Updates on firefighting aircraft

Coast Guard C-130H
One of the C-130s, No 1706, that is being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by Mohit Purswani, October 2008.

Today Fire Aviation has three articles with updates on the status of the C-130s that were transferred from the Coast Guard, the C-23B Sherpas that came from the Army, and the next-generation air tankers that are working their way toward being certified by the Interagency AirTanker Board.

Wildfire briefing, April 3, 2014

Three firefighters injured in South Carolina

Three firefighters were injured while fighting a 12-acre wildfire that spread to a structure in Florence County, South Carolina late Wednesday afternoon. One firefighter suffered second and third degree burns to his face and neck while suppressing fire in a mobile home.

wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina |

Arizona Forestry Division outlines changes for 2014

According to an article at KNAU, Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt told reporters on Wednesday:

“Our first priority is firefighter and public safety. And it’s always going to be our first priority,” he said.

But, Hunt did say that he expects when there is an initial report of a fire that there will “heavier responses” than in the past.

On June 30, 2013, 19 firefighters were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire which was being managed by the Arizona Forestry Division.

Los Alamos National Laboratory under pressure to move radioacitve waste before wildfire season

From TheState.com:

Los Alamos is under a tight deadline to get nuclear waste off its northern New Mexico campus before wildfire season peaks, and the New Mexico dump [temporarily closed due to a fire] is the federal government’s only permanent repository for waste from decades of nuclear-bomb building.

Aerial firefighting training for California National Guard

California National Guard aerial firefighting training
File photo of California National Guard aerial firefighting training, April, 2010. Photo by Bob Martinez.

Helicopter units of the California National Guard are scheduled to conduct their annual aerial firefighting training Friday through Sunday at the CAL FIRE academny in Ione.

Colorado Senate passes funding bill for aerial firefighting

The Colorado state Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would provide $21 million for a portion of the aerial firefighting program recommended by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corp (CFAC) in a report the agency released on March 28. The funds would enable contracting for four helicopters, four Single Engine Air Tankers, and the purchase of two fixed wing aircraft for fire detection and remote sensing, but not for the two large air tankers called for in the report.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has been quoted as saying farmers and ranchers should be the state’s first defense against wildfires, is opposed to spending the additional $11.9 million for contracting for two large air tankers.

Wildfire season begins early in Russia


Forest fires have broken out early in a season dubbed “tense this year”, Minister of Natural Resources Sergei Donskoi told a conference chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and addressing preparations for difficult days ahead.

“The situation is tense in Russia this year. Because of low precipitation, the season has begun almost 1.5 months ahead of the norm,” the minister said. Seventeen fires have already been registered across a territory of 2,000 hectares, the minister said.

Citing reasons for danger, the minister noted an early spring and a shallow layer of frozen soil. This was only 40-50% of normal levels and was leaving dry surface soil.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has adopted an inter-regional fire prevention plan employing an additional 3,000-strong contingent of firefighters, 800 units of firefighting equipment and 4,000 fire extinguishers, the minister said.

GAO sustains protest of non-competitive air tanker contract

The Government Accountability Office announced today that they sustained the protest filed by three companies over the sole source air tanker contract that the U.S. Forest Service awarded to Neptune Aviation December 12, 2013. The non-competitive contract, worth about $141 million, specified that Neptune would supply two or more next-generation air tankers, BAe-146s, for the next four to nine years beginning in 2014.

More details are at Fire Aviation.

Behind the scenes — the protests of an air tanker contract

Neptune's Tanker 41 at Missoula
Neptune’s Tanker 41. a BAe-146, at Missoula, August 11, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Today, March 11, the Government Accountability Office will hold a hearing at their office in Washington, DC to consider the protests filed by three air tanker companies over the propriety of the U.S. Forest Service’s non-competitive contract award to Neptune Aviation for next-generation large airtankers. After reviewing dozens of documents that revealed what was going on behind the scenes, Fire Aviation has the story of how the sole source contract developed, and the arguments from the other vendors about why that contract should be terminated.

Colorado: proposed legislation would provide funds for helicopters and an air tanker

A Colorado state senator will be introducing legislation that would provide $9 million for four helicopters and an air tanker to suppress wildfires. A bill approved last year created the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) but failed to appropriate any funds to run the agency or acquire any aviation assets.

Senator Steve King will file a bill today that would take funds from five state departments that are “most affected by wildland fires”. The departments are Natural Resources ($1.3M), Local Affairs ($0.6M), Agriculture ($0.4M), Public Health and Environment ($2M), and Public Safety ($4.7M). The funds would come from their appropriations for this fiscal year which ends on June 30, 2014.

In one sense, finding $9 million for firefighting aircraft without raising taxes is good news for Coloradans, but it seems likely that the five affected agencies will be less than enthusiastic.

The legislation specifies that a contract be issued for one Type 1 air tanker or a very large air tanker. That could include in the Type 1 category, for example, a C-130, MD-87, or a BAe-146. A DC-10 or 747 would qualify as Very Large.

In addition, contracts would be issued for four helicopters, with three of them being Type 1 that could carry at least 700 gallons of water or retardant, while the other would be used for “command-and-control functions through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities, and procedures employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating, controlling, and documenting forces and operations in the accomplishment of aerial firefighting missions”.

One or more of the aircraft could be made available to the federal government or other states if they were not needed in Colorado.

The legislation also requires the CFAC to acquire four large “aircraft”, presumably fixed wing, which would be converted to air tankers by retrofitting them with retardant tank systems by June 1, 2015. The sources of the aircraft could be “the federal excess personal property program, the open market, or any other donation or acquisition means”.

The language about contracting for the retrofitting has some interesting recommendations to consider. Such as, will the work be done in Colorado, and, will the bidder “further upgrade or improve the air tankers for nighttime aerial firefighting missions, or preserve or enhance the multipurpose functionality of the aircraft, or develop other methods or systems to make the CFAC’s operations more effective”.

In case you are wondering how far $9 million will go, as a point of reference the federal government will be paying an estimated $7.3 to $8.7 million per air tanker each year on the next generation 160-day Type 1 air tanker contracts. That works out to $45,000 to $54,000 per day. Colorado may decide to contract for less than 160 days each year, but still that does not leave a lot left over for the four contracted helicopters each year and retrofitting the four additional aircraft they expect to acquire. The retrofitting alone could be around $3.5 million each.

The proposal also gives the CFAC the ability to accept a variety of funds, including gifts, sponsorships, advertising fees, licensing fees, and donations from private or public sources. Maybe the CFAC or Senator King took our contest about advertising on their air tankers seriously, such as the idea below from Tim Holmes. By the way, you can still vote for the best ad design.

Tim Holmes P2V
Colorado Rockies ad on a P2V, by Tim Holmes