Teen firefighting pilot flies Blackhawks and Chinooks

Ashli Blain is 19 years old

Ashli Blain, firefighting helicopter pilot
Ashli Blain, screenshot from KECI video.

Ashli Blain, a 19-year old college student, recently went back to school after spending her summer fighting fires from helicopters as a command pilot in Blackhawks and copilot in Chinooks. She works for Billings Flying Service out of Montana.

New hybrid quad-rotor UAS is being used on fires this summer

It can stay aloft for 12 hours mapping the fire and providing real-time video

FVR-90 hybrid Unmanned Aerial System
FVR-90 hybrid Unmanned Aerial System. Bridger Aerospace photo. (N171RE)

Bridger Aerospace has been operating an unmanned aerial system (UAS) on wildfires this year that first went into production in 2019 built by L3 Latitude Engineering. Their FVR-90 Hybrid quadrotor vertical take-off and landing unmanned aircraft has four rotors and a pushing propeller that can stay aloft for 12 hours. Orbiting over a fire above other aircraft at 12,000 feet it can use standard visual video cameras or heat-sensing infrared technology to monitor and map fires in real time.

In June the system was used on the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona, flying all night to map the perimeter and monitor spread of the fire. The next morning the UAS crew gave briefings to the Operations personnel so they could be armed with the latest intelligence.

Unlike drones that need a catapult to take off or a net to be recaptured, the FVR-90 can use the electrically-powered rotors to take off and then engage the gasoline-powered propeller for forward flight.

The Ravalli Republic has an interesting article about the aircraft being used this week on the Cinnabar Fire southeast of Missoula, Montana. Firefighters on the Sawtooth Fire made an 80-second video about the use of the aircraft in Arizona.

FVR-90 hybrid UAS
FVR-90 hybrid UAS. L3 Latitude Engineering photo.
FVR-90 hybrid UAS
FVR-90 UAS taking off at the Cinnabar Fire, August 30, 2020. (N151RE) InciWeb.
Bridger Aerospace
Bridger Aerospace’s UAS at the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona, 2020. The map was produced using data collected by the aircraft overnight. Bridger Aerospace image.

Bridger Aerospace receives the first Viking CL-415EAF

This is the first of six ordered by Bridger

first Viking CL-415EAF “Enhanced Aerial Firefighter” was delivered
The first production Viking CL-415EAF “Enhanced Aerial Firefighter” was photographed in the central Rocky Mountains en route to Bridger Aerospace’s facility in Bozeman, Montana. Longview photo.

The first Viking CL-415EAF “Enhanced Aerial Firefighter” was delivered to Bridger Aerospace’s facility in Bozeman, Montana as part of a contract that with all options exercised is valued at $204 million covering the purchase of six of the amphibious scooping air tankers.

Manufacturer’s serial number (MSN) 1081, the first Canadair CL-215 to undergo the major modification to the EAF “Enhanced Aerial Firefighter” configuration, took its inaugural flight on March 9, 2020 outside of program-collaborator Cascade Aerospace’s facility in Abbotsford, B.C.

Tim Sheehy, founder and CEO of Bridger Aerospace Group stated, “Aggressive initial attack and advanced technology in support of the wildland firefighter are the core of Bridger’s ethos. The Viking CL-415EAF is the most capable initial attack asset on the planet and we are proud to be the launch customer for this incredible capability.”

CL-415EAF Bridger Aerospace
CL-415EAF. Bridger Aerospace photo.

Robert Mauracher, executive vice-president of Sales and Marketing for Viking, commented, “The delivery of our first Enhanced Aerial Firefighter is the culmination of a multi-faceted collaborative project originally launched in 2018 and represents the partnership that has developed between Viking, Longview Aviation Capital (LAS), and Bridger over the past 24 months. We are now looking forward to adding a second aircraft to their fleet in the coming months.”

The Viking CL-415EAF modification program forms part of a staged approach to utilize the advancements made with the LAS converted aircraft as the basis for the proposed next-generation Viking CL-515 new-production aerial firefighting and multi-purpose amphibious aircraft.

The Viking CL-415EAF “Enhanced Aerial Firefighter” is a specially selected CL-215 airframe converted to turbine configuration using Viking-supplied conversion kits. It features a new Collins Pro Line Fusion integrated digital avionics suite, Pratt & Whitney PW123AF turbine engines, increased fire-retardant capacity, and improvements to numerous aircraft systems.

The Viking CL-415EAF represents the evolution of the type, utilizing the higher delivery two-door water drop system combined with a zero-timed maintenance program and a “new aircraft” factory-supported warranty program. All obsolete components impacting the worldwide fleet of CL-215 & CL-415 aircraft are replaced in the CL- 415EAF, and the upgraded aircraft is designed to failsafe FAR 25 certification criteria with no preset life limit.

Bridger Aerospace and Ascent Vision Technologies join forces to deliver COVID-19 PPE

Delivery face masks Bridger Aerospace
Members of Bridger Aerospace and Frenchtown District Rural Fire Department. Minuteman Aviation photo by Mel Holtz in Missoula.

