Two new single engine air tankers are being designed

One version is expected to be available in 2021

October 3, 2020   |   1:45 p.m. MDT

Firecatcher F-45 air tanker
Firecatcher F-45. Firecatcher photo.

Three companies are collaborating to design and manufacture two new versions of single engine air tankers (SEAT).

A UK company, Arcus Fire, is coordinating the projects which are designed and built by two New Zealand companies, Flight Structures Ltd and Pacific Aerospace.

Firecatcher F-25 air tanker
Firecatcher F-25. Firecatcher photo.

Flight testing is scheduled to begin soon of the smaller of the two aircraft, the F-25, which is capable of carrying up to 660 gallons. It is a modification of Pacific Aerospace’s Super-Pac XL utility aircraft. The companies are working on CAA/CASA/FAA Certification and expect the air tanker will be available in 2021. It will be powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140A engine.

Construction is in progress of a clean-sheet larger SEAT, the F-45, with a 1,188-gallon water or retardant tank. It will have a high wing and a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67F engine. Initially it will be a Restricted Category aircraft, but eventually will be certified in the Standard Category with both cargo and passenger variants. The first flight is expected in 2023 with deliveries planned to start in 2024.

fuselage Firecatcher F-45 air tanker
A portion of the fuselage of the Firecatcher F-45. Firecatcher photo.

The cargo version will have a large cargo door with a flat floor cabin that can take three LD3 shipping containers with a 5,500 lb maximum payload capability. The aircraft will have a cruise speed of up to 190 knots (218 mph) and a 1,000 nautical-mile maximum range. The 19-passenger cabin will have full stand-up headroom and double abreast single-aisle seating.

FlightGlobal reported the pricing will be $4.2 million for the F-45 and $2.2 million for the F-25.

Firecatcher F-45 air tanker
Firecatcher F-45. Firecatcher photo.

Neither the F-25 or the F-45 are amphibious, but they can be outfitted with a scooping tube, or as Erickson describes it on their Air-Crane helicopter, a  “scoop hydrofoil attachment”. A Blackhawk operated by HP Helicopters also has one of these devices.

Erickson Air-Crane scooping
SDG&E’s Sunbird Air-crane helicopter, scooping water at Lake Hodges, shortly after it was delivered in August, 2010. SDG&E photo.

Company issues statement about the drop gate on the air tanker that crashed in Idaho

The company that manufactures the gate that allows the retardant to be dropped from the Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed in Idaho September 22, 2020 said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board to their knowledge have not released preliminary findings regarding the cause of the crash.

Ricky Fulton was killed while flying the Air Tractor 802A when it crashed while attempting to drop retardant on a wildfire southeast of Emmett, Idaho.

On September 24, 2020 KWTV – NEWS9 reported that Mr. Fulton’s family said, “The preliminary finding from the FAA is saying that the dump gate malfunctioned and didn’t open to dump the fire retardant, so he wasn’t able to pull up over the ridge,”

Victor Trotter, President/CTO of Trotter Controls that made the gate, said, “Neither FAA or the NTSB has made any preliminary statements or findings regarding the cause or possible causes of the crash. We have not been notified that a gate malfunction contributed to the incident. …Air Tractor and our company is fully cooperating with the NTSB.  Documentation related to the FAA approved documents including the operation instructions (AFM), ICA (maintenance instructions), and Installation Instructions have been forwarded to the NTSB.”

The Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed was manufactured this year and was registered for the first time July 10, 2020. It was an Air Tractor 802A, N836MM, SN 802A-0836, owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Inc. of Sterling, Colorado, and was working on a call when needed contract with the Department of the Interior.

The SEAT that crashed Sept. 22 in Idaho was first registered two months ago

Ricky Fulton
Ricky Fulton

The Single Engine Air Tanker that crashed in Idaho September 22 was manufactured this year and was registered for the first time July 10, 2020. The aircraft was an Air Tractor 802A, N836MM, SN 802A-0836, owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Inc. of Sterling, Colorado. It was working on a call when needed contract with the Department of the Interior.

The pilot, Ricky Fulton, died in the accident.

The aircraft took off from Ontario, just across the Oregon border, at 6:07 p.m. MDT and was over the fire southeast of Emmett, Idaho 30 minutes later, according to FlightRadar24. It circled the fire about four times before it could no longer be detected.

