Monday, February 28, 2011

110,000 acre Texas Wildfres



When I was watching the weather this morning, I saw a brief report about wildfires currently burning in Texas. I was not able to find a copy of that report, but I did find a report by the Associated Press on youtube that I embedded here. Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today reports here that multiple wildfires driven in part by winds encompass 110,000, have burned 68 homes, and have resulted in the death of a five-year old girl. He also reports that firefighting aircraft were grounded on Sunday due to high winds, that the Texas Forest Service hopes to get these aircraft in the air today if conditions allow.

The Texas Forest Service (TFS) has a couple of webpages that you might want to check out: (1) current fire conditions where they update current fire conditions around Texas, and (2) a page where you can download a kmz (google earth) file that, among other things, includes a layer showing current TFS wildfires, see this TFS Page for more information (click on the "map" link to go to page where you can download the kmz file. I downloaded the KMZ file and saved an image for you.


Finally, the Texas Forest Fire Service has a Facebook page, I believe that you can access the page without a Facebook account

I'm not sure if there are other wildfires currently burning in Texas that are not shown in this map. But, at least you get an idea of what is going on.

Friday, February 25, 2011

NJ Forest Fire Service: Contract Aircraft for 2011 Fire Season

We are getting into the end of February, which means that the spring fire season here in New Jersey will soon be upon us. In a typical year, the spring fire season starts in New Jersey in the later half of March, depending on the weather. As you may recall from an article I wrote last year, the New Jersey Forest Fire service contracts for Ag Cats and Air Tractor 602's.

As I understand it, the tentative schedule for New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) contract aircraft is as follows:

The tentative schedule for contract aviation coverage is as follows:

Division A - northern NJ - Aeroflex
Alpha 2, Ag Cat (300 gal), Sat. March 26 through Wed. May 4 (40 days)
Alpha 3, Ag Cat (300 gal), Sat. March 26 through Wed. May 4 (40 days)

Division B - central NJ
Coyle Field
Bravo 1, Air Tractor 602 (600 gal), Sat. March 26 through Wed. May 11 (47 days)
Allaire (aka Monmouth Executive Airport - note 1)
Bravo 2, Ag Cat (300 gal), Sat. March 26 through Wed. April 27 (33 days)

Division C - southern NJ
Downstown
Charlie 1, Air Tractor 602 (600 gal), Sat. March 26 through Sun. May 8 (44 days)
Charlie 3, g Cat (300 gal), Mon. March 21 through Fri. March 25 (5 days)
Hammonton
Charlie 2, Ag Cat (300 gal), Sat. March 26 through Sun. May 8 (44 days)

Go to this NJFFS webpage to see a map of NJ by NJFFS Division (showing counties in each division).

note 1 - I believe that what is know called Monmouth Executive Airport was formerly known as Allaire Airport, see this media report and this wikipedia entry.

note 2 - I am pretty confident that the airports that I have linked to in the listing of NJFFS contract aircraft are correct.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Follow-up: High winds on Feb 19

I am late in getting back to you on what happened in the way of wildfires on Saturday, Feb. 19, where high winds were gusting to 50 mph plus along the mid-atlantic and areas to the south.

Here in NJ, there were numerous small fires, mostly in the southern part of the State. To the best of my knowledge all were brought under control reasonably quickly. For more information see articles on NJ.com and the Press of Atlantic City.

Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today did his usual good job of reporting in two articles on wildfires down south on Feb. 19. go here for an article on VA fires with pictures and a video, and he wrote an earlier article reporting on these fires that may be found here. And he wrote a follow-up article on the fires in VA yesterday with pictures and a video.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Flying yesterday

The last time that I went flying on a scenic ride with a pilot (Mike) was just after Christmas. I was grounded, so to speak, for much of January into early February recovering from a sinus infection. Then I had two flights canceled because of windy conditions. So, I finally went up yesterday with and had a great flight. I had to learn navigation and pilotage when I was studying for the FAA private pilot exam last year. I wanted to do a little more work on navigation and pilotage by plotting a course for this scenic ride. Of course, the pilot, and not I, would normally do the navigation and pilotage. Simply, I plotted a course on an aeronautical chart, and picked out visual reference points along my route. The good news is that we found our way to our destination.

