Utah contracts for two Type 1 helicopters

Exclusive use for 90 days

Croman S-61 dropping water
File photo of a Croman S-61 dropping water during a demonstration in Sacramento in 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands has contracted with Croman Corporation to add two Type 1 helicopters to the state’s wildfire suppression resources.

This is the first time Utah has had an exclusive use contract for Type 1 helicopters.

“This is a greatly needed addition to our firefighting toolbox here in Utah,” said Mike Melton, the division’s aviation officer. “Along with the assets provided by our federal partners, these helicopters will improve our initial attack and large fire support capabilities.”

The exclusive use contract will be for up to five years, with each aircraft under contract for 90 days each year during the period from June 1 until the end of September. Both SH-3H (S-61) aircraft will be available to respond to wildfires in July and August.

This year the first aircraft became available for state use on June 15.

One of the helicopters will carry water in an external bucket, and the other will have a fixed tank with a capacity of approximately 800 gallons.

The first helicopter to come online will be stationed out of the Cedar City Air Center, with the second one’s location to be determined later when it becomes available.

Along with the aircraft, three seasonal helicopter managers have been hired who have federal agency experience managing this type of aircraft.

The helicopters will be dispatched out of the interagency fire centers throughout the state. They will also be available for use by the Forest Service, BLM, and other federal land management agencies within the state.

Croman tank
Croman S-61 with modified tank for dropping small bags of water during a demonstration in Sacramento in 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Helicopter crashes in Hawaii, killing four

An S-61N operated by Croman was transporting an external load for the military

12:10 p.m. PT Feb. 23, 2022

S-61A hard landing Croman
File photo of a Croman S-61 taken in 2014 — not the helicopter that crashed in Hawaii Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A privately owned helicopter under contract to the US military crashed Tuesday in Hawaii, killing all four on board. The S-61N operated by Croman Corporation was supporting a training operation at the Pacific Missile Range Facility. It occurred at Barking Sands in Kekaha on the island of Kauai. Everyone on board were Croman employees, according to the New York Times.

The helicopter, N615CK, was transporting an external load when it crashed.

From Hawaii News Now:

Brian Beattie, director of operations for Croman Corporation, said the Sikorsky S-61N had just retrieved an object from the water and was trying to drop it on the ground when something went wrong. The company’s choppers are used to retrieve material used in open ocean testing at the missile range.

“Something caused that helicopter to accelerate and go down,” said witness Chris Turner. “It tweaked to the right and then immediately went straight nose-down in an accelerated speed ― straight down with like one second. That was it.”

The Pacific Missile Range Facility is a Navy base on the western edge of Kauai where the military tests missile defense technology and personnel conduct exercises.

When the most recent contract for Type 1 helicopters was awarded by the US Forest Service in 2020, five of the 28 helicopters were Croman ships.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of the four people who lost their lives Tuesday.



Update at 12:39 p.m. PT Feb. 23, 2022

Shortly after we posted the article, Brian Beattie left the following comment.


Croman Corp 2/23/2022

Pacific Missile Range Facility personnel responded to the crash of a helicopter operated by Croman Corp, shortly after 10:00 Hawaii time on February 22, 2022. The Helicopter was conducting routine training operations at the Pacific Missile Range Facility under contract to the US Navy.

The four crew members, all Croman employees, were fatally injured.

The crew members are:

Daniel Maurice; 64, Chief Pilot, Check Airman and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner
Patrick Rader; 55, Command Pilot, Check Airman
Ericka Tevez-Valdez; 42, Mechanic and Aircrew
Mathew Haider; 44, Mechanic and Aircrew.

Dan Maurice’s residence is Lyle Washington. Patrick, Ericka and Matt are residence of Kauai.

The FAA, NTSB and US Navy are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday and will investigate the accident.

Croman Corp, based in White City, Oregon has provided Commercial Air Support Service to the US Navy at PMRF since 2007.

The loss of Dan, Patrick, Ericka and Matt will leave an empty space in the lives of all that know them. Each, in their own way, represents the best in all of us and should be held up as role models to be honored.

Brian H. Beattie
Croman Corp


Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Protests for new helicopter and air tanker contracts may not be decided until July or September

Four companies filed protests with the GAO

Neptune's five BAe-146 air tankers
Five of Neptune’s BAe-146 air tankers in 2014. Neptune Aviation photo.

Two recent attempts by the U.S. Forest Service to award contracts for firefighting aircraft have been protested.

