Heat from helicopter’s landing light starts fire in Australia

Australian Navy NHI MRH-90 Helicopter
File photo of a Royal Australian Navy NHI MRH-90 Helicopter. Photo by Duan Zhu.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today)

Several bushfires in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have kept firefighters busy in recent days. The Department of Defense admitted that one of the fires two weeks ago was caused by heat from a landing light on an MRH-90 Helicopter. It burned within a kilometer of Tharwa, a suburb south of Canberra.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

“The fire started during routine aerial reconnaissance and ground clearance work being conducted in the area in support of our local firefighters and authorities,” Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman said on behalf of the Department of Defense.

Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said the helicopter was using the lights to help it land in smoky conditions, but the heat set a fire that grew rapidly and damaged the aircraft. He said defense was investigating the issue but operating procedures would be changed so that the landing lights were not used in extreme conditions.

It is reportedly the first time a fire has been started by a helicopter landing light.

Smoke from another fire in the ACT that shut down the Canberra Airport for a while was caused by beekeepers checking hives. The fire started January 22 and for several hours threatened homes and businesses.

From the ABC:

The Beard fire jumped the Molonglo River on Thursday and came close to the suburbs of Beard, Harman and Oaks Estate. It also merged with a second fire on Kallaroo Road, which began in the same suburb of Pialligo earlier in the day.

The combined fire reached 424 hectares in size and was at emergency alert level for much of the afternoon, but by 9:00pm was down to 379 hectares.

The hives are part of a national honey bee surveillance program that regularly checks for the arrival of exotic pests that might threaten Australia’s bee population.That process uses smokers to calm the bees so the hives can be inspected, which requires lighting fuels to generate the smoke. The hives are maintained on behalf of the ACT Government by Canberra Region Beekeepers — the program is usually run through state agriculture departments in other jurisdictions.

Air tankers based in Richmond, New South Wales have been busy recently. Between January 26 and 31 a DC-10, Tanker 911, flew 22 missions, while T-137, a 737, flew 12. Their destinations were in or near the ACT and in southern NSW.

Tanker 131, a C-130Q based in Avalon, Victoria completed several missions north of Melbourne and along the Victoria/NSW border.

Canadians send aircraft to assist with Australian bushfires

They have hauled aerial fire retardant and will provide other airlift support

Canadian Forces CC-177 support Australian bushfires
On January 28 members from the Royal Canadian Air Force, U.S. Air Force, and Royal Australian Air Force loaded dry fire retardant mix onboard a CAF CC-177. The aircraft carried fire retardant from the US to Australia to support firefighting operations. Royal Canadian Air Force photo.

The Canadian Armed Forces are sending aircraft to Australia to assist with the unprecedented number bushfires that have been plaguing the eastern side of the continent for months. At least one of the aircraft will be a CC-177 Globemaster III, similar to the C-17 used in the United States and Australia.

Their plans are to transport dry fire retardant mix from the U.S. to Australia, provide airlift support to Australia, and provide imagery support for two hard hit areas in Victoria. The images acquired will support fire prediction modeling and enhance the efficiency of firefighting efforts on the ground.

A couple of weeks ago a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 also took a load of retardant from the U.S. to Australia.

Canadian Forces CC-177 support Australian bushfires
On January 28 members from the Royal Canadian Air Force, U.S. Air Force, and Royal Australian Air Force loaded dry fire retardant mix onboard a CAF CC-177. The aircraft carried fire retardant from the US to Australia to support firefighting operations. Royal Canadian Air Force photo.
Canadian Forces CC-177 support Australian bushfires
A Royal Canadian Air Force CC-177 will be supporting bushfire efforts in Australia. Royal Canadian Air Force photo.

Two additional air tankers added to Australia’s firefighting fleet

Australia is experiencing an unusually high level of bushfire activity

Tanker 911 on the Corner Creek Fire i
Tanker 911 on the Corner Creek Fire in Central Oregon, June 30, 2015. Photo by Todd McKinley.

Due to an unusually high level of bushfire activity Australia has contracted for two additional air tankers to assist firefighters on the ground. Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the aircraft were added using the NAFC’s system of Enhanced Call When Needed (EWCN) contracts.

On November 12, U.S. time, Tanker 911, a DC-10, was loading spare parts onto the aircraft and is expected to be fire-ready in Richmond, New South Wales on November 16. It is supplied by Agair/10 Tanker. The DC-10 is considered a Very Large Air Tanker and can carry up to 9,400 gallons (35,582 liters).

The other EWCN air tanker added to the fleet is a Coulson C-130Q with an enter on duty date of November 16, also at Richmond. It usually carries around 3,500 gallons (13,248 liters).

Australia's large and very large air tanker fleet
Australia’s fleet of large and very large air tankers, updated November 13, 2019. The dates are DD/MM. Information provided by NAFC.

