US Marine aircraft training for wildland firefighting

Click on one of the photos below twice to enable a larger format slide show.

On February 12 we wrote about CAL FIRE evaluating the MV-22 Osprey for dropping water on fires.

MV-22 Osprey: more photos of water drop evaulation

MV-22 Osprey drops water on simulated wildfire

After we published the story about the MV-22 Osprey being evaluated on February 11 for its ability to drop water on wildfires, we found more photos of the event that were taken by the Marines from Camp Pendleton, specifically Sgt. Laura Y. Raga. The personnel were with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

MV-22 Osprey drops water on simulated wildfire

The exercise was performed as part of an agreement between the Marine Corps, Navy, and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Interagency Military Helicopter Firefighting Program, which is implemented through the Defense Support to Civilian Authorities process.

MV-22 Osprey drops water on simulated wildfire MV-22 Osprey drops water on simulated wildfire

MV-22 Osprey evaluated for dropping water on wildfires

The MV-22 showed promise as a firefighting aircraft.

MV-22 Osprey wildfire evauation

Photo above: MV-22 Osprey being evaluated near Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County, California, February 11, 2015. Photo by Mike Murawski, CAL FIRE, Riverside County FD.

On February 11 representatives from CAL FIRE and the U.S. Marine Corps evaluated the feasibility of using an MV-22 Osprey to drop water on wildfires. The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft with large rotors that can be tilted 90 degrees, enabling it to take off and land vertically and cruise at over 300 mph once airborne and the rotors are tilted down to front-facing.

MV-22 Osprey dropping water
MV-22 Osprey dropping water near Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County, California. Photo Mike Murawski, CAL FIRE Riverside County FD.
For the test yesterday an Osprey from Camp Pendleton was outfitted with a Bambi water bucket at the end of a 100-foot rope made of synthetic material. The bucket and harness added another 15 feet so the aircraft was always more than 115 feet above the ground. The long line was used to reduce the downwash hitting the ground.

One of the primary issues being looked at yesterday was that strong downwash coming from the large aircraft with the twin 38-foot diameter three-bladed rotors. We have written before about this downwash that has injured people nearby, the extreme heat that comes out of the engine exhaust which has started wildland fires and damaged flight decks on ships, and the high cost of $83,256 dollars an hour.

Travis Alexander, a CAL FIRE Division Chief for Tactical Air Operations, said on this latest generation of Ospreys the exhaust has been modified with a diversion system which reduces the extreme heat and downwash that hits the ground while taking off and landing. In spite of this modification he said it is unlikely that the Osprey while working on a fire would be allowed to land at an unimproved site that had any flammable vegetation. A firefighting aircraft that starts fires is not what anyone wants to see.

Chief Alexander was present yesterday during the tests which involved drops while hovering (a spot drop) and while moving forward. He told us that a significant downwash was expected, as seen with large helicopters, but the turbulence that impacted the ground was not to the degree that it would eliminate the Osprey from consideration as a firefighting aircraft.

It was using a 660-gallon Bambi bucket on Thursday which was choked down to hold less than 660 gallons.

The photo at the top of this article is interesting, I thought, due to the slack that appears in the synthetic rope. Chief Alexander figured that it could have been taken while the aircraft was preparing to land. It may have already set the bucket on the ground and could have been moving backward a bit so as not to drag the bucket as it descended to the ground. The synthetic rope may be apt to be less straight than a wire rope or cable, especially when influenced by the strong downwash.

A final decision has not yet been made about using the Ospreys on fires. If it is approved, it could be added to the Memorandum of Understanding with the military that allows the use of helicopters (UH-60, CH-53, and UH-1Y) to assist with fire suppression across the state. The CH-46 was previously on the list but the Marines have phased it out and replaced it with the Osprey. The MOU was last activated to fight fires southern California in 2012.

In March, 2011 the Marine Corps tested the Osprey with a 900-gallon Bambi Bucket suspended from 50-foot and 100-foot long lines attached to the rear cargo hook while flying at up to 90 knots. After the tests, they came up with the following recommendations:

  • Maximum airspeed with bucket empty – 90 KIAS
  • Maximum airspeed with bucket full – 90 KIAS
  • Maximum airspeed when dumping – 50 KIAS
  • Max angle of bank- 30 degrees AOB
  • Use of Automatic Release Mode is prohibited.
  • Bambi bucket should be positioned to the 6 o’clock position of the aircraft prior to takeoff or landing.
  • Aircrew shall continuously monitor load for oscillations or unusual load movement.

The report can be found here (2.6MB).

Another interesting fact about the Osprey. They are being added to HMX-1, the fleet of aircraft operated by the Marines for transporting the President and other VIPs. They have several already that are painted dark green with a gloss finish, like the helicopters you see taking off from the south lawn of the White House. But they don’t have a white top, which means the President is not allowed to get anywhere near the Ospreys. That’s because they fall out of the sky too often.

