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thewizbizman
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Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Sun Mar 03, 2019 7:03 am

I haven't seen a thread on a.net for this yet and I have a few questions regarding the topic myself.

Note, this was written on my phone and may be oddly formatted.

I will list some questions I have and would love to hear back from anyone with information on the topic.

- What does an average aircraft crew look like?
- What in-flight deck modifications are made?
- How are the tanks loaded with water / chemicals?
- Do aircraft go out alone or in groups?
- What special training is required to fly as a firefighting pilot?
- What are the logistics of coordinating with Air Traffic Control? What does an average flight plan look like for you? VFR?
- Is smoke ever an issue flying at low altitude over fire?
- Typically, how major does a fire have to be for aerial operations to commence?

Also if you have any interesting stories, feel free to share!

Thanks,
Zachary G
 
Canuck600
Posts: 174
Joined: Tue Aug 01, 2017 5:24 pm

Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Sun Mar 03, 2019 8:40 am

All your questions will depend on the country/state/province & the specific fire

What does the average crew look like? Not sure if you mean how many crew are on a aircraft which depends on the aircraft or what they physically look like?

Not sure on exact flight deck mods but aircraft are generally stripped of as much extra weight as possible.

From what I've seen here in British Columbia Canada they are loaded with a large hose to coupling on the tank, same sort of principle as how fuel is loaded. Retardant is all premixed. Since retardant is by & made up of the same stuff used in fertilizer the grass beside the retardant loading area is usually bright green from retardant drips being hosed off the loading area. Retardant is corrosive so a lot of care is taken to avoid dropping it near water or building whenever possible .

Can't speak to how it's done in other places but in BC it tends to be a bird dog aircraft with a pilot & a and air attack officer who makes the decision on how to attack the fire from the air. Number of tankers depends on the fire but it's usually a group of 3. The bird dog always gets to the fire first, the aao accesses the fire, decides where & how much retardant is going to be dropped. If he needs more tankers he'll request them from provincial air tanker dispatch. Whether or not a second bird dog & aao is sent depends on the situation, a single bird dog & aao can usually control the situation . If multiple groups are working a fire the first group will drop, & then reload at the nearest base that will accommodate the aircraft (may not be the base they launched from) Or the air attack officer might decide that the combined action of the two groups will be enough in which case the first group will told to return to their originating base & land. Or the AAO might tell one aircraft in group one to load & return to the fire while the other two are just told to land. It all depends on the situation.

Not sure exact requirements but the contractors usually require turbine time, multi engine, ifr & if flying a skmmer, a float endorsement, progression is usually bird dog pilot before they get into a actual tanker.

The air space over a fire is restricted by notam & the only aircraft allowed into that restricted air space are under the control of the air attack officer. Other aircraft working on the fire (Helicopters) are required to land until air tanker operations are over. No flight plans are filed because the aircraft are equipped with flight tracking & are monitored by the provincial air tanker center..

Smoke & turbulence can be issues.

BC uses a "hit hard, hit fast" approach to get control of as many fires as possible in the initial attack so tankers might be used on smaller fires then they would be in other juristictions, better to spend a bit of money up front then spend huge piles of money on a fire you could have contained with a solid punch off the bat.

Some large fires where air tankers get called to can be deemed "beyond resources" the fire activity is so aggressive that a aerial attack at that point in time is just wasting money. In which case the tanker group will be diverted to another fire where they actually make a difference. Sometimes on a fire you could have all the air tankers you want at your disposal but they will be as useful as somebody with a small bladder peeing on a campfire.

Haven't worked in wildfire for close to 10 years & I was always in clerical role but that's pretty much sums up how it's done in BC to the best of my knowledge.
 
747Whale
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Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Sun Mar 03, 2019 8:49 am

You didn't say what country, but for the US: crews look about like anybody else. People doing a job. Younger, older, thick and thin. Most wear shorts and a tee shirt out of the airplane, and in the aircraft regulations require nomex flight suits, boots and gloves, and for single engine air tankers (SEATs), a helmet.
Not much in the way of flight deck modifications; a drop system, and the addition of government radios. Aircraft are also equipped with an AFF device (automated flight following) to allow tracking on the national system administered out of the National Interagency Fire Center, in Boise, ID.

