks over Colorado and Nebraska.

There are reports that up to 30 drones at a time have been flying in sparsely populated areas of the two states. A number of agencies are trying to figure out what the drones are doing, including the FBI, FAA, Air Force, and the Army. Authorities are looking for a closed box trailer or a large van with antennas that could be used as a command vehicle.

The operators of the drones may not have broken any laws, but the very unusual aviation activity has generated many questions.

PC-12 multimission durango airport
Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 multimission aircraft, and Durango airport’s Oshkosh crash rescue truck. Photo by Rick Freimuth May 31, 2019.

The PC-12 spent almost five hours Monday night flying at 14,750-feet in an irregular pattern northeast of Denver. According to Fox News in Denver, “The joint operation found no verification of suspicious drones,” said Caley Fisher, a spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

On January 9 the Colorado Department of Public Safety released a statement about the PC-12 mission. Here is an excerpt:

On Monday, January 6, 2020, the MMA flew for 4.8 hours in northeast Colorado, communicating with law enforcement vehicles on the ground.

As calls came in reporting potential suspicious drone activity, the MMA was prepared to identify which ground resource was closest to the sighting in order to deploy that vehicle in search of more information. The aircraft typically flies 10,000 feet above ground level (AGL), well above drone operations.

The MMA has the capability to detect heat signatures; it did not detect any suspicious heat signatures or drones related to the drone reportings during its flight. During the flight of the MMA, every report of a suspicious drone was investigated and was resolved, and none was substantiated.

From the Daily Mail, January 9, 2020:

…Meanwhile, another drone sighting was reported near Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday night. Television cameras for WOWT-TV spotted the mysterious flying object just outside of Mead, Nebraska.

An unmanned aircraft measuring about four-to-six feet was seen flying overhead. According to the news channel, the drone flew so close to the ground that the sound of the propellers could be heard on camera.

Local officials are baffled as to why anyone would operate a drone over an area that is entirely made up of rural farmland.

‘There’s not much out here to look at, so it kind of makes you wonder, well, if they’re not looking at anything, what are they planning, you know? Or whoever or whatever is going on?’ Saunders County Deputy Kyle Kennenbeck said.

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

Video of MAFFS air tanker crews training to fight fire

Video of the C-130s was shot in May, 2019 during annual MAFFS training at Colorado Springs, Colorado

MAFFS drop
MAFFS drop. Screenshot from the video.

The video below was posted today by AIRAILIMAGES. Here is their description:


Footage depicts Air National Guard C-130H Hercules transports fitted with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) making low passes and water drops during the 2019 training and recertification of MAFFS crews in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in May. Visible also is the U.S. Forest Service’s new King Air 250 lead plane, flying ahead of a C-130 from the Nevada Air National Guard 152nd Airlift Wing. An OV-10 Bronco later leads a C-130 from the Wyoming Air National Guard 153rd Airlift Wing. Listen for thunder in the mountains as the Wyoming ANG flies. Several military C-130 units are MAFFS-qualified to assist in wildfire containment during peak fire season when civilian air tanker assets are heavily tasked. The MAFFS system can be installed in a standard C-130 when needed.

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

P3 Air Tanker Water Drop Filmed from 20000 feet

Demonstration water drop Tanker 23, P3 Orion
Demonstration water drop by Tanker 23, a P3 Orion operated by Airstrike. June 28, 2019 at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland, Colorado. Filmed by Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 MultiMission aircraft. Screenshot from the video below.

A P3 Air Tanker, Tanker 23, made a demonstration water drop at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland, Colorado June 28, 2019 while Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 MultiMission aircraft filmed it from 20,000 feet. The aircraft has a Call When Needed contract with the state of Colorado for fighting wildfires.

You can also watch the video on YouTube.

More information about the demonstration, including a video shot from the ground.

Colorado’s PC-12 mobilized to Alaska

The crew will provide intelligence on emerging and existing large fires in central Alaska

PC-12 Colorado aircraft MMA
File photo of one of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft” at Sacramento McClellan Airport March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

One of Colorado’s two Multi-mission Pilatus PC-12 aircraft is being dispatched to Alaska to assist with the wildfires burning in the state. The other will remain in Colorado and continue supporting fires and other incidents there.

The PC-12 will depart Centennial today, July 2, to be based out of Fairbanks, Alaska. The crew consists of two sensor operators, a pilot, and a mechanic. The team will support initial attack firefighters and provide intelligence on emerging and existing large fires in central Alaska.

Meanwhile the other PC-12 in Colorado is on fire detection missions today in Jefferson County, Douglas County, and the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.

PC-12 Colorado aircraft MMA
Guy Jones describes the intelligence console on Colorado’s PC-12 Multi-Mission Aircraft, at Sacramento McClellan Airport, March 23, 2016.

