The state of Colorado is working on a system that would use drones to provide live video of wildfires to wildland firefighters’ cell phones. The Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting is beta testing a DVI Mavic drone that would push the real time video to firefighters using software developed by the military, Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK).
The program has the capability of displaying data from tracking devices carried by soldiers, or firefighters, and identifying their location on a map, which in this case could also show the fire in real time.
If they are successful in developing and implementing a system that can provide to fire managers real time information about the location of a wildfire AND firefighting resources, it would achieve what we call the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety — knowing those two elements of information.
The DJI Mavic can only stay in the air for 20 to 30 minutes before having to return to base to replace the battery. So this beta test is probably only a proof of concept attempt, perhaps leading to a more robust drone, rotor or fixed wing, that could stay in the air for a much longer period of time.
Colorado already has the ability to transmit near real time imagery of fires from their two MultiMission Aircraft, Pilatus PC12’s. They are integrated with the Colorado Wildfire Information System, a geospatial database that displays incident images and details to local fire managers through a web based application.
Above: the 747 SuperTanker takes off at McClellan at dawn on March 24, 2016 after attending the Aerial Firefighting Conference. Photo By Bill Gabbert.
Today officials in Colorado announced that the state has signed a contract with Global Supertanker for the use of the company’s 747 air tanker. The agreement is a Call When Needed arrangement, which means the aircraft will only be activated on an as-needed basis.
The 747 is in Sacramento this week going through the annual recertification and “carding” process with the U.S. Forest Service. When that is complete it would again be available on a CWN contract with the state of California. If they desired, the USFS could utilize it through interagency agreements with the state. The SuperTanker was used in 2017 by CAL FIRE on several fires.
The carding process is delayed this year because the SuperTanker needs a USFS required software addition. The SuperTanker team is working with Latitude Technologies(a USFS vendor) and the USFS to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible. In addition to the CWN contracts with California and now Colorado, GlobalSupertanker also has one with the county just south of Denver, Douglas County.
Firefighters in both California and Colorado have been very busy in recent weeks fighting huge fires. It is unknown if the 747 would be immediately activated when the software addition is complete.
Global SuperTanker’s B747-400, The Spirit of John Muir, incorporates a patented system capable of delivering single or multiple payload drops aggregating 19,200 gallons of water, fire retardant, or suppressant. With a flying speed of 600 mph, the air tanker can reach any part of the globe in 20 hours or less or nearly any part of the U.S. in less than three hours.
Above: MAFFS #2 reloads at the new temporary retardant base at the Colorado Springs Airport. Screen grab from the video below.
A new temporary fire retardant base has been set up at the Colorado Springs Airport. A spokesperson for the airport told us that it can handle Very Large Air Tankers such as the DC-10 and 747. In the video below one of the DC-10’s can be seen in the background.
Above: the view from Air Tanker 850 on the Burro Mountain Fire, June 8, 2018. Screenshot from the video.
Air tanker pilot Jim Watson shot this video of of Tanker 850 dropping on the Burro Mountain Fire 22 miles northwest of Durango, Colorado a few hours after it started on June 8, 2018. The lead plane was LEAD 51 Trainee.
Above: Screenshot from video shot by Jim Watson, Pilot of T-850 GB Aerial Applications, over the Horse Park Fire.
Jim Watson, pilot of the GB Aerial Applications single engine air tanker T-850, shot this video while flying over and dropping retardant on the Horse Park Fire in southwest Colorado May 28, 2018. He was working with Lead 28.
A spokesperson for Fort Carson, a U.S. Army base south of Colorado Springs, admits that 20 fires in the last 12 months have been a result of training activities on the base, according to KOAA. Below is an excerpt from their report:
On March 16, a fire caused by live ammunition training on a Fort Carson artillery range burned nearly 3,000 acres off Mountain Post property, destroying two homes, numerous outbuildings, and dozens of vehicles. Sunday, a wildfire caused by shooting on the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex public shooting range burned more than 2,000 acres and forced the total closure of a roughly 10-mile stretch of I-25 for more than an hour.