Most tankers take retardant through a camlock quick disconnect couplings. Scooping aircraft pick up water on lakes, but must be steam cleaned between water sources or if having carried retardant, to avoid environmental contamination. Fixed wing tankers pick up at tanker bases, and SEAT aircraft use regular tanker bases, and also come equipped with a dedicated truck and trailer that hauls fuel, mix tanks, and hoses to create temporary, portable tanker bases. Helicopters dip from large tanks (called "pumpkins" or from rivers and lakes.

Aircraft on fires include spotting aircraft that do fire partrol, airborne observation and communication platforms called "air attack" or "bird dog," leadplanes that provide direction by leading or following tankers in to a fire and that scout ingress and egress to the fire area, large air tankers that include BAE-146, CL215/415 scoopers, C-130's, etc, Very Large Airtankers (VLATs) in the DC-10, a singular B474-400, and the bulk of the tanker fleet is SEAT operations with typically about 60 on line during any given season. Helicopters vary by type and application, and many do multi-role missions ranging from personnel delivery to operations with dedicated teams and buckets (helittack), fast roping, aerial ignition (lighting fires), helicopter air attack (helittack), bucket work, etc, as well as medevac.

Typically an air attack platform and/or leadplane is sent to a fire or smoke report, and working with ground personnel, will call for tankers. Tankers may be sent from any base, depending on availability, and launch as soon as loaded. Contract maximum time form alert to wheels in the air is 15 minutes; typically faster. That's the time to respond, dress, load, and go. Multiple aircraft will launch if requested, as fast as loading permits. Aircraft check in by 12 miles from the fire, get cleared into the fire traffic area (FTA) airspace, and are sequenced for the drop by the air attack of leadplane. On some fires, the leadplane is manned by a lead pilot and an air tactical group supervisor (called "air attack"); these platforms are Air Supervision Modules (ASM's) and fill the job of both leadplane and air attack. Some fires will have multiple air attacks and leads operating at the same time, and some fires may have 30 or more aircraft working the fire at the same time.

It's not uncommon on SEAT operations for a leadplane to have several SEATS in tow on a drop, and have them do trail-drops, with each one tagging onto the end of the retardant line made by the previous aircraft; it's an effective way to build line rapidly, especially with numerous changes in the line, filling gaps from other drops or jumps or skips in the fire line, etc. It also makes the most efficient use of the leadplane, but can be at the expense of having several aircraft return to a tanker base at the same time, causing delays at the loading pit. Loading can be several minutes to ten minutes, depending on aircraft size, type of base, etc. VLATs take longer.

Training includes government training, company training, and on the job training; typically several years are required to train a fire pilot; most experienced tanker PIC's (pilot in command) are 10-20 years or more of fire experience. Presently a fire training center operated at McClellan, California, has training courses that pilots are required to undergo every few years as part of their "carding" and qualification. Training includes demonstrations of equipment, lectures, group exercises, "sandtable" fire simulations, and the school has a room filled with stationary "simulators" that allow dissimilar aircraft platforms to coordinate on a virtual fire. Communication is stressed.

There are no fire flight plans. Coordination with air traffic control usually involves using the callsign "Tanker XXX" for which ATC grants priority. Almost all clearances, if needed, are direct. Most flying isn't coordinating with air traffic control, however, and over the fire, traffic is controlled by the air attack, who clears aircraft in and out, down to the fire, to holding points, etc.

Smoke is always an issue. It's also unavoidable.

To launch tankers, the size of the fire isn't what's important. It's not uncommon to launch on a single-tree or smoke report, to prevent growth of the fire. Dispatch centers often work off "run cards," which state that for given conditions on a given day, a smoke report will have s specific response. For example, the run card might specify that two fire engines, one water tender, a brush truck, two helicopters, and three single engine air tankers will respond to any call in a particular area; California does this a lot. That's the initial response, regardless of whether it's a birthday candle or a car fire. Typically 8-9 our of ten responses are subsequently cancelled when not needed.

