Under a SEAT drop

Did you ever wonder what it would look like to almost be directly under a Single Engine Air Tanker as it made a retardant drop?

USFS has 34 large air tankers currently activated

CV-580
A CV-580 spotted at Boise recently. Photo by Steve.

The U.S. Forest Service has 33 large air tankers currently activated in the United States; 15 on multi-year, full time exclusive use contracts, 9 on call when needed contracts (part time), 6 borrowed from Canada, and 4 military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130s.

This is the highest number of air tankers we have seen working in the United States at the same time in recent years — especially the 23 that are under some sort of U.S. Forest Service contract, full time exclusive use or call when needed part time. In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts but that number declined over the next 12 years to a low point of 9 in 2013.

Here is the breakdown:

USFS Multi-year full time exclusive use (14)
T-118 HC-130H U.S. Forest Service
T-105 MD-87 Aero Air, LLC
T-101 MD87 Aero Air, LLC
T-161 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-160 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-260 CL-415 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-912 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-131 C-130 Coulson
T-10 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-43 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-06 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-45 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-05 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-07 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-44 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.

USFS Call When Needed (part time) (9)
T-911 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-910 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-02 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-01 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-41 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-40 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-162 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-163 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-164 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.

Canadian government (borrowed) (3)
T-154 CV580 Alberta
T-173 CV580 Saskatchewan
T-174 CV580 Saskatchewan

Canadian companies (3)
T-155 CV580 Conair
T-142 C-440 Conair
T-152 CV580 Conair

MAFFS C-130s (4)
MAFFS 2 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base
MAFFS 5 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base
MAFFS 1 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard
MAFFS 9 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard

It is interesting that Aero Flite has five RJ85s converted, certified, staffed, and actively fighting fires, and Neptune has five BAe-146s doing the same. A few days ago three DC-10s began working at the same time, which is a first for 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

Department of the Interior air tankers

Until a few years ago the Bureau of Indian Affairs had two water scooping air tankers on contract, but now there is an agreement in place between the DOI and the USFS whereby the USFS will handle contracts for all large air tankers, including scoopers. Now there is just one scooping air tanker on contract with the federal government, a CL-415 operated by Aero Flite. Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told us that the USFS does not consider the CL-415 to be an air tanker (or an “airtanker” as the agency calls them). To them it is a “scooper”.

The agreement also specified that the BLM would manage contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers and this year there are 33 SEATs, according to BLM spokesperson Randall Eardley.

More next-generation air tankers on the way?

Months ago the USFS issued a solicitation for “up to seven” additional next-generation air tankers. It was protested by two vendors before the solicitation even closed but those were both denied by the GAO. We checked, and Mrs. Jones told us that they are still working through the contracting process. After they make a decision about awards, then there is a 30-day waiting period while Congress is notified, after which the agency can actually award contracts — which could be protested again at that point.

Mrs. Jones said:

While we are working diligently to complete the contracting process, there is no estimated timeframe for completing that, notifying Congress, announcing awards, etc. at this time.

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

SEATs in Nebraska and South Dakota to start later than normal due to green conditions

Wind Cave National Park
The High Bridge over Beaver Creek in Wind Cave National Park, June 13, 2015. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) in South Dakota and Nebraska will have later starting dates than usual due to the abundance of moisture and very green herbaceous vegetation, as you can see by this photo taken in Wind Cave National Park a week ago.

For the last year or two South Dakota has brought on a contract SEAT July 1 but Jim Strain, the Chief Fire Management Officer for South Dakota’s Division of Wildland Fire, told us that it will start sometime after that, depending on how quickly things dry out. In 2012 they had a SEAT working out of Hot Springs in March. But, he said, this year it will definitely be on board before the start of the Sturgis motorcycle rally the first week of August. That event brings HUGE numbers of visitors to the Black Hills, and this year’s gathering is expected be larger than normal, since it is the 75th annual rally.

The Nebraska SEAT usually is based at Chadron, but the runway at the airport is being resurfaced this summer, so this year it will be either at Alliance or Valentine starting July 15.

SEAT hot springs
Tanker 466, a Dromader, at Hot Springs, South Dakota, March 14, 2012, operated by New Frontier Aviation. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Tanker 873 makes the news in Pennsylvania

In this video WTAJ introduces a Single Engine Air Tanker, T-873, to the public. The aircraft is based near Black Moshannon State Park in Pennsylvania but will migrate west this summer.

Last year I photographed that ship at Chester, California and talked to the pilot who was flying it that day, Fred Celest.

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

Projected federal air tanker fleet for the United States

Now that we have summarized the evolution of the federal large air tanker fleet over the course of 2014, it’s time to look at what is in store for 2015. There could be between 14 and 21 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts this year. Jennifer Jones, a Public Affairs Specialist with the U. S. Forest Service in Boise, told us that the list should include these aircraft:

  • 1 DC-10, 10 Tanker Air Carrier
  • 1 C-130Q, Coulson
  • 2 RJ-85s, Aero-Flite
  • 2 MD-87s, Erickson Aero Air
  • 1 BAe-146, Neptune
  • 6 P2Vs, Neptune
  • 1 C-130H, U.S. Forest  Service

In 2014 a DC-10 and three more BAe-146s were brought into service as “additional equipment” on a 1-year temporary basis under exclusive use contracts awarded in 2013. Due to a change in Department of the Interior procurement policies, this will not be done again in 2015.

The USFS expects to award another “next generation” contract for up to 7 more air tankers in 2015. We will be watching to see how long it takes the agency to advertise and award the contracts. Last time it took 555 days.

The USFS will also have one CL-415 water scooping air tanker on contract this year. And, eight military C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) are expected to be available if needed.

Last year the Department of the Interior funded 33 exclusive use Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) as national shared resources. Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, said their contracts are not firmed up yet for 2015, but they expect to have about the same number of SEATs as last year.

Air Tractor 802 demonstration

This is a promotional video demonstrating Air Tractor’s AT-802F and the amphibious version, the Fireboss. Some of the aircraft are operated by Airspray who recently acquired two of the single engine air tankers adding to their fleet of L188 Electras and a BAe-146.

And speaking of the Fireboss, we just ran across the video below that was uploaded to YouTube in 2008. Somehow the aircraft lost the ability to completely stay afloat.

SEATs at Chester

Chester air attack base sign

Yesterday we stopped by the air tanker base at Chester, California where Terry Grecian, the manager, was kind enough to allow us out on the ramp to talk with one of the pilots.

Since it rained heavily a couple of days ago it has been less hectic at Chester. Earlier in the week they had Single Engine Air Tankers, Large Air Tankers, and several helicopters working out of the airport. On Wednesday there were just two SEATs and one Type 2 helicopter parked there.

Pilot Fred Celest and air tanker 873
Pilot Fred Celest and air tanker 873 at Chester, Calif. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Fred Celest is the pilot for Tanker 873, an Air Tractor 802-F. He has previously flown crop dusters, private jets and P2V air tankers. He likes flying air tankers better than corporate jets, he said, because with air tankers he travels less. While talking with him we detected a bit of an accent, and it turns out that he is French and German, but is a United States citizen.

Mr. Celest felt it was important to point out that the 800-gallon aircraft has a 1,650 HP Garrett-14 engine. The air tanker is under contract through New Frontier Aviation out of Fort Benton, Montana. The company also operates 550-gallon M-18 Dromader SEATs.