There are also changes on the rotor wing side. One of the most significant additions is a ECWN contract for a Blackhawk with long line bucket based at Toowoomba in Queensland.  The helicopter is suppled through Kestrel Aviation (who are partnered with BHI2/Brainerd).

Recent additions bring the total number of firebombing aircraft in Australia to 63 fixed wing and 45 rotor wing. There are an additional 51 aircraft used for other fire-related missions.

Night-flying helicopter program to continue this season in Australia

NAFC is also looking toward developing a night-flying fixed wing air tanker program

night-flying helicopter Australia
An S-61 snorkels from a dip tank in phase 2 of the night-flying trial in Victoria, Australia. February, 2018. Coulson photo.

During the 2017-2018 bushfire season in Australia two helicopters were approved for dropping water at night with the use of night vision goggles (NVG) by the pilots.  At least one of the ships, an S-61, was approved for hover refilling which was the first time this had been done anywhere.

Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the program will continue during the 2019-2020 fire season that is just beginning. This summer there will be a Coulson S-61 based initially  at Ballarat, Victoria and a Bell 412 operated by Kestrel out of Mangalore, Victoria.

“Both machines are tank-equipped and capable of hover filling at night,” Mr. Alder explained. “Supervision and support will again be provided by a Coulson NVG equipped S-76 [helicopter] and a number of other locally based NVG equipped Type 3 helicopters. It is hoped that the night program will be able to move into initial attack over the course of the 2019/2020 season, but this still requires some work to establish appropriate systems of work and procedures for initial attack.”

Last summer NAFC started thinking seriously about fixed wing air tankers working at night. They are still interested in having that capability but are taking a “crawl, walk, run approach”, Mr. Alder said. The agency is working with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and vendors on parameters for a trial, and hope to make some progress over the 2019-2020 fire season.

A Canadian RJ85 spent the winter in Australia

Air Tanker 165/391 is one of nine RJ85s converted by Conair

Air Tanker 165 391 RJ86
Air Tanker 165/391 undergoing scheduled heavy maintenance at Avalon, Victoria. Conair/Field Air photo.

After being on contract with Emergency Management Victoria during the 2018-2019 summer bushfire season, Conair and Field Air decided to keep one of their RJ85 air tankers in Australia during their winter.

The aircraft was due for scheduled heavy maintenance and will be on contract again during the upcoming 2019-2020 season. So rather than fly it to Canada and back again, which requires several carefully planned refueling stops each way, they kept it at Avalon, Victoria.

A company representative said:

The maintenance has to be done regardless, so the decision was made to do it here in Australia. This allowed some Aussie engineers to work alongside the Canadians – and as an added bonus supported the Geelong economy and some other local business.

While working for the Victorian government it had to be identified as Bomber 391. But this coming fire season it will work in New South Wales and will be allowed to use its original number, 165.

Tanker 165/391 is one of nine RJ85s that Conair has converted into air tankers that can carry up to 3,100 gallons of water or retardant at 431 mph. At least one has been under contract in Australia since the 2014-2015 season. In the 2018-2019 season Conair/Field Air had three working in the country.

Air Tanker 165 391 RJ86
Air Tanker 165/391 after scheduled heavy maintenance at Avalon, Victoria. Conair/Field Air photo.

Helicopter crashes into lake while fighting wildfire in Australia

The crew of three swam to shore

Christine 341 Air-Crane crash
File photo of Air-Crane 341, known as “Christine”. Photo taken in November, 2018 by Uniform Photography.

(UPDATED at 8:49 p.m. MT [USA] January 28, 2019)

9 News has an update on the crash of an Erickson Air-Crane in Victoria, Australia on January 28, 2019. Video shows the Air-Crane on its side with a portion of the tail boom and main landing gear protruding above the water. Also the white skimming tube is visible which can be lowered as the helicopter flies near the surface of a body of water, using the same principle to refill the tank as the Be-200, Fire Boss, and CL-215/415. Drafting or skimming with the Air-Crane takes 45 seconds. It is unlikely that the aircraft was skimming when the accident occurred due to the lack of sufficient space. The Air-Crane also has a snorkel or drafting hose that is more often used for refilling while hovering over water.

Below is an excerpt from an article at ABC News Australia that was updated Monday evening, US time:

Five similar Air-Cranes — in NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria — were grounded while the crash was investigated.

Kestrel Aviation managing director Ray Cronin, whose company manages the fleet, said the ground was a “precautionary measure” while the company interviewed the crew and determined a probable cause.

He said after an initial investigation, the company and authorities had agreed that the grounding of the Aircrane fleet would be lifted.

“The Aircranes will return to service almost immediately,” Mr Cronin said.

“The crews are with the aircraft ready to rejoin the fire fight in Victoria.”

He said while he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) investigation, he understood “the serviceability of the Aircrane” was good at the time of the crash.

