One of the two Forest Service infrared mapping aircraft has not been successfully used since November, 2018

The agency says the aircraft has an avionics problem

US Forest Service infrared aircraft fire mapping
The two USFS aircraft equipped with infrared sensors used to map vegetation fires. USFS graphic.

The U.S. Forest Service owns two twin-engine aircraft equipped with infrared (IR) sensing technology that can accurately map wildfires, even at night and through smoke. This information is critical for firefighters to have when the exact extent of a fire is not known due to darkness, smoke, size of the fire, rapid spread, or complex terrain. IR mapping aircraft can also be used to detect new fires started by lightning when they are very small.

One of the two USFS aircraft, a Beechcraft 200 Super King Air (N149Z), has been busy this year providing intelligence and situational awareness for firefighters. But the other, a jet-powered Cessna Citation Bravo (N144Z), has not successfully mapped a fire since November 16, 2018 when it flew the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California.

I asked Stanton Florea, a Forest Service Fire Communications Specialist, why the jet has not been used in more than a year.

“[It] has not operated since an avionics issue was detected during a test flight in June of 2019,” Mr. Florea said. “The issue made the aircraft unsafe to operate on wildland fire missions. Efforts to resolve the avionics issue have not been successful.”

One advantage the Citation has over the King Air is faster cruising speed, 464 mph vs. 356 mph. This enables it to more quickly move from fire to fire during the course of a nightly mission, producing more maps for firefighters. Depending on the size of fires and their locations, a fast IR mapping aircraft might cover five or even ten fires in one mission.

To fill in the gap created by an avionics problem, the Forest Service is going to the private sector.

Mr. Florea said the agency has Call When Needed Contracts with four companies for IR mapping. Their home bases are shown in parenthesis:

They also have an Exclusive Use Contract with Tenax Aerospace, with corporate headquarters in Madison, Mississippi, for two IR planes, one of which is operational now, with the other to be available later in August.

These five companies, judging from their websites, range in size from Hood Tech Aero which features a small Cubcrafters plane, to Tenax which “focuses on special mission aviation programs critical to national security and the public interest including, but not limited to: aerial fire suppression, aerial intelligence gathering, and airborne data acquisition.” Tenax has also operated at least one CL-415 scooping air tanker, T-260.

In recent weeks I have seen fire maps created from Courtney Aviation data. I of course can’t judge the accuracy, but after being processed by agency Infrared Interpreters assigned to the fires, they look very similar to those generated from USFS aircraft data, with about the same amount of detail.

Numerous firefighting aircraft are working the Maria Fire in southern California

aircraft over the Maria Fire
Map showing aircraft over the Maria Fire at 10:44 a.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019. Tanker 910, a DC-10, is working closely with a lead plane, N556MC, a Hawker Beechcraft B200GT owned by Tenax Aerospace. N722HT has a fixed wing icon, but it is a helicopter, an Air-Crane owned by Helicopter Transport Services.

Since the Maria Fire started on South Mountain at 6:15 p.m. October 31 it has burned over 8,000 acres 4 miles east of Ventura, California.

Today firefighters are attacking it aggressively from the ground and the air. As of 10:30 a.m. PDT on November, here is a partial list of the aircraft working the fire:

Air Tankers with their tanker numbers:
DC-10: 910, 911, and 914
MD87: 105
BAe-146: 02
RJ85: 167

Helicopters:
Blackhawk: Coulson’s “new” camo-painted helicopter
Air-Crane: N722HT
(and numerous other Medium helicopters)

Today, Friday, most of the air tankers are reloading at Santa Maria, 86 miles northwest of the fire.

Maria Fire
The Maria Fire as seen from the camera on Sulphur Mountain (Willet) at 9:55 a.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019.

CL-415 Super Scooper to be based at Lake Tahoe

T-260 CL-415
Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415 water scooper, sits on the BLM-Alaska Fire Service tarmac at Ladd Field May 19, 2015, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Photo by Sam Harrel of the Bureau of Land Management/Alaska Fire Service.

The only water-scooping air tanker that the U.S. Forest Service has under exclusive use contract will be based at Lake Tahoe, California this summer at the South Lake Tahoe Airport. It recently returned from spending several weeks working on wildfires in Alaska.

The CL-415 can skim across the surface of a lake and scoop 1,600 gallons of water to fill its tank. If a suitable lake is near a fire, this capability can result in large quantities of water helping firefighters on the ground suppress a blaze — especially if two are working in tandem as they usually do in Canada. Water scooping air tankers are also used extensively in several European countries.

In October, 2013, the contract for the aircraft, with a potential value of $57 million, was awarded to Aero-Flite. It is a five year deal with a provision to add a second aircraft if both parties agree.

The CL-415 is leased from TENAX Aerospace by Aero-Flite. It is a brand new aircraft and is the only CL-415 in the United States.

In June, 2013 Aero-Flite received a contract from the U.S. Forest Service for two Avro RJ85 “next generation” air tankers.

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(UPDATE July 24, 2015)

Tanker 260 at Wiley Post Airport

Tanker 260, at Wiley Post Airport

These photos of Aero-Flite’s brand new CL-415, Tanker 260, were taken May 7 by Chet Dodrill of Chloeta Fire. The aircraft was at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City along with a King Air 200 air attack platform.