I've responded to fires that were a single tree and were 25,000 acres a few days later. I worked a fire just a few years ago in which the fire was so minor and in such sparse fuels that it was difficult to find, but a day and a half later had burned two towns and killed nearly 20 firefighters. I made the first and last drops on that fire, and at its height, had every available resource running continuous operations in a very intensive fight.

Fire weather and conditions are classified by "haines index" and other metrics that determine the anticipated fire behavior on a given day based on winds, temperature, humidity, atmospheric stability, storm activity, lightning index, fuel moisure, and other factors. Briefing are held daily for all personnel, and updates are made throughout the day.

Fire seasons can be unpredictable, though they do tend to get longer and longer with climate change. Fires have increased in intensity, duration, frequency, and behavior, as has the level of destruction.

There are several threads on firefighting on this site.
 
stratclub
Posts: 1338
Joined: Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:38 pm

Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Sun Mar 03, 2019 12:05 pm

747Whale wrote:
You didn't say what country, but for the US: crews look about like anybody else.

Priceless. I would imagine they look like human beings as well. :biggrin:
As usual Mr. Whale, a really great and thorough dissertation.
 
747Whale
Posts: 725
Joined: Fri Dec 07, 2018 7:41 pm

Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:39 pm

stratclub wrote:
747Whale wrote:
You didn't say what country, but for the US: crews look about like anybody else.

Priceless. I would imagine they look like human beings as well. :biggrin:


In the US, crews are referred to as "tanker trash."

I was tempted to write about the square-jaws with a dimple, trim physique, steely eyes and large biceps, with minds that probed the mysteries of planetary astrophysics and plumbed the depths of of the human question while unconsciously doing their job like a second skin, but then I looked down at my hairy belly button full of grey lint, recalled my bad teeth and balding head, sagging face reminiscent of a discarded candle on a hot summer day, my own vacuous eyes which sit too close together (like George W Bush, but even more ape-like, were that actually possible), and I realized that I'd be writing about train engineers, not tanker pilots.

We look enough like we belong on the other side of the fence (or in a jail cell) that they make us carry little fire cards, like permission slips from parents, to say "Please let Martin sit in the air tanker today, he's been a good boy and promises not to start engines or touch anything." When we leave the hotel, parents cover their children's eyes, hide their daughters, and spit. Cats hiss. Not even pigeons will drop on us. Grass blackens in our presence, and though onlookers generally stifle their tongues, occasionally out slips a hoarse "dear God, what is that thing?" When we check into a hotel, managers close the wing, put us in handicapped rooms with caution tape and won't let the room again until it's been thrice steam cleaned, repainted, and cleansed by at least two priests and a shaman, if one can be found willing to go in.

When asked, we've stopped telling people who we are, on the very rare occasion that anyone approaches within speaking distance. I learned the hard way, when an officer queried what I did for a living, suspecting an escaped inmate or perhaps wounded animal, and I replied "I'm a tanker pilot." His retort, "Right, and I'm the Queen of England" (he wasn't, I'm quite sure), really hurt. I've seen the queen, and she looks much more like a train engineer, but with grace. Now I simply reply that I'm a garbage collector, to which they invariably say, "in your dreams."

Sometimes we can be identified at a distance by the calloused knuckles, the more experienced tanker aviators as those whose knuckles no longer bleed as they drag across the pavement, our hunched backs, and if caught in the shower at a pool or bathing beneath the bridge over the river, the protuberance of a vestigial tail, some say due to never having fully evolved. Mother used to say "no, it's a love marker because God loved you so, son," but would burst into tears until father held her tenderly and whispered that it would be okay. I remember listening from beneath the stairwell as she'd cry and say "it will never be okay, Edward. The boy's going to be a tanker pilot. It's all our fault," and father would pat her back softly and whisper, "don't blame yourself, grizelda. These things happen. We can't win them all. At least we've still got the cats."

Sometimes I look back on life and wonder if it would have all turned out differently, had I only passed the test to get into train engineer school.

But then the price of plastic surgery alone would have put me in the poor house.