P3 demonstration drop in Colorado

Tanker 23, a P3 Orion, making a demonstration drop at Northern Colorado Regional Airport June 28, 2019. Screengrab from
Tanker 23, a P3 Orion, makes a demonstration drop at Northern Colorado Regional Airport June 28, 2019. Screengrab from @CReppWx video.

Air tanker 23, a P3 Orion (N923AU), appeared at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland June 28 as promised. The airport conducted what they called a “media day”, allowing media personnel to view the aircraft. The public was not invited.

The video below from Cory Reppenhagen of Nine News (@CReppWx) shows Tanker 23 dropping. The announced plan was for it to drop BLAZETAMER380, a water enhancing gel that looks similar to water when released by an air tanker.

The state of Colorado has a Call When Needed contract with Airstrike Firefighters that would allow the company’s fleet of P3s to be used in the state if they are available. Airstrike is working to restore seven P3s that were formerly operated by Aero Union.

Air Tanker 23 P3 Orion
On March 15, 2018 Tanker 23 was in the process of being made fire-ready again at Airstrike Firefighter’s facility at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
P3 Orion air tanker 17, 22, 23
Tankers 17, 22, and 23, all P3 Orions being restored at Airstrike Firefighters in Sacramento. Photo by Sergio Mara, at Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.

Buffalo Airways and Airstrike are working together to restore Tanker 22.

Buffalo P3 Joe McBryan tanker 22
Ronald Guy (left) of United Aeronautical congratulates Joe McBryan (right) of Buffalo Airways on the purchase of Tanker 22, March 19, 2014 at McClellan Air Force Base March 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

More photos of the P3s in the hangar at McClellan.

New aerial ignition device for helicopters tested in Colorado

Colorado Division of Fire Prevent and Control Cañon Helitack
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Cañon Helitack conducts Hover Step training.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Cañon Helitack crew recently conducted Hover Step training and also tested new aerial ignition equipment in partnership with the Forest Service’s Technology and Development program. The aerial ignition devices included the Sling Dragon, developed by SEI Industries, and a modified helitorch assembly.

This is the first time a Type 2 helicopter has tested this equipment. The Technology and Development program provides practical solutions to problems identified by U.S. Forest Service employees and cooperators.

(Photos and text from the DFPC’s Facebook page)

Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control Cañon Helitack
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Cañon Helitack tests an aerial ignition device.
Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control Cañon Helitack aerial ignition
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Cañon Helitack tests an aerial ignition device.

100 firefighters attend aircraft Safety Fly-In at Durango

Durango Helitack crew
The Durango Helitack crew demonstrates crew loading.

Rick Freimuth sent us these photos and description of a Safety Fly-In that occurred Friday, May 31 at the Durango Air Tanker Base in Colorado. Mr. Freimuth staffs the Benchmark Lookout west of Telluride, Colorado where he normally would have been, starting three weeks ago, but snow on the roads has made that impossible. The tower is at 9,262′ elevation.


Yesterday I attended the San Juan National Forest Safety Fly-In event at the Durango Airtanker Base.  It’s an annual event (except last year because of our busy fire season) held for the local jurisdictions – USFS, BLM, NPS, Durango Fire & Rescue and other local towns and counties.  The Fly-In is designed to familiarize the firefighters with air-to-ground radio protocol, general aircraft safety, crew loading, hard landings (turning off fuel, electrical and rotor brakes).

Durango Helitack was represented with their Bell 205, pilot, crew manager and crew.  They demonstrated sling load loading and hookups, bucket hookups and crew loading.  To increase performance for their older ship the 205 is hopped up with wider composite rotor blades, fins along the tail boom and the tail rotor is repositioned on the right side instead of the traditional 205 left side.  Interesting.  Of course Durango Helitack’s primary mission is IA but they also perform bucket work and rescues with the ability to carry two patients.

Mesa Verde National Park Helitack crew
Mesa Verde National Park Helitack crew member describes National Park Service aviation protocol.

Mesa Verde NP Helitack was there with their Bell 407.  They gave us a great demonstration of capabilities from their crew manager and one of their IA firefighters.  Their primary mission is IA but are also equipped for bucket work and they are the only Short Haul capable crew in the Four Corners area.  They’re capable of in-cabin litter transport as well.

Flight For Life’s orange A-Star 350 based at Durango’s Mercy Regional Medical Center was there with pilot, flight nurse and paramedic.  They talked about their protocol as well as their A-Star’s excellent capabilities at high altitude rescue in the local San Juan mountain ranges.  They gave an excellent demonstration of patient loading with firefighters assisting.

