A De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400AT is on contract in Queensland, Australia during the 2020/2021 summer bushfire season. This is the first time the state has had regular access to a large air tanker, rather than borrowing from New South Wales or Victoria. Provided by Conair, Tanker 141/Bomber 141 (C-FFQE) arrived in Bundaberg in August after departing from Abbotsford British Columbia and making fuel stops at Oakland, Honolulu, Majuro (Marshall Islands), Honiara (Solomon Islands), and Brisbane where it cleared customs. There is a possibility the contract which started September 1 could be extended for an additional four years during the bushfire seasons.
Conair, working with the Australian company Field Air, will have two other large air tankers on contract in Australia, both RJ 85s, beginning October 1 in New South Wales and early December in Victoria.
In 2017 the Conair Group secured a deal to sell six Q400 Multi-Role aircraft converted to air tankers to France’s Securite Civile (Department of Civil Defence and Emergency Preparedness), two of which have been delivered. These are new aircraft that Conair purchased from Bombardier which can be converted in a few hours to carry passengers.
Besides the six that will be going to France, Conair has two Q400s, including the one in Australia. The company is working with North American agencies to hopefully see at least two of the Q400AT’s begin contracts next year. The aircraft were previously owned and are not the Multi-Role models.
Jeff Berry, Manager of Business Development at Conair, said the aircraft, “[A]re pure air tanker STC [supplemental type certificate], so we don’t have any of the residual plumbing, wiring, attachment points inside, or heavy duty flooring that you need for an MR, so it’s stripped down to be a pure tanker. And it gives us the maximum fuel load and the maximum retardant tank capacity. You get the full 10,000 liters [2,642 gallons]. The Q400AT is truly a ‘Green’ airtanker — it is incredibly fuel efficient burning only 58 percent of the fuel per hour while carrying 85 percent of the load of a typical type 1 airtanker.”
“It can operate off a 5,000-foot runway,” Mr. Berry said. “It gives them a lot of flexibility to utilize more of the existing tanker base infrastructure that is in place that may or may not be available for some of the large or very large air tankers.”
Queensland had an extraordinarily busy 2018/2019 bushfire season. Wildfire Today covered some of the fires that year.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released an Occurrence Brief regarding the Bell 214B that crashed while it was on a water dropping mission near Pechey, Queensland, Australia November 13, 2019.
The pilot suffered minor injuries and was flown to a hospital by another helicopter.
Below is the complete text of the Brief. (We added the photo taken by 9News):
Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.
What happened On 13 November 2019, a Bell 214B helicopter was water bombing during fire control operations near Pechey, Queensland. At 1344 Eastern Standard Time, the helicopter approached the bushfire downwind and down hill from the north-west at about 60 knots, and made a descending right-hand turn back into wind over the fire.
The descent was continued towards the drop zone. The airspeed was further slowed and the height was reduced to about 150 feet above ground level (50 feet above treetop level). The pilot then released the load of water before departing the drop area into rising terrain. The pilot heard the low rotor RPM warning and had insufficient altitude and clearance from obstacles to recover the rotor RPM and continue flying. He was concerned that further actions required to recover the rotor RPM would result in the helicopter possibly striking trees or ending up in the actively burning fire.
In maintaining the climb to avoid rising ground, trees and fire, the rotor RPM appeared to decay further. As the helicopter cleared the trees, it began to descend, yawed to the right and the left-hand skid collided with the ground. The helicopter rolled onto its left side resulting in substantial damage. The pilot was able to turn off the fuel to stop the engine and exited the helicopter via the overhead window with minor injuries. Neither the g-force activated ELT beacon or flight tracking alarm were triggered.
The distance from the last water drop to the impact point was less than 100 metres and the recovered aircraft showed little evidence of damage from forward moment.
