A problem with an engine on April 21 resulted in an unscheduled landing for an Erickson Aero Air MD-87 air tanker.
While Tanker 101 was returning to Alamogordo, New Mexico after dropping retardant on the Holcombe Road Fire in Crockett County Texas, the left, or number 1, engine went into an overspeed condition and had to be shut down. Matt Isley, General Manager at Erickson Aero Tanker, said as that was being done the auto-throttle decreased the thrust in the other engine. The pilot then had to override the auto-throttle to power up that engine again.
The crew declared an emergency and landed safely on one engine after diverting to Midland, Texas (MAF) as airport crash-rescue trucks stood by.
Mr. Isley said the engine itself did not fail, the problem was caused by an engine control cable.
We received a report that a lead plane followed Tanker 101 while it was en route to Midland, but Mr. Isley said he had not heard anything about that.
The company’s maintenance personnel are on scene to begin the process of replacing the engine. Erickson stores most of their spares at their facility in Madras, Oregon.
Mr. Isley said they have had an air tanker working out of Alamogordo, NM since the beginning of March.
This is the fourth MD-87 air tanker engine related failure of which we are aware. The other three:
Engine problems on the MD-87 are noteworthy because when they began there was an issue of retardant dispersing over the wing which left open the possibility of it being ingested into the engines. The company had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors in 2017, which lowered the release point by 46 inches, mitigating the problem Kevin McLoughlin, Erickson’s Director of Air Tanker Operations said at the time.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Doug. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
A wildfire 32 miles north of the Rio Grande and 28 miles southwest of Ozona, Texas has burned 18,000 acres. The Holcomb Road Fire started April 19, 2020 in Crockett County and has since spread into Val Verde County.
One of the two air tankers working on the fire Monday and Tuesday was Tanker 910, a DC-10 flying out of and reloading at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Each sortie took about three hours, plus 50 minutes on the ground between loads Tuesday for taxi and reloading. En route to the fire it was flying 450 mph at 11,300 feet, and returning, 400 mph at 16,600 feet.
On March 27, 2019, about 1435 central daylight time, an Airbus AS350B3 helicopter, N818MC, was substantially damaged when it collided with trees and terrain following a loss of engine power near Montgomery, Texas. The commercial rated pilot was seriously injured, one Forest Service crew member was fatally injured, and another crew member sustained minor injuries. The helicopter was owned by Mountain Air Helicopters, Inc and operated by the United States Forest Service (USFS) as a public use helicopter. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight which operated without a flight plan.
The helicopter and crew were conducting plastic sphere dispenser (PSD) applications in support of controlled fire operations in an area of the Sam Houston National Forest. Initial information provided by the pilot and surviving crew member report that after completing the application, the helicopter began flying back to the helicopter’s staging area when the engine lost complete power. The helicopter descended into trees and subsequently impacted terrain, coming to rest on its right side. One crew member and the pilot were able to exit the helicopter, however one of the crew members was partially ejected from the helicopter and sustained fatal injuries.
One of the firefighters was deceased on scene. The pilot and a second firefighter were transported to a hospital.
It could be another six months or so before the final report is released.
The prescribed fire was in the Sam Houston National Forest about 30 miles southeast of College Station, Texas south of Highway 149.
Flying low and slow in a single-engine helicopter while igniting fire below the aircraft is obviously very, very dangerous. These three fatalities offer very compelling justification for using drones for aerial ignition instead of manned aircraft.
Analysis The purpose of the flight was to assist in the scheduled burn of an 800-acre wooded area. The helicopter was under contract with the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service. A Forest Service employee reported that, as the helicopter neared the conclusion of a 61-minute controlled burn mission, he observed it complete a turn to a northerly heading at the southwestern end of the burn area. About 7 seconds later, he heard a sound that resembled an air hose being unplugged from a pressurized air tank. A crewmember, who was the sole survivor, reported that the helicopter was about 20 ft above the tree canopy when the pilot announced that the helicopter had lost power. The helicopter then descended into a group of 80-ft-tall trees in a nose-high attitude and impacted terrain. Witnesses participating in the controlled burn at the time of the accident did not observe any other anomalies with the helicopter before the accident.
The fuel system, fuel pump, and fuel control unit were destroyed by fire, which precluded a complete examination. During the engine examination, light rotational scoring was found in the turbine assembly, consistent with light rotation at impact; however, neither the turbine rotation speed nor the amount of engine power at the time of the accident could be determined. The rotor blade damage and drive shaft rotation signatures indicated that the rotor blades were not under power at the time of the accident. An examination of the helicopter’s air tubes revealed that they were impact-damaged; however, they appeared to be secure and properly seated at their fore and aft ends.
On the morning of the accident flight, the helicopter departed on a reconnaissance flight with 600 lbs of JP-5 fuel. The helicopter returned with sufficient fuel for about 133 minutes of flight, and the helicopter was subsequently serviced with an unknown quantity of uncontaminated fuel for the subsequent 60-minute accident flight. Based on the density altitude, temperature, and airplane total weight at the time of the accident, the helicopter was operating within the airplane flight manual’s performance limitations.
Most of the cockpit control assemblies were consumed by fire except for the throttle, which was found in the “idle” position. Given the crewmember’s report that, after the engine failure, the helicopter entered and maintained a nose-high attitude until it impacted trees and then the ground, it is likely that the pilot initiated an autorotation in accordance with the Pilot’s Operating Handbook engine failure and autorotation procedures. A review of the pilot’s records revealed that he passed the autorotation emergency procedure portion of his most recent Federal Aviation Administration Part 135 examination, which occurred 1 month before the accident, and this may have aided in his recognition of the engine failure and decision to initiate an emergency descent.