SEAT flight from Ontario, ID to Schill Fire. N836MM
SEAT flight from Ontario, ID to Schill Fire. N836MM.

The family of Mr. Fulton told KWTV – NEWS 9 there was a malfunction related to the crash:

“The preliminary finding from the FAA is saying that the dump gate malfunctioned and didn’t open to dump the fire retardant, so he wasn’t able to pull up over the ridge,” family said.

It will be many months, at least, before an official report on the cause of the crash is released by the National Transportation Safety Board, so that information reportedly from the FAA should be considered preliminary at best.

NTSB SEAT crash

(Update September 28, 2020: the company that manufactures the gate that allows the retardant to be dropped from the Single Engine Air Tanker issued a statement about the crash.)

The Air Tractor 802A can hold up to 820 gallons of fire retardant weighing approximately 7,380 pounds. If any air tanker pilot is depending on the release of retardant to make it possible to clear terrain while exiting the drop area, a malfunction preventing that release would affect the aircraft’s ability to climb, possibly resulting in impact with terrain.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Pilot killed in Idaho air tanker crash

Sunset Idaho
BLM

Updated September 23, 2020  |  3:33 p.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management has provided more information about the crash of a single engine air tanker:

“On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at approximately 7 p.m. MDT, a Single Engine Air Tanker with one pilot on board was involved in a fatal accident during initial attack operations on the Schill Fire, located approximately 2 miles southeast of Emmett.

“The pilot, Ricky Fulton, perished. The aircraft, T-857, was owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Incorporated and was on an on-call contract with BLM Fire and Aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Firefighters on the scene rendered medical aid to the pilot and called for Life Flight, but the pilot did not survive his injuries.

“The 30-acre Schill Fire started at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in grass and brush in steep terrain. It was contained at approximately 10 p.m. on Tuesday. The cause of the Schill Fire is under investigation.”


Originally published September 23, 2020  |  8:58 a.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management announced that the pilot of a single engine air tanker (SEAT) was killed Tuesday evening September 22 while working on a wildfire near Emmett, Idaho. The agency said more information will be released following family notifications.

KTVB reported the accident occurred near Pearl Road about two miles southeast of Emmett. The fire started around 4:30 p.m. and grew to 25 acres as two SEATs and one helicopter assisted firefighters on the ground. According to the Gem County Sheriff’s Office, the air tanker was dropping retardant when it went down.

This is the sixth firefighting pilot and the third SEAT pilot to be killed in the United States this year. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

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

View from the cockpit as air tanker assists firefighters on the Comet Fire near Ely, Nevada

September 19, 2020 | 7:55 p.m. MDT

air tanker cockpit view drop wildfire
The view of the Comet Fire from Tanker 871 in Nevada, August 6, 2020. From video by Jim Watson.

Ride with Jim Watson, the pilot of Single Engine Air Tanker 871, as he sizes up and then drops retardant on the Comet Fire near Ely, Nevada, August 6, 2020. You won’t actually see the retardant because it comes out of the bottom of the aircraft. The SEAT is owned by GB Aerial Applications.

Pilots that were killed in mid-air collision of air tankers identified

Updated August 20, 2020 | 7:27 p.m. MDT

Red Canyon Fire
File photo. Air tanker 866 (N8510M) drops on the Red Canyon Fire in South Dakota July 9, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Sheriff’s Office of Lincoln County, Nevada has officially released the names of the two pilots that were killed in the mid-air collision of two Single Engine Air Tankers that occurred July 30, 2020 that were working on the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada. The aircraft were on contract with the BLM.

They were identified by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office as David Blake Haynes and Scott Thomas. When we asked Sheriff Kerry Lee why it took almost three weeks to release the names, he said that they have four ways to identify deceased individuals — dental, fingerprint, identification by the family either on scene or by photo, or DNA. Because of the condition of the victims they had to use DNA which required obtaining samples from family members then sending those to a lab with samples from the pilots.

A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that one of the two SEATs had fire retardant on the windshield. Both pilots of the aircraft, the only personnel on board, were killed while assisting firefighters on the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada.

