Category Archives: Aviation

Military and Contract Air Assets (Including U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper Drones) Key in Fighting Largest Ever California Wildfires.

All Available Airborne Fire Fighting Assets Pressed into Service, Fires Continue.

A massive combined military and contract air operation has been flying over the U.S. state of California this week in attempts to contain and put out wildfires raging across the entire state. Earlier in the week, U.S. President Donald Trump’s declared the California wildfires as an official Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) National Disaster.

Military and contract fixed wing aircraft and helicopters have been launching a constant stream of fire-retardant strikes since the fires began over a week ago. A massive air armada has also been conducting rescues, inserting firefighters into remote areas and conducting fire surveillance since the fires began. This is likely the greatest combined military and contract air fire suppression operation in history, and one of the first to employ military remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs).

California Governor Jerry Brown told media in a press conference earlier this week that, “We have had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it’s not over.”

In all, Governor Brown’s office reported that 22 major fires are still burning across the state, an increase over the 17 fires earlier this week. As of late Friday, October 19, some of the fires have finally been declared as “contained”, but not extinguished. The death toll has climbed to 42 people with many more still missing. Over 3,500 homes have been destroyed by the fires, but many more people have been displaced due to preemptive evacuations.

The State of California reports that a massive military and private air force of 73 helicopters and at least 30 fixed-wing aerial tankers are fighting the fires, conducting rescues and performing reconnaissance of the affected areas. The Governor’s office also mentioned that two MQ-9 Reaper drones are performing the reconnaissance role over fire areas.

Global SuperTanker Service President and CEO Jim Wheeler told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann during an interview in July that, “We can drop a line of retardant about three kilometers long or, if you will, about a mile-and-a-half.”

The California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing from March Joint Air Reserve Base, that operates the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), is flying active sorties in support of the firefighting effort. The operation of the MQ-9s over this U.S. air space required special authorization from the FAA. Two MQ-9 Reapers have been rotating continuous 12-hour sorties over critical fire areas, aiding in the direction of firefighters on the ground and with aerial fire suppression strikes.

Commander of the 163rd Attack Wing, Air Force Maj. Jason Flowers, told reporters, “Firefighters want to know the perimeter of the fire so they could compare how it’s spread since the last time they checked and where it spreading.” The fire reconnaissance missions also make use of the MQ-9 Reapers’ Synthetic Aperture Radar, an aerial sensor never before used in firefighting efforts in the U.S. Major Flowers went on to suggest that fighting the fires at home with the MQ-9s will help the wing fight future wars abroad, by increasing operators’ expertise at employing these sensors effectively.


An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft assigned to the 163d Attack Wing soars over Southern California skies on a training flight to March Air Reserve Base, California, in this Sept. 15, 2016, file photo. The wing is flying MQ-9s in support of civil authorities battling deadly wildfires in Northern California. (Air National Guard Photo by Tech. Sgt. Neil Ballecer)

More than 700 members of the California National Guard have been deployed in the firefighting mission with an additional 1,800 soldiers tasked with the mission on Wednesday. These units include the state’s 49th Military Police Brigade, California’s only Army National Guard military police brigade based in Fairfield, California. Even prisoners have been pressed into firefighting service.

Staff Sgt. Richard Glover, 163d Attack Wing IT Specialist, shows burn areas to Staff Sgt. Jamel Seales (sitting) and Staff Sgt. Shawn Blue (background) on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, at the wing’s Hap Arnold Center at March Air Reserve Base, California. The center is one of several wing assets activated to support the ongoing wildland firefighting effort in Northern California. Airmen have been working at the center around the clock since Tuesday to support CAL FIRE and other agencies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman)

The aerial firefighting mission is extremely dangerous due to dense smoke, powerful, rapidly shifting winds from rising heat, debris being floated into the air by the flames and the extreme low altitude that firefighting aircraft must fly over rolling terrain to accurately deliver their large payloads of fire-retardant. Additionally, the handling characteristics of the tanker aircraft change dramatically as they drop the heavy liquid fire-retardant.

Among the 30 fixed-wing aircraft fighting the fires are modified DC-10s, S-2 Trackers, P-3s and the largest-ever aerial firefighting aircraft, the Global Supertanker Services Boeing 747-446, N744ST. The enormous 747 firefighter was at McClellan AFB near Sacramento, California early in September on deployment from its home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During the aircraft’s first operational mission in the U.S. at the beginning of September it made two massive drops of 8,500 gallons each of fire-retardant on the leading edge of wildfires.

Global Supertanker Services 747-446 registration N744ST is performing fire retardant drops over California.

