Patent awarded for containerized air drop system

Caylym PCAD drop
Caylym photo (click to see larger version)

Caylym Technologies inexplicably continues to develop what they call a “precision container aerial delivery system” (PCAD) for suppressing wildfires. In fact, they recently issued a press release announcing that Canada issued a patent for their system, which involves shoving up to 14 containers of water or retardant, each weighing about 2,000 pounds, out the rear door of a C-130 aircraft. The 200 gallons of water are supposed to disperse from each of the paper containers, but in the photo above from their web site, it appears that at least one container seems to be hurtling toward the ground, possibly still full of liquid?  It’s hard to tell, and it is the only photo found on their web site that shows the containers after they leave the aircraft.

Since they are so proud of their system, it seems odd that they don’t have videos on their web site showing one of the drops in progress.

If there is any chance in hell that a full 2,000-pound container would impact the ground, there is no way a firefighter could be within 1/2 mile of the drop. And even if there is a 100% guarantee that the containers will all empty, how much damage could even an empty container weighing 100 pounds do to someone on the ground?  And then there’s the issue of finding and removing from remote locations the 14, 100-pound empty containers from each drop.

The company claims they could operate at night, primarily because the aircraft is equipped with GPS.

By utilizing modern aviation technology and GPS, these aircraft are capable of combating wildfires in mountainous terrain, at night, in very limited visibility. Think of the possibilities!

Yes. Just think. Please.

This becomes the latest addition to our lame-ass ideas category.

UPDATE July 23, 2010:

The system was recently tested at the Yuma Proving Grounds.

NTSB releases report on crash of Wisconsin DNR plane

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DNR plane crash

The National Transportation Safety Board has released the report on the fatal accident involving a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources aircraft that crashed while it was monitoring a wildfire near Marshfield on April 8, 2009, killing the pilot, 36-year old Heath Van Handel.

The NTSB said the aircraft crashed because it stalled, failing to maintain an adequate air speed.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune:

“Heath (Van Handel) was the greatest guy,” said John Jorgensen, the DNR section chief for aeronautics, Van Handel’s supervisor. “He represented the future of DNR aeronautics.”

According to the report:

Van Handel left a Necedah airport at about 2:11 p.m. that day to observe and provide information to firefighters. They were battling a wildfire that authorities said started because of garbage burning on a property adjacent to a wooded area.

The Rock Fire Department deputy chief saw the plane circle high above the ground and then descend to an altitude of about 35 feet. He heard the engine get louder about five seconds before the left wing dropped, and the plane crashed.

A DNR representative told investigators pilots fly at an airspeed near the range that would cause the planes to stall. The pilots go more by feel than by the instruments.

Jorgensen said the comments were wrong, and he has been working to get them removed from the report. Pilots do not routinely fly that low or that slowly, Jorgensen said.

The department didn’t make any changes as a result of the crash, Jorgensen said. However, other pilots were reminded to keep a safe altitude and speed when spotting for fires.

Trent Marty, the DNR’s director of Bureau of Forest Protection, said DNR pilots have a low-altitude waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots train to fly at the low altitudes and slower speeds needed when observing fires.

Snowmachine starts wildfire

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snowmachine caused fire
Photo: Mike Goyette, Fairbanks Area Fire Prevention

That is a headline you don’t see every day, but a backfiring snowmachine started a 261-acre wildfire Wednesday night north of Healy, Alaska. The owner was moving it into storage when it backfired and started a fire in the dry grass which was 4 to 6 inches tall. Firefighters from local fire departments, state forestry, smoke jumpers, and the Alaska Fire Service put it out, assisted by two air tankers, after it burned across a tundra moss layer and into some black spruce and hardwoods.

Generally, I guess, there is no need for snowmachines to have spark arrestors.

Destroy stuff with a mulching machine

Mulching machine
Photo: KTRE

The Texas Forest Service is using a mulching machine to manage the vegetation left over from Hurricane Ike and a December tornado. The hydraulically-powered attachment to a Bobcat-type machine reduces and scatters live and dead vegetation. It looks like it would be fun to play with, and I want one.

More information

Rains bring “delights” to areas burned by Jesusita, Gap, and Tea fires

An article in the Santa Barbara Independent extols the reasons why local residents should get off the couch and explore the “cornucopia of delights” that the “perfectly paced El Niño rains and sunny days” have brought to the Santa Barbara foothills in the areas where the Jesusita, Gap, and Tea fires burned over the last 18 months. Here is an excerpt:

…Not long removed from the hell fires of the past 18 months, these places are growing back with a vengeance, the green glow of new growth more vibrant and glowing than even the most wicked, chemical-fed lawn of Montecito.