The investigators found that the tankers were working in tandem with one close behind the other. After the following aircraft got retardant on the windshield it made a rapid climb then suddenly turned left and collided with the other.

Both of the SEATs were operated by M&M Air Services out of Beaumont, Texas. The aircraft were made by Air Tractor, model AT-802A; N8510M (Tanker 866) and N1558W (Tanker 824).

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of Mr. Haynes and Mr. Thomas.

Tanker 824 (N1558W)
File photo: Tanker 824 (N1558W) at Boise, July 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The article was updated August 20, 2020 after receiving information from the Sheriff’s office.

Two air tankers collide near Bishop Fire in Nevada

UPDATED at 10:15 p.m. MDT July 30, 2020

map Bishop Fire
Map showing heat detected by satellites on the Bishop fire as late as 3 a.m. MDT July 30, 2020.

Two air tankers collided July 30 while working on the Bishop Fire in southeast Nevada.

The Air Tractor Single Engine Air Tankers, SEATs, were involved in a mid-air collision Thursday afternoon according to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Claire Morville. There was one person on board each aircraft.

At 10 p.m. MDT July 30 a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, Chris Hanefeld, confirmed that the collision occurred earlier in the day at about 12:55 p.m. He said both pilots were killed in the crash. Recovery operations are currently underway and initial notifications are still being made.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the two pilots and to all those working with the BLM Nevada Ely District,” said BLM Nevada State Director Jon Raby.

The Bishop fire, reported July 29, has burned 500 acres 14 miles south-southwest of Caliente, Nevada.

The accident occurred near the intersection of Kane Springs Road and Riggs Road, Ms. Morville said.

The fire is on land managed by the BLM. The two privately owned aircraft were under contract to the agency.

SEATs are small airplanes used to support wildland firefighters on the ground. They can deliver up to 800 gallons of fire retardant and operate in areas where larger airtankers cannot.

The names of the pilots have not been released.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilots’ family, friends, and coworkers.

Bishop Fire
Bishop Fire, from Ella Mountain Lookout July 29, 2020. InciWeb photo.
map Bishop Fire
Bishop Fire map. Data from 7:53 p.m. MDT July 29, 2020. BLM.

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

Tests of night-flying air tankers underway in Oregon

Single Engine Air Tanker contract Wyoming
File photo of an Air Tractor AT-802 Single Engine Air Tanker under contract in Wyoming. N23WT. Photo via Wyoming State Forestry Division June 22, 2020.

Last week the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) began Phase Two of an evaluation of using Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) at night. This phase builds on the training and lessons learned during Phase One which occurred in Grant County in July 2019. ODF’s Aviation Unit has been working with the contractor to develop safety guidelines and procedures for target and firefighter identification for night operations on ODF protected lands. Firefighters from the John Day Unit will again coordinate in the training and evaluation of the operation. There will be increased night traffic at the airport during the week of July 20 as part of the SEAT evaluation activity.

During Phase One the SEAT dropped water on simulated fire targets directed by firefighters on the ground. The SEAT pilot uses night vision goggles to identify the target and all ground resources including fire engines and personnel. Firefighters use verbal cues and hand signals utilizing chem sticks to direct the pilot to target location. During Phase Two firefighters from the John Day Unit  received training focused on safety of the pilot, firefighters, observers and ensuring effective application of the SEAT drop as well as operation of the SEAT Base, located at the Grant County Airport. Single Engine Air Tankers are capable of dropping 700 gallons of water, fire retardant, or fire suppressing gel. These drops are intended to slow the spread of the fire and allow firefighters and equipment to build fireline to control and contain the fire. Water will be used during the initial evaluation activities.

Following initial training of ground personnel last week, evaluation of night SEAT proficiency began July 21. The operation is evaluated on safety procedures, effectiveness of the drops, and communication. ODF’s Partenavia aircraft, equipped with a camera and night vision systems, will record and supervise the operation. The aircraft is equipped with thermal imaging cameras for use in fire detection, along with coordinated mapping capabilities.

Upon completion of the night SEAT drop exercises and final evaluation by ODF’s Aviation Unit the plan is for staffing a SEAT at night in anticipation of a lightning event where night operations can be used in actual fire suppression on ODF protected lands.

ODF currently contracts five Single Engine Air Tankers as part of the suppression resources throughout Oregon.