Operator’s investigation and comments Based on the pilot’s account of the accident and assessment of the recovered aircraft, mechanical malfunctions were ruled out as a contributing factor. The operator determined that the accident was most likely the result of a loss of rotor RPM that the pilot was unable to recover, due to a downwind descending turn, low altitude for the water drop, and a departure into rising terrain. The pilot had to make a decision between putting the helicopter into tall trees and active bushfire or climbing over the trees to clear ground. In choosing the latter, the rotor RPM decayed further and the helicopter contacted the ground.
The operator stated that the helicopter type is renowned for its ‘hot and high’ performance making it a very effective firefighting platform. Firefighting combines a number of factors which result in flying that is close to the performance limits of the aircraft – high gross weights, low airspeeds, low altitude, close quarters manoeuvring, high work rate environment and adverse weather conditions. In this case the combination of factors immediately leading up to the accident resulted in the helicopter operating outside its performance envelope without having enough space and height to recover.
Safety action As a result of this occurrence, the aircraft operator has advised the ATSB that they are taking the following safety actions:
The operator has provided a briefing to all of their pilots on the circumstances and the outcome of this accident. The pilot involved in this accident will be involved in future training and checking to enable the recognition and avoidance of the circumstances that saw the limitations and flight envelope exceeded. This training will become part of the operator’s annual training for all pilots conducting fire control operations.
Safety message Fire control flying operations can involve challenges and complexities that require crews to maintain a heightened awareness of their aircraft’s operating limits and the environmental conditions. Flying within operating limits can ensure pilots have a performance margin to react to unforeseen circumstances.
About this report Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.
A helicopter that was assisting firefighters on a bushfire in Queensland, Australia had a hard landing near Pechey north of Toowoomba. The pilot, believed to be in his 70s, was injured and flown to a hospital by another helicopter.
9News reported that the incident occurred as the pilot attempted to perform an emergency landing in strong winds.
We’re getting chopper vision of the water-bombing helicopter which crashed at Pechey on the Darling Downs. The pilot is in a stable condition. pic.twitter.com/ygIwQ5soTu
Queensland does not normally experience scores of large bushfires burning simultaneously, especially during what is supposed to be their wet season. During their recent fire siege the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) brought in many resources from New South Wales, Victoria, and other areas including personnel and large air tankers. They also used two contracted intelligence gathering aircraft, a Learjet and Kingair from Air Affairs Australia, which were outfitted with infrared line scanners to detect new fires and map existing blazes.
The imagery delivered during both day and night-time flight operations provided imaging of the ground, defining active fire and burnt terrain through dense smoke.
A total of 40 flight missions were flown, delivering a total of 192 detailed fire images. Through transmission of image data from the aircraft via satellite, the imagery was delivered to the QFES State Operations Centre for near real-time utilization in Geographic Information Systems. The data was then made available through the QFES state-wide emergency mapping system for immediate regional usage.
The very unusual hot, dry, windy weather that has brought about large wildfires in Queensland, Australia during what is normally their wet season is requiring firefighters to adapt to the new unprecedented conditions. For the first time the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service is using large air tankers to assist firefighters on the ground. In recent days there have been at least three helping out, two RJ85’s and one 737 moved north from New South Wales to Rockhampton, Queensland.
Large air tankers from North America have been working in the states farther south for months, and a third RJ85 has recently arrived to bring the total to six.
Tanker 165 has been in NSW but is moving to a new contract in Victoria. T-165/391 will take its place at Richmond. This is requiring a call sign change and it will become T-391 while in Victoria.
When the Queensland fire situation subsides, the primary basing for the aircraft will be:
Richmond RAFF in New South Wales: a 737 (T-137), a C-130Q (T-134), and two RJ85’s (T-163 & T-166).
Avalon airport in Victoria: an RJ-85 (T-165/391) and a C-130Q (T-131).
Most if not all of the North American large air tankers and helicopters working in Australia have adopted names, like Thor, Gaia, Boomer, Hunter, and Rocky — for reasons that are not clear.