As firefighting efforts continue on Thursday, October 19, the fires have been contained in several locations. Weather forecasts for Northern California are for cooler, more humid conditions and will likely assist in firefighting efforts going into the weekend as the combined air operations continue. No official announcements have been made about when they may be brought under control.

Google Earth provided maps showing location and progress of California fires. (Photo: Google)

Top oimage credit: Global Supertanker

Close Call: CL-415 Canadair Hits A Barge After Scooping Water In Scary Footage

Physical damage but no injuries. Impressive!

Reportedly filmed at Vallabrègues, on the left bank of the Rhône River, in the Gard department in southern France, the video below shows two Canadair CL-415 water bomber aircraft involved in a firefighting mission on Aug. 27, 2017.

One of the “Superscooper” planes hit a barge with its left hand wing while scooping water in the harbor to support firefighting activities in a forest fire in Collias, near Nimes.

The Canadairs belong to the fleet of the French Sécurité Civile, that operates a fleet of more than a dozen CL-415, a type of amphibious aircraft developed to deliver massive quantities of suppressant in quick response to fires.

As already mentioned in articles we have published here, the firefighting mission is undoubtedly one of the most hazardous for pilots. The very low altitude, the smoke that reduces visibility, winds causing turbulence, the large concentration of aircraft in the same area, the generally abrupt topography and the need of perform several fill-drop cycles in a short time make the water bomber role particularly risky.

This kind of incident, quite rare, did not injure but the footage posted to Youtube is really impressive.

H/T @manusLinux for the heads-up

 

Beautiful Video of The Only Two Flying B-29s Together For The First Time

First B-29 Formation in Over 50 Years Gets Airborne at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

For the first time since the early 1960’s when they were retired from U.S. Air Force service, two Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers flew together in formation at the AirVenture Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The two aircraft, “Fifi”, aircraft number N529B and “Doc”, aircraft N69972, took to the air in formation at Oshkosh on Tuesday of this week. They were accompanied by a camera aircraft and a B-25 Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber.

One of thousands of aviation enthusiasts and pilots at Oshkosh who witnessed the first formation flight, Ethan Jones, told TheAviationist.com, “It was jaw dropping. Being able to witness this flight was a moment many have been waiting for.” Jones traveled across the U.S. along with his wife for AirVenture. “We wanted to be surrounded with like-minded people for a week and see why they call EAA AirVenture Oshkosh ‘The Greatest Aviation Celebration’”.

Both of the B-29’s in Tuesday’s historic “reunion” flight have fascinating histories.

The B-29 aircraft number N529B named “Fifi” has been an attraction at airshows in the U.S. for a number of years. “Fifi” was purchased from surplus in 1971 and flew again for the first time in August of that year. It took another three years to restore her to certified flight status. In 2006 “Fifi” was grounded to begin replacement of her historically problematic Wright R-3350 Cyclone engines. Throughout the operational history of the B-29 the engines required frequent maintenance and were prone to problems including fires. “Fifi” received new engines pieced together from more advanced versions of the R-3350 over three years finishing up in 2010. The re-engining project cost an estimated $3 million USD. She returned to flight following the re-engining and has been an airshow headliner ever since.

B-29 aircraft number N69972, named “Doc”, is the newer arrival to the only two flying B-29’s in the world. “Doc” is from Boeing’s Wichita, Kansas factory and was built in 1944. He was never flown in combat. The aircraft was purchased from an aviation museum by a private non-profit in 2013. The non-profit returned the aircraft to flight status on July 17, 2016 when it made its first flight in 60 years. Prior to his purchase and restoration “Doc” had sat in outdoor desert storage on the way to being used as a target for years.

The B-29 Superfortress made history as the only aircraft to deliver operational nuclear strikes. Two B-29’s, the “Enola Gay” and “Bock’s Car” dropped single nuclear weapons on Japanese targets Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945 toward the conclusion of WWII. Both of those nuclear strike aircraft are preserved in museums. The nuclear attacks were intended to force Japan to surrender and avoid a U.S. invasion of Japanese islands that was projected to result in over a half million casualties according to U.S. estimates at the time.

The B-29 Superfortress featured major technical innovations including pressurized crew compartments and a remotely controlled defensive gun system. A pressurized tunnel ran from the forward section of the aircraft to the aft section over the bomb bay. Unlike the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, its predecessor, the B-29 Superfortress uses a modern, heavy-duty tricycle landing gear system.

The eight-day Air Venture airshow at Oshkosh concludes this weekend. “Fifi” and “Doc” are scheduled to fly one more demonstration sortie together at the show before they resume their individual airshow appearances for the rest of the season.