The twist of fire charred trees and backdrop of freshly exposed rock faces only double this effect, turning these familiar routes into new and impressively redone friends. Swaths of sun-soaked lupines and California poppies are but one part of the colorful symphony in full bloom — monkey flower, blue dick, Indian paintbrush, and the intoxicating hummingbird sage all are singing their hearts out, as well. If ever there were a case to be made for the renewing power of wildfire, it is now, and it is on full and undeniable display in our backyard.

Beyond the sights and sounds of the standard hikes lay even more rewarding semi-secret slices of nature. Give a bit more sweat to your adventure or rock scramble in a new direction and you will be rewarded with pristine pools, slippery water slides carved by the graceful hand of Mother Nature, and moments of long-lost serenity that last for hours.

Take off your clothes, let your pale bare feet dig into the warm rock, and lay your body down beside the rhythmic splash and sploosh of a waterfall. A lone manzanita tree cuts a particularly bonsai profile on a rock outcropping to the west, but for some reason you have not noticed it until now. Breathing deep, you sigh with exhilaration at this realization and let yourself melt deeper into the rock. The odd cirrus cloud blows across the infinite blue canvas above as you laze somewhere between sleep and meditation — your ears grooving to a menagerie of sound so rich and layered you are left with no choice but to surrender into it.

Stupid people are confident, while the intelligent are doubtful

That is how an introduction to a transcript from a radio program begins on the Australian network, ABC. On the program The Science Show, they explored the conclusions reached by David Dunning and Justin Kruger when they studied people’s perceptions of their own talents. Now known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, it helps explain why moderately skilled people act as experts, and inept politicians get our votes.

We’ll touch on how this relates to wildland fire in a moment, but first here are some excerpts from the radio show transcript.

…And here’s the kicker; across every test, the students at the bottom end of the bell curve held inflated opinions of their own talents, hugely inflated. In one test of logical reasoning, the lowest quartile of students estimated that their skills would put them above more than 60% of their peers when in fact they had beaten out just 12%. To put that misjudgement in perspective, it’s like guessing that this piece of music [music for 5 seconds] lasted nearly half a minute.

Even more surprisingly, the Dunning-Kruger effect leads high achievers to doubt themselves, because on the other end of the bell curve the talented students consistently underestimated their performance. Again to the test of logic; those topping the class felt that they were only just beating out three-quarters of their classmates, whereas in reality they had out-performed almost 90% of them.

The verdict was in; idiots get confident while the smart get modest, an idea that was around long before Dunning and Kruger’s day. Bertrand Russell once said, ‘In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.’ From his essay ‘The Triumph of Stupidity’, published in 1933.

Charles Darwin once said, ‘Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge,’ and Dunning and Kruger seem to have proven this point. In light of this, it suddenly becomes clear why public debate can be so excruciating. Debates on climate change, the age of the Earth or intelligent design are perfect real-life examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect. It beautifully explains the utter confidence of those who, with no expertise, remain stubborn in their views regardless of overwhelming evidence. It makes you want to shake them by the collar and scream about how stupid they are. But evidence shows that’s not the best strategy.

Have you ever been on a fire and met a Squad Boss, Crew Boss, or Division Supervisor who you knew was not the sharpest tool in the cache, but who was supremely confident in their abilities? They might be the person who just can’t understand why their supervisors have not recognized their huge potential and wonder why they have not been promoted every year.

In some cases, this person may be ineffective but benign. Their screw-ups may be inconvenient or costly but not life-threatening. But if someone on a fire, with power and authority, over-estimates their skill and ability, the consequences can be disastrous.

Some people don’t know what they don’t know. They have no idea or self-awareness about the holes in their knowledge and experience. You may know of a politician or two that can be described this way coughsarahpalincough.

I can think of several fatality and near-miss incidents on wildfires where this was, in my humble opinion, the primary cause of the accident. But it is not politically correct for the writers of the accident reports to spell it out so clearly. One report that came close is the one about last August’s escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park where the the writers used the term “hubris”.

How do we avoid the trap of over-confident people making poor decisions on fires?

  • The first step is to be sure that firefighters can proficiently perform the jobs that appear on their red cards.
  • Next, be sure that everyone receives an honest performance rating on every fire, at least a verbal one, and preferably a written one for significant fires or assignments.
  • Conduct After Action Reviews at the end of shifts or fires.
  • And, if you are given an assignment that does not make sense, or causes the hair on the back of your neck to stand up, say something.
  • If an individual does this to you repeatedly, have a chat with their supervisor or the Safety Officer. Filing a SAFENET form that does not list names may not be effective.