Instead, I went on to fly tankers, and ended up there anyway.
 
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thewizbizman
Topic Author
Posts: 122
Joined: Wed May 03, 2017 4:15 pm

Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Mon Mar 04, 2019 4:51 am

Thanks for the great replies, that answers most of my questions, very interesting to be quite honest. I'll post back if I have any more questions. Also, always appreciate the humorous descriptions 747whale.
 
JayinKitsap
Posts: 1400
Joined: Sat Nov 26, 2005 9:55 am

Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Mon Mar 04, 2019 5:47 am

Some links I found back in 2017 with the Napa, CA fires.

https://fireaviation.com/

http://globalsupertanker.com/
 
stratclub
Posts: 1338
Joined: Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:38 pm

Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Mon Mar 04, 2019 8:54 am

747Whale wrote:
stratclub wrote:
747Whale wrote:
You didn't say what country, but for the US: crews look about like anybody else.

Priceless. I would imagine they look like human beings as well. :biggrin:


In the US, crews are referred to as "tanker trash."

I was tempted to write about the square-jaws with a dimple, trim physique, steely eyes and large biceps, with minds that probed the mysteries of planetary astrophysics and plumbed the depths of of the human question while unconsciously doing their job like a second skin, but then I looked down at my hairy belly button full of grey lint, recalled my bad teeth and balding head, sagging face reminiscent of a discarded candle on a hot summer day, my own vacuous eyes which sit too close together (like George W Bush, but even more ape-like, were that actually possible), and I realized that I'd be writing about train engineers, not tanker pilots.

We look enough like we belong on the other side of the fence (or in a jail cell) that they make us carry little fire cards, like permission slips from parents, to say "Please let Martin sit in the air tanker today, he's been a good boy and promises not to start engines or touch anything." When we leave the hotel, parents cover their children's eyes, hide their daughters, and spit. Cats hiss. Not even pigeons will drop on us. Grass blackens in our presence, and though onlookers generally stifle their tongues, occasionally out slips a hoarse "dear God, what is that thing?" When we check into a hotel, managers close the wing, put us in handicapped rooms with caution tape and won't let the room again until it's been thrice steam cleaned, repainted, and cleansed by at least two priests and a shaman, if one can be found willing to go in.

When asked, we've stopped telling people who we are, on the very rare occasion that anyone approaches within speaking distance. I learned the hard way, when an officer queried what I did for a living, suspecting an escaped inmate or perhaps wounded animal, and I replied "I'm a tanker pilot." His retort, "Right, and I'm the Queen of England" (he wasn't, I'm quite sure), really hurt. I've seen the queen, and she looks much more like a train engineer, but with grace. Now I simply reply that I'm a garbage collector, to which they invariably say, "in your dreams."

Sometimes we can be identified at a distance by the calloused knuckles, the more experienced tanker aviators as those whose knuckles no longer bleed as they drag across the pavement, our hunched backs, and if caught in the shower at a pool or bathing beneath the bridge over the river, the protuberance of a vestigial tail, some say due to never having fully evolved. Mother used to say "no, it's a love marker because God loved you so, son," but would burst into tears until father held her tenderly and whispered that it would be okay. I remember listening from beneath the stairwell as she'd cry and say "it will never be okay, Edward. The boy's going to be a tanker pilot. It's all our fault," and father would pat her back softly and whisper, "don't blame yourself, grizelda. These things happen. We can't win them all. At least we've still got the cats."

Sometimes I look back on life and wonder if it would have all turned out differently, had I only passed the test to get into train engineer school.

But then the price of plastic surgery alone would have put me in the poor house.

Instead, I went on to fly tankers, and ended up there anyway.


Just an average Joe then. At least people avoided you and you understood your place in life.

You can not imagine the life of a contract mechanic. To show up to orientation where they tell you all the different ways you can be fired, about being careful grabbing air hoses because you could be picking up a rattlesnake and the heat exhaustion of course. And once recovering from the humility of orientation being put out in the general population where you have to wait everyday to see if you get a work assignment because you know that if you don't get enough hours per week your per diam will not be paid by the company and you will have to just sit in housing working on your alcoholism until you get evicted because some direct employee decided you are worthless and should just go sit under some bridge and starve.