The B-29 “Fifi” was previously the only flying example. She was joined over Oshkosh by the more recently airworthy “Doc” for the first time this week. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

Top image: Top aviation photographer Scott Slocum captured this remarkable portrait of “Fifi” and “Doc”, the only flying B-29’s in the world, in formation for the first time for EAA – The Spirit of Aviation. (Credit: EAA/Scott Slocum)

 

Commercial Pilot Catches Remarkable Photos of Alleged Secret Chinese Anti-Missile Test

Alleged Chinese ABM Test Coincides with North Korean Ballistic Missile Test.

A commercial pilot flying a Cargolux 747 from Hong Kong to Baku has shot photos of what is believed to be a secret Chinese anti-ballistic missile test.

Flying over the Himalayas on July 22nd the flight crew saw a series of unusual lights and vapor trails climb into the night sky. Photographer, blogger and commercial pilot Christiaan van Heijst of the Netherlands shot the photos seen here. They were posted to his own blog, JPCVANHEIJST.COM

The alleged Chinese test is noteworthy because it is so close to the North Korean ballistic missile test over the Pacific confirmed by the United States today. China has not commented on the photos or verified any testing operations.

“What started unexpectedly with an unusual bright spot on the horizon quickly changed into a droplet-shaped bubble that rapidly grew in size and altitude.” First Officer Van Heijst wrote on his own personal blog published today.

Normally missile tests and space launches are well documented in international NOTAMs or “Notices To Airmen” via a number of media outlets used by commercial and military flight crews and air traffic control. It is important information since it not only avoids the extremely remote possibility that an aircraft may be hit by part of a vehicle used in a launch test

“It came as a total surprise for us and the only thing we found in the NOTAMs for our route was a ‘temporarily restricted airspace’ with a 100km radius somewhere south of Urumqi in north-west China with no mention of the nature of the closure, let alone a possible rocket/missile launch.”

One French language media outlet, EastPendulum.com, reported that the launch photographed by First Officer Van Heijst may have been a test of the Chinese Dong-Feng-21 or DF-21, an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM).

One Chinese website, “liuqiankktt.blog.163.com”, showed additional photos of the event from the ground. The images are consistent with the appearance of a launch vehicle test.

This photo of the test was shot by a Chinese blogger from the ground. (Photo: liuqiankktt.com)

Until China confirms the specifics of the launch or other intelligence outlets provide more detailed analysis it will difficult to understand exactly what happened over China and what its purpose was.

First Officer Christiaan Van Heijst went on to write on his blog:

“The entire event took no more than 12 minutes, from first spotting the bright light to the last dissipating glowing spots in the sky. My knowledge of hypersonic shock waves and the behavior of exhaust gasses in the upper atmosphere is extremely limited, but looking at the photos it seems to me that there have been two rocket stages burning after each other in succession. Taking into account that the Chinese suffered a catastrophic launch of a Long March 5 exactly 3 weeks earlier, it might be logical to assume this was a test-flight of another rocket in a relatively remote area of China with little to no witnesses. Except a Dutch pilot and a camera that they might not have counted on.”

We do know that Cargolux First Officer Christiaan Van Heijst’s photos of the event are truly remarkable and his reporting on the event is greatly appreciated.

Top image credit: Christiaan Van Heijst

Salva

Video Shows Three Canadair CL-415 “Water Bomber” Aircraft Picking Up Water Together During Firefighting Mission In France

Watch This Pretty Unusual Footage.

The video below was filmed at Cagnes-sur-Mer, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France.

It shows three Canadair CL-415 water bomber aircraft involved in a firefighting mission near the picturesque French Riviera town on Jul. 24, 2017. Whilst “Superscooper” planes are constantly supporting firefighting operations across the world for decades it’s at least unusual to see three water bomber planes scoop up water from the sea at the same time.

The aircraft in the footage below (filmed by Amine Abid) belong to the fleet of the French Sécurité Civile that operates a fleet of more than a dozen CL-415, a type of amphibious aircraft developed to deliver massive quantities of suppressant in quick response to fires.

The firefighting mission is undoubtedly one of the most hazardous for pilots. The very low altitude, the smoke that reduces visibility, winds causing turbulence, the large concentration of aircraft in the same area, the generally abrupt topography and the need of perform several fill-drop cycles in a short time make the water bomber role particularly risky. You can find several videos on the Internet showing the CL-415s cooperatively working against forest fires: however, you will hardly find anything like three water bombers performing a water pick-up in close sequence as shown in this pretty cool video.

 

H/T @mehdiAA for the heads-up