From Wikipedia:

The V-22 Osprey has had seven hull-loss accidents with a total of 36 fatalities. During testing from 1991 to 2000, there were four crashes resulting in 30 fatalities. Since becoming operational in 2007, the V-22 has had three crashes resulting in six fatalities, and several minor incidents. The aircraft’s accident history has generated some controversy over its perceived safety issues.

HERE is a link to a video that supposedly shows three “Presidential” Ospreys landing at Burbank Airport during a Presidential visit.

More photos from the February 11 MV-22 Osprey exercise.

Wildfire Today story about an MV-22 that ran low on fuel, made precautionary landing in a swamp, and started a wildland fire.

Articles on Fire Aviation and Wildfire Today about the MV-22.

Report: MV-22 Osprey crash caused by dust from rotor wash

The Marine Corps investigation into the crash of an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft May 17 in Hawaii determined that it was caused by dust stirred up by the rotor wash.

Osprey_dust_USAF_photo
File photo of MV-22 Osprey. USAF photo..

After making multiple attempts to land in brown-out conditions, the buildup of debris on the turbine blades and vanes led to a compressor stall in the left engine, which decreased lift and resulted in the hard landing and fire.

The report found that pilot performance and an improper site survey of the landing zone led to the accident, resulting in the deaths of two and injuries to 20 on board.

The potential for the Osprey to deliver water or personnel to fight wildfires was evaluated by the Marine Corps in tests with a 900-gallon water bucket. They recommended that the aircraft not exceed 90 knots with a bucket and 50 knots when dropping water.

MV-22 Osprey with bucket
MV-22 Osprey with bucket. DOD photo.

The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft capable of vertical or short takeoff and landing. When airborne, it can cruise at over 300 mph, can carry 24 to 32 troops, or 15,000 pounds of external cargo.

However, there are some issues that would stand in the way of the Osprey fighting fires, such as the very powerful rotor wash that has injured people nearby, the extreme heat that comes out of the engine exhaust which has started wildland fires and damaged flight decks on ships, and the high cost of $83,256 dollars an hour.

We have written a number of articles at Fire Aviation and at Wildfire Today about the MV-22 Osprey and its suitability for fighting fires.

MV-22 blows roofs off houses in Nepal

MV-22s arrive at Tribhuvan
Four MV-22s arrive at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal May 3, 2015 as part of the U.S. response to the 2015 earthquake. Photo by USMC.

We have written several times about the tilt rotor MV-22 Osprey, and how it may or may not be suitable to fight wildfires by dropping water or transporting firefighters. While it can carry up to 15,000 pounds of external cargo, which might translate to about 1,500 gallons of water, the extreme rotor downwash and the heat from the exhaust which has started fires are two serious limiting factors.

Four MV-22s are being used in Nepal as part of the U.S. response to the earthquake. An article in Calcutta’s The Telegraph points out two issues that are limiting factors for assisting with the earthquake response.

The Ospreys, the Nepalese have seen, flatten or blow off the roofs of the weak houses of villagers while landing and taking off. “They also raise dust storms,” one pilot said.

The MV-22 can carry up to 20,000 pounds of internal cargo or 32 troops, but apparently are having trouble with the density altitude at the high elevations in Nepal.

In one high-altitude village ravaged by tremors, the sight of an Osprey gave much hope to residents who wanted to be evacuated. But the Osprey’s payload limitations meant that the aircraft could evacuate only three persons. Elsewhere, villagers have asked the Nepal Army not to send the Ospreys “because they take away the little that remains with us”.

Articles at Fire Aviation tagged MV-22, and at Wildfire Today tagged MV-22

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

MV-22 Osprey evaluated for fighting fires

MV-22 Osprey with bucket
MV-22 Osprey with bucket. DOD photo.

The Marines have conducted some tests to determine how feasible it would be for the MV-22 Osprey to fight wildland fires. As you may know, the Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft capable of vertical or short takeoff and landing. When airborne, it can cruise at over 300 mph, can carry 24 to 32 troops, or 15,000 pounds of external cargo.

In March, 2011 the Marines tested the Osprey with a 900-gallon Bambi Bucket suspended from 50-foot and 100-foot ling lines attached to the rear cargo hook while flying at up to 90 knots. After the tests, they came up with the following recommendations:

  • Maximum airspeed with bucket empty – 90 KIAS
  • Maximum airspeed with bucket full – 90 KIAS
  • Maximum airspeed when dumping – 50 KIAS
  • Max angle of bank- 30 degrees AOB
  • Use of Automatic Release Mode is prohibited.
  • Bambi bucket should be positioned to the 6 o’clock position of the aircraft prior to takeoff or landing.
  • Aircrew shall continuously monitor load for oscillations or unusual load movement.

The report can be found here (2.6MB).

However, there are some issues that would stand in the way of the Osprey fighting fires, such as the very powerful rotor wash that has injured people nearby, the extreme heat that comes out of the engine exhaust which has started wildland fires and damaged flight decks on ships, and the high cost of $83,256 dollars an hour.