Although a weather study indicated that smoke and particulates were present in the area before, during, and after the accident, witnesses reported an absence of smoke near the area where the helicopter lost power and impacted the ground.
Probable Cause and Findings The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: A loss of engine power for reasons that could not be determined due to post-accident fire damage.
Significant fire activity has increased recently, particularly in northwest Texas, Central Texas and the Cross Timbers region where hot and dry conditions persist and fuel loading is high. Critical fuel dryness is expanding across South Texas, the Hill Country and Rolling Plains as rainfall deficits continue to build across large portions of the state.
During periods of high fire activity, aviation resources are used to support suppression efforts on the ground, aiding in the protection of structures and other valuable resources. “This year, we’ve utilized helicopters and single engine air tankers for wildfire response in areas with increased wildfire activity,” said Cynthia Foster, Texas A&M Forest Service Planning and Preparedness Department Head. “However, we could have a large, intense fire at any time so we want to be prepared and have additional aircraft ready to respond.”
Opening the airtanker base will allow for faster response times and greater cost efficiency when responding to wildfires across the state. “The airtanker’s speed is greater than that of a helicopter or single engine air tanker. These aircraft will be able to get anywhere in Texas in under one hour,” says George Martin, Air Operations Branch Director. “An airtanker can drop a line of retardant in front of a subdivision of homes, slowing the spread of the fire and allowing ground units time to respond.”
The base, equipped to handle all aircraft in the national airtanker fleet, will be staffed by trained and qualified Texas A&M Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Austin Fire Department firefighting personnel.
Texas A&M Forest Service does not own any aviation resources but instead uses federal aviation contracts through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for all firefighting aircraft.
The article was edited to replace a file photo of an air tanker with one taken at Austin August 18, 2019.
The firefighter that died in the Texas helicopter crash on March 27 has been identified by the U.S. Forest Service as Daniel Laird, a Captain on the Tahoe Helitack crew in California. He leaves behind a wife and young daughter.
One source tells us that the other passenger was also a USFS firefighter who was sitting in the front seat when the aircraft went down, but reportedly walked away and was treated and released from a hospital.
The pilot was also transported to a hospital in stable condition, according to the information reported yesterday by Sergeant Erik Burse with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Below is a letter from the USFS Regional Forester in California:
“You may have already heard from Secretary Perdue and Chief Christiansen that we lost one of our own, Daniel Laird, yesterday, in a helicopter accident while conducting a prescribed burn with our Region 8 partners on the Sam Houston National Forest in Texas. Daniel was 41 years old and leaves behind his wife Heather and daughter Evain.
“Daniel started as a seasonal firefighter on the Tahoe [National Forest] and worked his way up to Helitack Captain. His passion was in aviation, but he was also known for his ability to lead a strike team of engines or a task force of hand crews and heavy equipment. He was a true leader in every sense. He was dedicated to being an instructor and a believer in the apprentice program, where he helped grow people just like himself. Daniel was originally from Graeagle, CA, and committed his working life to the Forest Service. He was extremely knowledgeable about his craft and loved his job. He had an infectious smile, natural physical talent, and his greatest love of all was his family.
“Our Forest Service family is hurting over this tremendous loss. It is an emotional time and Daniel’s loss can impact even the strongest among us. We grieve with Daniel’s immediate family, friends, and community. Please keep them all in your thoughts and prayers. The Region is providing support to the Tahoe and all who need it as they digest this sad news. I will pass more details on arrangements once they become available.
“Please continue to look out for one another and take care of one another.”
Randy Moore Regional Forester USFS R5
(UPDATED at 9:07 a.m. CDT March 28, 2019)
The deceased firefighter was a U.S. Forest Service employee who, along with the other firefighter and the pilot, were on an aerial ignition mission. Their equipment was dropping plastic spheres that burst into flame after hitting the ground, helping to ignite the prescribed fire. No names have been released.
(Originally published at 7:17 p.m. CDT March 27, 2019)
One firefighter was killed in the crash of a helicopter today while working on a prescribed fire in the Sam Houston National Forest about 30 miles southeast of College Station, Texas south of Highway 149.
Sergeant Erik Burse with the Texas Department of Public Safety said the Eurocopter AS350 went down at about 2 p.m. with three people on board, a pilot and two firefighters. One of the firefighters was deceased on scene. The pilot and a second firefighter were transported to a hospital in stable condition after rescuers extracted them from the wreckage using jaws and air bags.
Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of the firefighter, and we hope for a speedy recovery of the injured personnel.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Perry. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The video below shows Air Tanker 137, a Boeing 737, dropping on the Bruxner Highway Fire (Tenterfield LGA) in New South Wales, Australia.
A Blackhawk and an Air-Crane can be seen in the video below working on a wildfire in New South Wales, Australia.
Aircraft continue to work on slowing the process of the #Tingah fire allowing firefighters on the ground to directly attack and extinguish the fire. This will continue over the coming days as they work to contain the fire. #NSWRFSpic.twitter.com/dDgvO33Okg
WATCH & ACT: Tingha Plateau (Inverell LGA) – There is a reduced threat to properties. Firefighters continue to work with landholders across the fireground in an effort to contain the fire. #NSWRFSpic.twitter.com/5OB8Ee9vdd
This video was probably shot February 28 from Single Engine Air Tanker 580 while it was working on the Prison Fire in Texas. If you don’t want to watch all eight minutes, check out what appears to be a drop run at 2:40. Be sure your seat belt is fastened! And, put it in full screen mode.
I’m thinking the pilot has experience flying crop dusters.