Air-Crane crash Australia
Parts of the Air-Crane can be seen above the water in this screengrab from the 9 News video.
Air-Crane crash Australia helicopter
The Air-Crane crashed in a valley surrounded by rising terrain. Image from ABC Australia video. Arrow added by Fire Aviation.

(Originally published at 12:47 MT [USA] January 28, 2019)

A helicopter crashed into a lake while fighting a wildfire Monday in Victoria, Australia. The Erickson Air-Crane had a crew of three, two pilots and an engineer, while it was working on the Thomson Complex Catchment fires in Gippsland. The personnel are safe after swimming to shore. Ambulance Victoria will assess the crew members. Emergency Management Victoria said the helicopter was Air-Crane HT 341, known as “Christine”.

The aircraft was one of ten aircraft working on the fire. The site of the crash, in the Yarra Ranges National Park, is about 50km (31 miles) south of Benalla.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said that he was grateful that the crew are safe.

The Flight Safety Foundation reports the helicopter is “damaged beyond repair”.

The six Air-Cranes under contract in Australia can carry more than 2,500 gallons of water or retardant. This one was N173AC, named “Christine”. Victoria also has 47 other aircraft on contract.

A total of six large fixed wing air tankers from North America have been working in Australia during their 2018-2019 summer.  Tankers with their primary base at Richmond, New South Wales include a RJ85, (Tanker 166); a  737 (T-137); a C-130Q (T-134); and another RJ85 (T-165). Based at Avalon in Victoria are a C-130Q (T-131); and an RJ85 (T-163).

The accident is being investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The agency expects to complete their report during the third quarter of 2019.

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

Victoria establishes new air tanker base at East Sale

An RJ85 will be based there January 11 and 12

air tanker rj85 australia victoria
On Friday January 11 an RJ85 known as Boomer south of the Equator worked to strengthen containment lines during hot and windy conditions – helping to protect a farm adjoining the bushfire in Holey Plains State Park, south of Rosedale. Screengrab from the video below.

Victoria’s ability to reload Large Air Tankers (LAT) has been bolstered by establishing the capability for the first time at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) military air base located in Sale, Victoria, Australia. (map)

An RJ85 nicknamed Boomer, is available in East Sale today (January 11) and Saturday, and could be deployed based on conditions and other requirements across the state.

To ensure Victoria has protection, a New South Wales-based LAT will move to Victoria during this period. This has been made possible with strong cross-border partnerships with NSW.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said East Gippsland had experienced very dry conditions following two record dry winters and in the last 24 hours experienced considerable lightning activity.

“Ground and air crews continue to work on the Rosedale fire, and while it is contained the underlying dryness and forecasted conditions, a LAT positioned at Sale would support the firefighting effort in the event of a flare up,” he said.

“If required this LAT will continue the work the other LATs and night helicopter firebombing operations have had on the Rosedale fire since Friday in support of ground crews.”

LATs can only operate at a limited number of Victorian airbases because of their size. They can operate from Avalon, Mildura and now Sale. Albury, in NSW can also accommodate the LATs if required.

Having the LAT based at East Sale will mean reducing the turnaround time for refueling and loading of retardant or water.

“The updated seasonal outlook confirmed the forecast of an above normal fire risk in East Gippsland. Given this, arrangements were put in place to be able to use the RAAF base if required,” he said.

“This was made possible due to the strong and ongoing partnership between the Australian Defense Force and Emergency Management Australia.”

Victoria’s Large Air Tankers are state strategic assets that are based at Avalon Airport but can be deployed across Victoria according to need and the identified risk.

They form part of Victoria’s core aerial fleet of 49 aircraft available for the summer season which includes a mix of water bombing aircraft, air supervision, and aerial intelligence gathering aircraft.

Victoria also has a surge capacity of up to 100 aircraft that can supplement the core fleet when needed.

Two bases in Victoria are providing night-flying helicopters for bushfire suppression

Emergency managers in Australia will be using night flying helicopters operationally this summer for the first time, following a trial a year ago

Kestrel helicopter night fying
The Directors and Crew of Kestrel. EMV photo.

Victoria’s second night vision equipped firefighting helicopter was deployed yesterday in Mangalore.

For the first time Kestrel Aviation’s helicopter was double-crewed to ensure it had day and night personnel available for firebombing, if it was required.

They join another certified operator, Coulson Aviation, who can also provide a night firebombing service to Victoria with helicopters based at Ballarat.

Ballarat and Mangalore are the two locations where night firebombing helicopters are located, however the aircraft can potentially respond to any area across the state – but only in the right circumstances.

This summer the focus of the night firebombing trial is to test procedures and operations on real fires.

Night operations will be used as an extension of day operations, meaning aircraft will be able to assist ground crews on fires for a longer period of time. Night firebombing will only occur on actual fires where it can add value to fire operations, or in circumstances where the experience can help build or improve the night firebombing capability.