We have written a number of articles at Fire Aviation and at Wildfire Today about the MV-22 Osprey, and its suitability for fighting fires.

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Ross.

MV-22 Osprey as a firefighting aircraft

V-22 OspreyEric, one of our loyal readers, sent us a link to an article that explores the use of the military MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft as a firefighting machine. The Osprey can take off and land vertically like a helicopter, and then tilts the rotors to fly horizontally at 277 mph.

The article dismisses the use of the Osprey as a direct attack, water-dropping aircraft, primarily for the reasons we outlined in an article we wrote in 2010 (scroll down to see a reprint of that post). But it suggests the Osprey could be useful in other ways to support a firefighting operation.

Here is an excerpt from the piece at medium.com, published October 27, 2013:

“It takes forever to get to a rural wildfire. Let’s use the Osprey to shrink distance and get critical equipment to the front,” he says. “Expensive command and control gear could be quickly transferred from central depots to forward fire bases, and from there other transport would carry them the ‘last half-mile’ to the fire line.”

“The Osprey can reduce the response time for elite wild-fire fighters — smokejumpers or hotshot teams — getting ‘boots on the ground’ faster, with more gear, reducing the time it takes to initially attack wildfires,” Hooper says. “And there’s also the possibility of reducing the cost of initial attacks: more firefighters can qualify for descending a rope-drop than for jump school, at less cost per person.”

Specialized critical assets — too expensive to distribute widely — are another potential cargo. “Air traffic control can get very tricky over a disaster area. Deploying an air traffic control team or a ‘control tower in a box’ would be a perfect example of how the range and speed of an Osprey could … make a big difference.”

But an Osprey with its twin 22-foot rotors creates ferocious downwash, blowing debris around like shotgun blasts. “They need to go into a relatively clean landing zone and then get out—so they may be a better fit moving equipment [near] an impacted zone than, say, doing gritty work inside the disaster area,” Hooper proposes.

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(Below is the article we wrote January 3, 2010 at Wildfire Today)

Osprey. USAF photo
MV-22 Osprey. USAF photo

The MV-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor, vertical take-off and landing aircraft, is replacing some of the Vietnam era CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters used by the Marine Corps. Since the disastrous wildfires in southern California in 2007, the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps have had an agreement with Cal Fire making it possible to use their military helicopters on fires if Cal Fire is unable to handle the fires with their own aerial assets.

In July of 2008, CH-46E and CH-53E military helicopters made at least 574 drops on fires in California, delivering 217,000 gallons of water.

At first glance, the Osprey might seem like an excellent firefighting tool. It is fast (cruises at 277 mph), could haul 24-32 firefighters, and could carry 1,800 gallons of water externally. But it has never dropped a gallon of water on a fire and it is possible that it never will due to at least two potential problem areas.

Rotor Wash

As you can see in the photo above, the rotor wash or downdraft from an Osprey is extremely strong–far stronger than a conventional helicopter. Rotor wash from a helicopter can cause, and has caused, serious problems when the wind from the rotors spreads the fire in unexpected directions, sometimes doing more harm than good. Marines even worry that Osprey rotor wash may damage or destroy unrecorded archaeological sites in training areas.

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the rotor wash creates enough force to knock sailors and aircraft off a flight deck on a ship.

May CAUSE fires

The Osprey’s engines run extremely hot, so hot that the Navy is taking special precautions to prevent the engine exhaust from melting or buckling the aluminum decks of warships. A report from DARPA states:

The deployment of the MV-22 Osprey has resulted in ship flight deck buckling that has been attributed to the excessive heat impact from engine exhaust plumes… Navy studies have indicated that repeated deck buckling will likely cause deck failure before planned ship life.

DARPA has designed a “flight deck thermal management system” which would liquid-cool the deck from below or above while the aircraft are idling or launching. The military has put out a request for proposals for other permanent deck-cooling systems that could be retro-fitted or designed into new ships still on the drawing board.

Wildfire Today reported on May 30, 2009, that an Osprey made an unscheduled precautionary landing in North Carolina and started a 5-acre fire in a wet marsh. We wrote then:

Marines refueled the Osprey but according to WECT.com, upon taking off it “smashed into swamp mud, nose first”. During that takeoff attempt, heat from the engine exhaust started a vegetation fire which did some damage to the exterior of the aircraft.

A news release from the Marine Corp claims:

The grass fire was quickly extinguished by the crew chief, but caused an undetermined amount of heat damage to the aircraft exterior.

But Emergency Management Director Eddie King said the local fire department had to work through the night to extinguish a 5-acre fire, in an area infested with snakes and alligators, that was caused by the incident.

Osprey hauling a Humvee. U.S. Navy photo.
Osprey hauling a Humvee. U.S. Navy photo.

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(UPDATE October 28, 2013)

On May 31, 2010 an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft being demonstrated by the U. S. Marine Corp at a Staten Island park near New York City injured 10 spectators when the rotor wash sent debris flying. More information.