What started as a modest campaign to provide a couple of hundred face shields to Bozeman Health, has opened doors to assist other first responders in staying safe. In an effort to fight against COVID-19, Ascent Vision Technologies (AVT), a military defense contractor, adapted its production know-how to rapid prototyping and production of the shields. After an outpouring of gratitude and requests for more units, the AVT team is now working to produce up to an additional 5,000 units.

Its sister company, Bridger Aerospace (BA), an Aerial Firefighting company based in Belgrade, Montana, with its fleet of 14 airplanes (mix of Aero Commanders, Kodiak 100’s, and a CL-415EAF), can bypass commercial shipping channels to deliver equipment and personnel on-demand. An opportunity to fulfill a request made by the Frenchtown FD presented such an occasion. The Bridger team used their newly acquired Daher Kodiak 100 to hand-deliver 30 units to a Fire Department crew based in Frenchtown, Montana.

Tim Sheehy, CEO, has pledged to assist any other first responders in need. So far, BA and AVT have delivered over 300 shields to Bozeman Health and first responders and will be delivering masks to other fire departments and healthcare professionals across Montana.

Bridger Aerospace was in the news last month when it was announced they would be acquiring six CL-415EAF scooping air tankers. Longview Aviation in collaboration with Cascade Aerospace, is upgrading Canadair CL-215 air tankers to become CL-415EAFs.

Experiment with stipple images

A P2V lands at Redding
A P2V lands at Redding, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert

These photos are the product of an experiment using a mobile phone app, SnapDot.

Air Tanker 41, a BAe-146 Missoula 2014
Air Tanker 41, a BAe-146, partially blocking the sun as it flies over a wildfire conference at Missoula, MT May 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Record-setting day at Helena Air Tanker Base

Twelve firefighting aircraft worked out of the base supporting the North Hills Fire

The Helena, Montana Air Tanker Base set some records over the last several days while supporting the North Hills Fire. Thanks to the fire being only 9 miles north of the airport and recent improvements made at the base, on Sunday air tankers reloading there completed 68 loads for a total of 231,000 gallons of retardant.

In recent days fixed wing firefighting aircraft at Helena included a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, four Large Air Tankers, two Single Engine Air Tankers, three Air Attack ships, and two Lead Planes.

Over the last year at the base the Forest Service upgraded the plumbing and installed two new pumps, two 25,000-gallon retardant tanks, and one 25,000-gallon off-load tank.

According to KTVH the DC-10 was recently able to load, make a drop and reload in a short amount of time. We checked with John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker, who consulted the data submitted by the fight crews that were flying the North Hills Fire. The flight times for each sortie on July 27 and 28, off the runway to back on the runway, ranged from 10 to 24 minutes with most of them in the 15 to 18 minute range.  That does not include taxi and takeoff on the 9,000-foot runway. The time the DC-10 spent in the reloading pit getting another 9,400 gallons of retardant was usually around 19 to 21 minutes, block in to block out.

As of Monday night the North Hills Fire had burned 4,688 acres.

Helena Air Tanker Base
Helena Air Tanker Base, before the recent upgrades. Google Earth Photo, July 25, 2014.

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

Mann Gulch DC-3 to fly to Europe for 75th anniversary of D-Day

Much work has to be done on the aircraft before the event in 2019

1949 Mann Gulch Fire smokejumpers

Above: Removal of victims at the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire. USFS photo.

The aircraft that dropped the smokejumpers who attacked the Mann Gulch Fire in 1949 is scheduled to cross the Atlantic next year to take part in the 75th commemoration of D-Day. The fire in Montana on which 12 jumpers and one fire guard died in 1949 is infamous among wildland firefighters as its memory lives on when more generations read about the tragedy in Norman Maclean’s book Young Men and Fire.

The Missoulian has the story about how numerous volunteers are mobilizing to work on the 74-year old aircraft’s airworthiness and regulatory compliance — it has not been in the air since 2001.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

It seems preposterous.

Take an historic, over-the-hills smokejumper plane that was last airborne in 2001, fix it up to federal standards, and fly it to Europe next year for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Maybe even drop jumpers into France, pulling ripcords of old-fashioned round parachutes and wearing suits their grandfathers used during the Normandy invasion in France on June 6, 1944.

And while you’re there, hit Germany to take part in the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Berlin Airlift (1948-49).

Smokejumper aircraft at Missoula

C23B Sherpas

I was able to get some photos of some smokejumper aircraft at Missoula International Airport last week while attending the Fire Continuum conference. Parked, were two Twin Otters and two C23B Sherpas, and a third Sherpa taxied in while I was there.

Previously I had seen a Sherpa flying through the hills north of the airport. The Sherpa that just landed may have been dropping jumpers for training. The U.S. Forest Service has authorization to obtain 15 of the Sherpas from the U.S Army. So far six have been refurbished and Neptune Aviation is working on a seventh with an eighth soon to follow. It is possible that the remaining seven will be used for parts.

C23B Sherpas twin otter
A Sherpa taxis in after landing at Missoula.

C23B Sherpas

C23B Sherpas
Two C23B Sherpas at Missoula, May 25, 2018.
C23B Sherpa twin otter
Twin Otters have served smokejumpers for many years.