Local residents and elected officials are wondering if there is anything the base can do to minimize the number of fires started by training, such as reducing dangerous activities during periods of elevated fire danger.
Ten years ago this month the pilot of a single engine air tanker was killed while helping firefighters on the ground contain a fire that started on Training Area 25 at Fort Carson. Wildfire Today wrote about the report released by the National Transportation Safety Board, which indicates there were very strong winds that day when Gert Marais died:
At the time of the crash, a U.S. Forest Service person on the ground who was directing the SEAT estimated that at the time of the crash the wind was out of the southwest at 30-40 knots. Winds at the Fort Carson airfield, 5 miles from the crash site, were between 20 and 40 knots from 1300 to the time of the accident at 1815.
Strong winds like occured on April 15, 2008 often indicate high wildfire danger if the relative humidity is low and the vegetation is dry.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
Earlier we posted Part One of a few notes that I scribbled in a notebook at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week. Here is Part Two.
Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation, said their air tankers in 2016 averaged 180 hours while working on wildfires. In 2017, a very busy year, that number increased to 276. Their P2V’s have retired from firefighting, leaving the company with nine air tankers, all BAe-146’s.
No one outside the U.S. Forest Service knows when the agency will issue the next round of exclusive use and call when needed next-generation air tanker contracts, affectionately called Next-Gen 3.0. When forced to guess, Mr. Hooper said the aircraft receiving those new contracts may not be activated until 2019. He may know more than most, since his former job was supervising air tanker contracting for the FS.
One of the major suppliers of fire retardant, Phos-Chek, is changing hands again. In a matter of days its parent company will be Perimeter Solutions. But as in the previous four iterations it will retain the brand name Phos-Chek.
Here is the product’s history of parent companies:
2018- ???? : Perimeter
Jim Wheeler, CEO of Global Supertanker Services, said the company currently has CWN contracts with CAL FIRE and two counties in Colorado — Douglas (just south of Denver) and El Paso (Colorado Springs). Other pending contracts that they hope to sign later will be with the states of Colorado, Texas, and Oregon.
Vincent Welbaum, Colorado’s Aviation Unit Chief, said they are talking to vendors and expect to award a call when needed contract to at least one vendor that can supply large or very large air tankers. The state has been operating their own two Pilatus PC-12 Multi-mission aircraft for several years, using it to detect and map wildfires.
Colorado will have two Single Engine Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts supplied by CO Fire Aviation and Aero Seat as well as four other vendors on call when needed contracts. The state will also have two Bell 205’s on exclusive use contracts.
Helimax Aviation is one of two subsidiaries of Heligroup Holdings. The other is CHI at Howell, Michigan which concentrates on heavy lift, while Helimax, at Sacramento McClellan Airport is in involved in aerial firefighting. Helimax recently sold all of their Type 2 helicopters, and now have six Type-1’s, Chinook CH-47D’s.
Bradford Beck, COO of MAFFS Group said the company recently sold a MAFFS II system to the Tunisia Air Force in Northern Africa. The country has operated two of the original versions of the MAFFS for 10 to 15 years. They will continue to operate the MAFFS I systems on a C-130B and will use a C-130H for the new MAFFS II which will be delivered in the third quarter of this year. The most challenging wildfires in Tunisia occur in the Atlas mountains.
This is the second MAFFS II that the MAFFS Group has sold. The first is now being used in Columbia, South America.
Viking Air director of Special Projects, Sales, and Marketing Christian Bergeron said the company is currently gathering information from potential customers about what they would like to see on a new version of the CL-415 water scooping air tanker. The company expects to decide by the third quarter of this year if they will proceed with the project, which will be named CL-515. At this stage, Mr. Bergeron said, they expect it to have a larger cargo door, glass cockpit, updated avionics, and will be able to land with a full load of water. Available options will include an infrared camera system and night vision compatibility. Viking’s manufacturing facility is in Calgary, Canada.