The word of mouth in the area is that the local firefighters were very pleased with the work T-260 did on the recent fires near Guthrie and Woodward, Oklahoma. One of the lakes it was scooping from on the Guthrie fire was five to ten miles away from the fire, which allowed quick turnarounds.

The registration number on the plane is N389AC.

Tanker 260, at Wiley Post Airport

UPDATED May 9, 2014: The photo below was posted on the Oklahoma Forestry Services Facebook page today, with this caption: “The aircraft, a CL415 Airtanker, a Single Engine Airtanker (SEAT) & an air attack platform lined up for the Media Day today.”

Media day, photo by Oklahoma Forestry Services

The video below features the CL-415.

News9.com – Oklahoma City, OK – News, Weather, Video and Sports |

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Below is the text of a press release issued by Bombardier in November when the sale of the aircraft was announced. It was posted on the Tenax website:

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“Today, Bombardier celebrated the sale and delivery of its 50th iconic Bombardier 415 superscooper aircraft assembled at its North Bay, Ontario facility. The aircraft, purchased by a partnership led by Tenax Aerospace, LLC of Ridgeland, Mississippi, will be used under contract to the United States Forest Service starting next month. Based on the list price, the Bombardier contract is valued at approximately $34.5 million USD.

The Bombardier 415 superscooper aircraft is a world-renowned firefighter and adapts to the roughest terrain and the only aircraft specifically built as an aerial firefighting airplane. It is able to land on unpaved runways, lakes, rivers and seas, enabling both rapid initial attacks to extinguish fires and sustained attacks to contain fires.

“Today, we are celebrating two milestones: the 50th Bombardier 415 aircraft assembled in North Bay, Ontario as well as the first United States Bombardier 415 aircraft sale and delivery,” said Michel Bourgeois, President, Specialized and Amphibious Aircraft, Bombardier Aerospace. “I want to congratulate the employees for this achievement and to welcome the Tenax team to the amphibious aircraft family. This is yet another testament to the true value of the expertise of our employees and of our superscooper aircraft that remains the top aerial firefighting choice around the world,” he continued.

While the 50th Bombardier 415 aircraft to roll out of North Bay, Ontario is the first to be sold to a United States customer, a total of five State and privately owned CL-215 aircraft, the predecessor to the Bombardier 415 aircraft, are currently operated in the United States.

Since the first Bombardier 415 amphibious aircraft was delivered in 1994, a total of 85 Bombardier 415 and four Bombardier 415 MP aircraft have been delivered to governments and firefighting agencies around the world. In addition, 80 CL-215 and CL-215T amphibious piston aircraft remain in service worldwide.

About the Bombardier 415 aircraft

The Bombardier 415 firefighter aircraft has a normal cruise speed of 180 KT (333 km/h) under certain conditions. In an average mission of six nautical miles (11 kilometres) distance from water to fire, it can complete nine drops within an hour and precisely deliver 14,589 US gallons (55,233 litres) of fire suppressant.”

New CL-415 seen at Winnipeg

Aero Flite CL-415 at Winnipeg
Aero Flite CL-415 at Winnipeg, November 5, 2013. Photo by Bokovay.

We have received two reports about a new CL-415 that has been at Winnipeg (CYWG) for the last several days. It is sporting an Aero-Flite logo and a registration number of C-GUZF. This is apparently the aircraft purchased by TENAX Aerospace which will be leased to Aero-Flite, the company that recently received a five-year contract from the U.S. Forest Service for a CL-415 water-scooping air tanker. We think this is designated Tanker 260.

 

Thanks go out to Mike and Barry

USFS awards scooper contract to Aero-Flite

The U.S. Forest Service awarded a contract today to Aero-Flite of Kingman, Arizona for one scooper air tanker.

CL-415. Photo by LA County Fire Department.
File photo of CL-415, courtesy of LA County Fire Department.

The U.S. Forest Service awarded a contract today to Aero-Flite of Kingman, Arizona for one scooper air tanker, an aircraft that can refill its tank by skimming along the surface of a lake. As Fire Aviation reported at the time, the solicitation was posted August 5, 2013 and closed August 19. In spite of the two week federal government shutdown it was awarded about 5 weeks after closing, a remarkably quick turnaround for USFS aircraft contracting. It took over 500 days to award the “next-gen” air tanker contracts.

The solicitation required the following: amphibious and scooping capability, turbine engines, 180-knot cruise speed, 1,600-gallon capacity, and 7 days a week coverage. It also has to have previous approval by the Interagency Airtanker Board. The specs appear to limit the qualifying aircraft to only the CL-415. The Be-200 could possibly meet the operational specs, but it does not have FAA or IAB approvals.

According to FedBizOpps.gov the dollar amount of the contract is $57 million. It is a five year deal with a provision to add a second aircraft if both parties agree.

Aero-Flite’s website says they have five Canadair CL-215 aircraft, and does not list a CL-415 in its inventory. Calls to company President Matthew Ziomek to obtain more details about the contract were not returned.

The CL-415 will be leased from TENAX Aerospace by Aero-Flite. It is a brand new aircraft and will be the only CL-415 in the United States.

In June Aero-Flite also received a contract from the U.S. Forest Service for two Avro RJ85 “next generation” air tankers but Conair has not yet completed the conversions for TENAX who will lease them to Areo-Flite. One of them, Tanker 160, has been seen in Canada undergoing flight tests in recent weeks.

UPDATE May 5, 2014: Aero-Flite’s CL-415 was designated Tanker 260.