A constant issue will will be that the direct employees will hold you in contempt and you will always be given the worst work assignment that you will not be able to do because It will be something that someone else tore apart and can't be put back together by only one person and you will not even have access to My Boeing Fleet unless you perform an unnatural act on one of the direct employees.

One of my worst experiences started during an orientation. I looked across the room and saw this female looking person that seemed to have an interest in me. Well, a closer look at this person and they turned out to be trans gender and for at least a month every chance he/she got, they felt they had to try to have intimate conversations with me about the trials and tribulations of their transformation process. It is amazing how creepy it was.

How did I look back then? Like someone of northern European descent that God thought did not deserve to be put out of their misery.
 
747Whale
Posts: 725
Joined: Fri Dec 07, 2018 7:41 pm

Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Mon Mar 04, 2019 3:42 pm

stratclub wrote:
You can not imagine the life of a contract mechanic.


I can, actually, I've been a practicing mechanic a bit longer than I've been a pilot

In fact, in the context of the thread, it used to be that to be tanker pilot, you had to be a mechanic; we carried our tools on board, and spare parts. You break it, you fix, it. When not flying fires, work on the airplane, often up to 14 hours a day. In today's world, fewer of the pilots are mechanics, but many still are. Fewer work on the aircraft during the fire season: the aircraft have changed, so has the tempo. Many keep on working as mechanics as the season ends, in many capacities. Another facet of the business.

I do understand where you're coming from, however. Conversely, I've taken contract maintenance jobs in which I met mechanics who had been hired right out of an A&P college nearby, who didn't know how to remove a screw. Literally. I kid you not.

I was approached by a young man one day who wanted to borrow my die grinder. We were working on a C-130. I pointed to the bottom drawer in the box and said "sure," but then became curious what he needed it for. He told me he wanted to remove a screw.

At the risk of violating trust boundaries, I enquired how he might be removing a screw with a die grinder. Perhaps it was a large screw and he was trying to cut a groove, or some other odd method. There had to be a valid reason; he was an A&P, after all. but no. He told me that he wanted to cut out the floor panel around the screw, so he could get behind it with a pair of vise grips. I kid thee not. I asked if he'd tried a different screw driver. No. Different bit? No. Longer screwdriver, bit of english on it? No. T-handle with extra pressure? No. Valve grinding compound? No. Easy out? No. Old man? No. Cold chisel? No. In fact, he simply stripped a screw and intended to destroy the aircraft flooring in order to use vise-grips to remove it. Good god.

Another asked me to come up on a lift, he had a serious concern. We got to his workspace, and he wanted to know how to remove the screws. They weren't turning easily. Seriously? At least he asked instead of deciding to cut up the airplane, first.

There are good, experienced hands out there, and some who bear close watching. I saw an IA slather epoxy all over the front of a radial engine , and around the cylinder bases, in an effort to stop an oil leak. Again, I kid you not.
 
stratclub
Posts: 1338
Joined: Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:38 pm

Re: Aerial Firefighting Question Thread

Mon Mar 04, 2019 4:22 pm

Yup. No amount of training can make someone a mechanic. When I was contracting in Alabama, most of the direct hires were fresh out of A&P school and some of them couldn't poor piss out of a boot if the directions were printed on the bottom. We had this one kid open a cargo door on a 747 when power was shut down. Easy, right? You just get your 1/4 drive speed handle and follow the directions on the placard. We had to stop him before he destroyed something.

Being someone that was involved in building and validation testing the 747 at the factory, the powers that be assumed that I was some kind of 747 guru and gave me a lot of latitude in my work assignments. I wasn't about to disagree with them. I would just do the job with a generous application of common sense. I think it was the best work assignment I ever had. If I had went direct, they would have sent me to United's engine run school in a heartbeat me thinks. As it was, I was allowed to motor with or without fuel. I just couldn't actually start the engines.

You were talking about the old man. In my travels, I met someone that claimed to have invented it. Given his age and level of expertise, I was inclined to believe him at the time.

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