On March 26 the agency awarded exclusive use (EU) contracts for five Next Generation 3.0 large air tankers. Erickson Aero Air and Aero Flite were each selected for two awards and Coulson Aviation received one. This would have added five tankers to the 13 that are currently on Next Gen 1.0 and 2.0 EU contracts, to bring the total up to 18.

However Neptune Aviation and 10 Tanker Air Carrier filed protests with the Government Accountability Office. Usually a protest prevents any contract awards from a solicitation. The due date for the GAO decision in this case is July 15, 2020. Neptune currently has four large air tankers on the existing contract while 10 Tanker has two.

The other protest was for 28 Type 1 helicopters, designed to tag on to the previous four-year contract that expired April 30, 2020. Both Billings Flying Service and Croman Corp. filed protests which are due to be decided by September 8, 2020.

In May, 2020 the Forest Service awarded guaranteed EU 90-day contracts for 24 Type 1 helicopters and 12 Type 2 helicopters. These aircraft, based on the national Call When Needed agreement, are considered national aviation resources to be used for initial attack and large fire support. It will be possible to extend the contract period beyond 90 days depending on the national situation. The plan was for the helicopters to begin their Mandatory Availability Periods on June 1 or June 15.

All of the contract awards for Next Generation EU air tankers since 2013 have been protested by companies that did not receive a contract. In each case the action delayed activation of the new contracts by months. If you are interested in a deep dive into these protests, check out our April, 2020 article, “Protests of air tanker contracts have been common.”

More information about Croman’s S-61A crash

S-61A crash sikorsky helicopter
S-61A crash

It was initially described as a “hard landing”. However, information from the FAA and a photo we received indicate an incident that involved one of Croman’s S-61A Sikorsky helicopters on August 19, 2015 (that we wrote about on August 24) was more than that. We can’t verify with 100 percent certainty that the helicopter in the photo above is Croman’s S-61A, N1043T that crashed that day while working on the Eldorado Fire eight miles southeast of Unity, Oregon. But the person who sent us the photo said it is, and the paint job, the position of the helicopter, and the damage to the tail boom match the NTSB’s description of the crash.

Below is text from the NTSB Preliminary Report, ID# WPR15LA248, that was updated on September 3, 2015:

****

“14 CFR Part 133: Rotorcraft Ext. Load
Accident occurred Wednesday, August 19, 2015 in Ironside, OR
Aircraft: SIKORSKY S 61A, registration: N1043T
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On August 19, 2015, about 1930 Pacific daylight time, a Sikorsky S-61A, N1043T, landed on a mountainside after experiencing a partial loss of engine power about 7 miles west of Ironside, Oregon. The commercial pilot sustained no injuries and the air transport pilot sustained minor injuries. The helicopter sustained substantial damage to the tailboom. The helicopter was registered to, and operated by, Croman Corp under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 as a firefighting flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated under a company flight plan. The flight originated from Baker City Municipal Airport (BKE), Baker City, Oregon at 1715.

The commercial pilot reported that shortly after picking up a bucket of water from a pond he gained airspeed and initiated a climbing left turn back towards the fire. As the helicopter started to climb, he heard a drop in RPM and the helicopter lost power. He attempted to continue the climb; however, the helicopter was too heavy. He released the water and landed the helicopter on a mountain side; subsequently, the helicopter rolled onto its right side.

The helicopter has been recovered to a secure location for further examination.”

****

UPDATE, September 15, 2015:

Earlier this year a Croman S-61A helicopter’s main rotor hit a tree while dipping water on the Cabin Fire on the Sequoia National Forest in California. Below is an excerpt from the Rapid Lesson Sharing report dated August 4, 2015:

****

“…As the pilots descended into the dipsite, the SIC communicated instructions to the PIC to “stay left” of the trees. While in the dip, the PIC heard what he suspected was a blade strike, called out the strike, jettisoned the water and immediately initiated a climb out to get clear of the area.

The pilots assessed the condition of the blades and saw no noticeable damage while in flight. On the climb out, the SIC noticed a smaller diameter tree (estimated to be about 8 ft. in height) that had been located at the helicopter’s 4 o’clock position, and missing its top. The Air Attack was notified about the potential blade strike and the pilots provided their intentions to land at the first opportunity. During the short flight to the first suitable landing site, the pilots noted no vibrations or abnormalities.

