The U.S. Forest Service Region 1 smokejumpers (map of R1) just finished a week long workshop, part of the transition from the round parachute canopy to the “square” CR-360 ram air. Jumpers from Missoula, Grangeville, and West Yellowstone completed 140 jumps in three and a half days. During the workshop one group collected flight data using data recorders, and the other group went through a training progression in order to get familiar with the canopy. Not all participants are pictured here for the last flight.
Tuesday night ABC’s Nightline had a nine-minute story on smokejumpers that featured the crew at Redding, California.
Below is Nightline’s description of the video.
Mitch Hokanson, 39, peers out the window of the roaring aircraft. Down below, a thin smoke coil emerges from a patch of pine trees. It’s been a dramatic fire season in the West. Drought conditions mixed with a rash of lightning strikes have caused small fires to break out. Close to 8.9 million acres have been burned by wildfires so far in 2015 — well above last year’s 3 million acres during the same time period.
Inside the plane, nine men strapped with parachutes and gear are ready to leap out the open door. They are part of an elite, and rarely seen, group of wildfire fighters employed by the U.S. Forest Service. Their mission: to stop the flames before they spread.
While it might take days for other crews to reach remote fires, depending on the location, this team can be at the scene, battling a fire in 30 minutes. The pay is modest, conditions treacherous, and hours can be long. Meet the California Smokejumpers.
The U.S. Forest Service has officially decided to ditch the round parachutes they have been using and move to the “square”, or ram-air design. The Bureau of Land Management smokejumpers have been using the ram-airs for quite some time, and the FS began testing them in a pilot program in their Region 1 in 2008 (map).
The FS has been jumping with round parachutes since 1939. The agency’s aviation program, upon latching on to a technology or policy, is not prone to changing directions on a whim.
On July 1, 2015, Tom Harbour, the Director of Fire and Aviation Management, initialed a decision paper written by Arthur W. Hinaman, the Assistant Director for Aviation, officially approving the transition to ram-air parachutes (assuming that initials, rather than a signature, makes it official).
Some of the primary arguments in Mr. Hinaman’s document were that the ram-airs are more maneuverable, have a slower vertical landing speed, and result in fewer accidents to smokejumpers. The document included these accident stats:
Analysis of information from 2001 through 2014 in MTDC’s [Missoula Technology Development Center] parachute landing data base shows the overall likelihood of injury on any given jump is 0.33% using round parachutes and 0.21% using ram-air parachutes. The overall minor injury rate is 0.22% using round parachutes and 0.15% using ram-air parachutes. The overall serious injury rate is 0.10% for round parachutes compared to 0.06% for ram-air parachutes.
The FS will support both the round and ram-air chutes during the transition, but smokejumpers who are not successful in the move to the new equipment will be “given appropriate employment assistance within the agency”, according to the decision memo.
For the first time, an automatic steerable parachute has been used to deliver cargo on a wildfire. Below is a description from the Bear Lake Fire in Montana:
The Bear Lake Fire was honored to be the first wildfire incident to use the microflight technology from the USDA Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center. The auto guided microflight technology is part of the Joint Precision Aerial Delivery System (JPADS) and was developed by the military 5 years ago. This new technology allows for cargo drops from altitudes of 5,000 ft above the drop zone (the altitude for a standard cargo drop is approx. 250 ft above the drop zone). The parachute is guided by a GPS unit that adjusts for winds, turning the cargo as needed and dropping it within 50-100 meters of the drop site.
US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) was the primary developer for JPADS, which meets several requirements: increased ground accuracy, standoff delivery, increased air carrier survivability, and improved effectiveness/assessment feedback regarding airdrop mission operations. The United States Army and Air Force began jointly developing this system in 1993. The Air Force made its first operational/combat use of the system in Afghanistan in 2006.
The steerable parachute or parafoil is called a “decelerator,” and gives the JPADS system directional control throughout its descent by means of decelerator steering lines attached to the Airborne Guidance Unit (AGU). They create drag on either side of the decelerator, which turns the parachute, thus achieving directional control.
The Airborne Guidance Unit (AGU) contains a GPS, a battery pack, and the guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) software package. It also houses the hardware required to operate the steering lines. The AGU obtains its position prior to exiting the aircraft, and continues to calculate its position via the GPS throughout descent.
The Mission Planner software gives the aircrew the ability to plan the mission, in flight if necessary, as well as steer the aircraft to its Computed Air Release Point (CARP), where the load is released.”
The Bear Lake Fire has burned about 6,400 acres 12 miles southeast of Wisdom, Montana. The Incident Commander is calling it 75 percent contained.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources is adding an eighth UH-1 Huey to their helicopter fleet. Their goal is to have six operational helicopters at any given time during the fire season. King5 has a video report.
It is interesting how the color scheme on the helicopters is similar to that of the Seattle Seahawks.
Reno-Stead air attack base prepares for fire season
KTVN has a story about how the BLM air attack base at Reno-Stead is getting ready for the wildfire season.
Wired writes about smokejumpers
Wired has a lengthy article about how smokejumpers and hand crews in Redding, California are training and preparing for the fire season.
Early last week two Missoula smokejumpers suffered minor injures during training jumps. But a much more serious injury occurred in April when a BLM jumper experienced a hard landing. Below is an excerpt from the accident report:
At 1158 on April 15, 2015 an accident occurred during a BLM smokejumper parachute training mission south of Boise, Idaho. The accident occurred when the smokejumper involved landed in strong winds while his main canopy was misaligned with the wind line. The misalignment caused the smokejumper to experience a hard landing, characterized by a substantial lateral and backwards movement at his point of contact with the ground. The smokejumper sustained a broken right humerus, dislocated right shoulder, with structural damage to the right shoulder, and a fractured rib upon landing. The injury occurred at Blacks Creek practice jumpspot. The injured jumper was given initial treatment on scene by Great Basin Smokejumper EMTs and transported to St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise, Idaho, by St. Lukes #1 Life Flight for further treatment.