An interesting addition to the Fly-In was a Bell 206 from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad excursion train.  Simply referred to as the train helicopter.  It’s mission is to follow the train up and down the route for fire suppression in case the coal burning engines ignite fuels in their right-of-way.  They carry a 75 gallon bucket filled 3/4 full for several hours a day looking for smoke.  The reason for the reduced fill is to increase fuel efficiency during the day at high altitudes.

Durango airport Oshkosh crash rescue truck
Durango airport’s Oshkosh crash rescue truck.

The Durango-LaPlata County airport showcased one of their two, huge Oshkosh fire engines including a thorough discussion of the airport firefighters duties and responsibilities for the myriad aircraft that may land at the field in emergency situations.

The most interesting aircraft, for me, was the State of Colorado’s Multi Mission Aircraft (MMA).  The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control has two Pilatus PC-12 airplanes that have been outfitted with state-of-the-art fire detection infrared (IR) and color sensors (EO) operated by sensor operators from the Division of Fire Prevention and Control Wildland Fire Management staff.  The pilot, Carl Gordon and sensor operator, Jesse, gave us a complete description of their real-time fire mapping capabilities.  Jesse said they were able to send their maps to the ICs and firefighters within twenty minutes of flying the fire.  The firefighters are then able to access the up-to-date fire maps on Avenza.

PC-12 multimission durango airport
Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 multimission aircraft, and Durango airport’s Oshkosh crash rescue truck.

The retardant base was an interesting station at the Fly-In.  We were given a thorough explanation of mixing Phos-Chek with water to create the loads appropriate to fuels and elevation.  Durango Airtanker Base is the highest elevation tanker base at 6,685′.  The retardant loads have to be altered to the summertime temperatures, high elevation of the airport and the, possibly, higher elevations of the fires.  Durango Airtanker Base’s retardant base is now able to fill two air tankers at a time.

sand table fire tactics wildfire
Jerran Flinders (center, wearing sandals) uses a sand “table” to explain air attack strategy, with Mike Bryson, on the right.

The last station at our Fly-In event was the sand table (sand box in our case).  Jerran Flinders, the San Juan National Forest’s Aviation Officer and Mike Bryson, the Durango Airtanker Base Manager gave the attending firefighters scenarios of making a resource order for air tankers or helicopters on an active fire.  The sand box had a fire climbing a slope through timber and approaching a ridge-top structure.  Jerran lead the scenarios through requesting aircraft, communicating with air attack and delivering the retardant load.  This was an excellent demonstration, for green firefighters, of what to do and what not to do during a wildfire event.

The Safety Fly-In was attended by roughly one hundred fire staff including firefighters, fire overhead, and one lookout.

A P3 Orion air tanker will be forward deployed to Colorado next month

It will be available on a call when needed contract with the state of Colorado

Air tanker 23 Pe orion
Airstrike’s Air Tanker 23. It will be forward deployed in April in Colorado, ready to be activated on a state CWN contract to fight wildfires. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January, 2019.

Airstrike Firefighters is making progress toward their goal of putting seven P3 Orion air tankers formally owned by Aero Union back into service. The aircraft have not been used on a fire since the U.S. Forest Service canceled the contract July 29, 2011 due to the company “failing to meet its contractual obligations”, according to the agency.

As we reported in August, Airstrike signed a Call When Needed (CWN) contract last year with Colorado for their P3 air tankers to be used as required by the state.

Tanker 23 (N932AU) is presently receiving a few finishing touches at the Airstrike facilities at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Scott A. Schorzman, Airstrike’s VP Business Development, said the tanker will be forward deployed to the Northern Colorado Regional Airport at Fort Collins around the second week of April, ready to be activated on a state CWN contract to fight wildfires.

Airstrike has two other P3 air tankers at their hanger at McClellan that are undergoing inspections, maintenance, and installation of equipment necessary for federal contracts.

P3 Orion air tanker 22
Tanker 22. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.

Mr. Schorzman expects Tanker 22 to be complete around May of this year. They will be leasing the aircraft from Buffalo Airways who purchased it from Blue Aerospace/United Aeronautical Corporation, the company that acquired seven of the P3s after Aero Union’s bankruptcy.

P3 Orion air tanker 17
Tanker 17. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.

Then, next out the hangar doors will be Tanker 17 with an expected completion date of early to mid summer. After that Mr. Schorzman said they will begin working on the remaining four P3s.

P3 Orion air tanker 17, 22, 23
Tankers 17, 22, and 23, all P3 Orions. Photo by Sergio Mara, at Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.
P3 Orion air tanker 17, 22
Tankers 17 and 22. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.

Thanks go out to Sergio Mura. He took all of these P3 photos in January of this year.

In March of 2018 when I visited Airstrike’s hangar the only P3 present was Tanker 23. You can see that article and the photos here.