The crew performed a precautionary landing in a field located approximately 10 minutes away from the dip site. The Helicopter Manager was notified of the situation via cell phone. After shut down was complete, the pilots inspected the main rotor blade damage. Maintenance inspectors determined the main rotor blades, rotor-head, transmission and high speed shafts required replacement. The NTSB determined the blade strike as an “Incident”, and it was further classified by the Forest Service as an “Incident with Potential”…”

Croman S-61A helicopter experiences hard landing

S-61A hard landing Croman
File photo of a Croman helicopter taken in 2014. This is not the helicopter that experienced the hard landing August 19, 2015. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

At approximately 7:15 p.m. PT on August 19, a Croman S-61A helicopter working on the Eldorado Fire eight miles southeast of Unity, Oregon experienced a hard landing. The incident occurred on the west portion of the fire near King Creek in the vicinity of a medical unit serving firefighters on the line.

According to the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), two persons were on board. When the helicopter came to rest, both exited the helicopter and signaled that they were unhurt by waving to the medical unit. While no significant injuries were apparent, both individuals were transported by ambulance to St. Alphonsus Ontario Medical Center for further evaluation.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Baker City Herald:

…Gary Wiltrout, 67, of Boise, said he and his co-pilot Scott Talada, 65, of Baker City, had been flying for about six hours on Wednesday dumping water on the Eldorado fire when the engine failure occurred about 7:15 p.m.

They were taking water from a pond known as Murphy’s dip, near Highway 26 leaving Unity. Wiltrout said that up to that point, there was no indication there was anything wrong with the helicopter.“We had just picked up a bucket of water, then the engine rpm changed and we started losing altitude,” Wiltrout said. “I got rid of the water right away.”

Then, they lost an engine.

“I tried to make it out with one engine,” Wiltrout said.

The FAA reports there was “substantial damage” to the aircraft.

The helicopter has a Call When Needed contract with the U.S. Forest Service, but at the time of the accident it was working under the operational control of the ODF on one of their fires.

Photos of aircraft at Aerial Firefighting conference

CAL FIRE OV-10
CAL FIRE OV-10

We took these photos last week, March 20, at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento. There were about 90 minutes set aside for displays of firefighting aircraft at McClellan Air Force base, as well as live demonstrations of water and water pellet drops from a helicopter, and the use of the AirTEP Airborne Tactical Extraction Platform marketed by Aerial Machine Tool. We have photos of Coulson’s C-130Q in another article.

CAL FIRE T-83, an S2T
CAL FIRE T-83, an S2T
Croman S-61 dropping water
Croman S-61 dropping water
Croman S-61 with modified tank for water pellets
Croman S-61 with modified tank for water pellets

Continue reading “Photos of aircraft at Aerial Firefighting conference”

Fighting fire with bags of liquid

Croman tank
The modified external tank to deliver the water bags. (I’m fairly sure the gentleman said: “Say ahhhh.”)

A company in Israel has developed a system for fighting wildfires by dropping small bags of liquid from a helicopter or cargo plane. The idea is that the bags would break upon impact. Elbit Systems demonstrated their “HyDrop” system at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento, California last week, when small bags of water holding less than one liter were dropped from a Type 1 helicopter operated by Croman. Shlomo Alkaher, Vice President of the company, told Fire Aviation that other liquids could be used in the bags, such as water enhancement products or conventional long term fire retardant.

At their exhibit in the conference center we asked Mr. Alkaher if we could see one of the bags, but were surprised to hear that none were available. Later at the live demonstration at McClellan Air Force Base, we found a person who had somehow acquired a bag and allowed us to photograph it.

water bag
One of the water bags.

In a video of a test drop the company was showing in the exhibit area at the conference, it was clear that some of the bags did not break when hitting the ground, and in fact bounced. Mr. Alkaher said that the fire would eventually burn the plastic and the water would escape.

The advantage of the bags, he explained, is that the water delivery would be less susceptible to being blown off target by winds, which would also allow the helicopter to drop from a greater height if necessary.

We asked if they had conducted any tests where the product would be dropped onto a standard grid of cups, a test that is used to determine the distribution of water and retardant dropped by helicopters and air tankers. He told us no, explaining that the bags would most likely destroy the cups.

Mr. Alkaher said tests on crash test dummies determined that if a bag hit a person it would not cause an injury. The plastic bags will easily biodegrade, he said. The company has developed equipment that fills the bags near the site where they would be loaded onto the helicopter.

The company has also designed a container system that could be used by cargo planes with a rear door, such as a C-130. The containers would have a conveyer belt that would feed the bags out the door.

The video below, which has been converted to slow motion, shows the March 20 demonstration at McClellan. The camera was pretty far away so you can’t see a great deal (it helps to put it on “full screen”), but the spectators could tell that some of the bags bounced. We were not allowed to walk over and get a closer look at the drop site to see what the effects were or how many bags broke.