Tag Archives: firefighting

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


Amazing video of the Spanish Air Force 43 Group flying the “Superscooper” shows why firefighting missions are a bit hazardous

The 43 Group (Grupo) is a unit of the Spanish Air Force (Ejercito del Aire) with the primary mission to collaborate in extinguishing forest fires and participate in supporting secondary missions of Search and Rescue Service (SAR) operationally dependent from the Military Emergency Unit (UME).

To address these missions, the 43 Group has 14 Bombardier CL-215T and 3 CL-415 “Superscooper” aircraft.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/48642618 w=460&h=259]

The 43 Group has two planes with their crews ready to depart with a very short notice 365 days a year at Torrejón Air Base. However, the Summer Campaign (between June 15 and September 30) is the period when the unit makes the most effort and maintains a minimum of 70% of the aircraft available, with their crews ready to act in any risk areas of the Peninsula and Balearic and Canary Islands.

The firefighting mission is undoubtedly one of the most hazardous for pilots. The flight at very low altitude, the smoke that reduces visibility, winds causing turbulence, the large concentration of aircraft on the same area, the topography of the area is generally abrupt, and the proper fire: these are risk factors that 43 Group crews face and assume through a continuous training plan.

[Read also: U.S. Air Force C-130H plane crashes during a firefighting mission in South Dakota]

So far, the unit has made a total of 133,100 flight hours and has made approximately 305,000 water loads. This year, the 43 Group have tripled their flying hours in the Summer Campaign compared to last year. As of Aug. 20, 1.894 flight hours were made with a total of 5,620 water downloads on fire.

Noteworthy is also the performance on August 11 in which 13 aircraft flew at the same fighting fire in different regions of Spain.

The interesting video, pays tribute to these brave crews and also remembers the fifteen members of this unit who gave their lives in the course of its mission.

“Apaga… y vámonos”

El Lince Analista for TheAviationist.com

Avialsa's Air Tractor AT-802F FireBoss

I’ve recently written about the Italian Canadairs (read here: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2009/08/03/the-italian-canadairs-in-seasonal-firefighting-service/), however, there a lot of other type of aircraft involved in the seasonal firefighting service that can be spotted in the Italian airports.
These aircraft are occasionally leased for a single season, for experimental purposes or for multiple fire-fighting campaigns. In 2006 2 Avialsa’s Air Tractor AT-802F FireBoss were deployed to Oristano-Fenosu on the Western coast of Sardinia island, while, in 2007, 2 aircraft were deployed to Tortolì (Sardinia) and 3 at Salerno Pontecagnano airport. The Italian Civil Protection Department leased the FireBoss assets also during summer 2008 when they were temporary deployed to Falconara, Foggia and Grottaglie.
The following FireBoss profiles are a courtesy of Ugo Crisponi of AVIATIONGRAPHIC.COM.

The Italian Canadairs in seasonal firefighting service

This Summer I’ve spent two weeks in Sardinia island, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily), located to the West of the Italian peninsula. During the period, massive fires, that claimed two people and burnt 25,000 hectares of forest, scorched both the Northern and Southern part of the island. On certain days, up to 15 large fires erupted because of high temperatures and hot winds, and also by arson connected to building speculation or human negligence and carelessness. Firefighting missions were flown by a part of the dedicated fleet of 17 CL-415 Canadairs of the Dipartimento Protezione Civile (Civil Protection Department) deployed to Olbia. Despite being owned by the Italian State, the aircraft are operated and maintained under an outsourcing contract by the SOREM company, based in Rome Ciampino. Even if I spotted only a Canadair during my stay in Northern Sardinia, with the help of Roberto Petagna, I was able to track 12 CL-415 operating in Sardinia for firefighting purposes between Jul. 22 and Jul. 27:


Roberto Petagna toook some pictures of the CL-415s operating near Cagliari that you can find here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/impala74/3755700146/

Also one of the 4 Erickson S-64F of the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (CFS, Italian Forestry Service) operated in Sardinia: I-CFAI/CFS-10.