I did not choose the best visual reference points, Mike and I talked about this on the flight back. We talked about why my reference points were not good, and he suggested reference points that I could look for on the same flight in the future. For example, he pointed out a very large lake near the interstate that is an excellent visual reference point.

Part of the problem, according to Mike, could have been that the winds at our altitude (5,500 ft) may have been blowing a little stronger than forecast in the winds aloft charts I used. When planning a flight under visual flight rules, there are ways that you work the effects of winds into your flight planning, and I thought that I had done this. But we were a little to the right of my plotted course, possibly due to stronger winds aloft.

If I had used better visual reference points such as the large lake near the interstate, then this might not have happened. Fortunately, Mike is a good pilot (just to clarify that he was flying the plane). It was very clear and we could see for miles, so he was able to spot a good visual reference point near our destination.
I hope that on future scenic rides, that I will be better able to follow along by identifying a visual reference points and then finding these reference points on my sectional.

Friday, February 18, 2011

High Winds and Red Flag for 2/19/11


Well, here we go again. The National Weather Service has issued a high wind watch (gust may exceed 50 mph) that includes all but northeast NJ for Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011. Northeast NJ is under a wind advisory (gust up to 40 to 45 knots). My portion of NJ and north still has some snow cover, and I can attest that ground is like a sponge. But southern and central NJ has no snow cover and will be under a Red Flag Warning all day Saturday, Feb. 19.

I pulled the map off of the NWS Fire Weather page a little while ago. I should say here that when you go that link, you are likely to see a different map as they update the maps at least once a day, maybe twice a day. Also, remember that the areas in yellow are under a fire weather watch.

The spring fire season here in NJ will soon be upon us. Perhaps a little early in southern and central NJ. I'm a little busy this weekend with company coming in, but I'll try to monitor what is happening in NJ firewise tomorrow as time permits. Of course, wind damage as might affect power will affect my ability to monitor things. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

more on emergency retardant drops

I recently wrote about emergency retardant drops here. I was going through some files on my computer earlier today and saw a draft of an article that I wrote in Dec. 2009, one of a series of articles on the DC-7 tanker. Most of the articles that I posted in December 2009, were on DC-7 air tankers, so here is a link if you are interested in the entire series. The article that interested me today is called Up close and personal with DC-7 tankers: retardant drops pt 2 of 2, written on Dec. 18, 2009. In this article, Larry Kraus, pilot of DC-7 tanker 62 speaks about emergency retardant drops. I am reposting the entire article here because of its relevance to my recent post. Enjoy!

Up close and personal with DC-7 tankers: retardant drops (pt 2 of 2)
Originally posted on Dec. 18, 2009 Random Ramblings: Aerial Wildland Firefighting Blog.

In my last post, I was writing about the Aero Union multi-door tank system (8 doors) used by Butler's DC-7's. I'll let Larry explain to you the sequence he goes through making a typical retardant drop:

To drop a full load at Coverage Level 6, I would have the co-pilot arm the tank system, and I would set the intervelometer to the 12 o'clock position (1), set the timer to 0.4 and set the doors to open selector to 8. Assuming that we'd gone through the Descent Check List while descending into the drop pattern I should be set. All that I have to do next is to determine the correct place to begin the drop and hold down the drop button (located on the yoke) until all of the doors open.

I know that there are times when tanker pilots must make an emergency drop of a retardant load. If an emergency happens near a tanker base, there is usually a designated place, e.g. coordinates, where emergency drops can be made. Otherwise, the pilot tries to look for a safe place -- no houses, no people on the ground, away from water sources, etc. -- to make the emergency drop. As I understand it, if a tanker pilot were to drop the entire load at once (aka a salvo) while making an emergency drop, the nose will do a sudden pitch up because of the sudden loss of 27,000 pounds of retardant. Often the pilots have a few hairy moments when this happens as they bring the tanker under control.


In the case of the DC-7, Larry tells me that emergency dump switch (outlined in blue in the photo) is centrally located on the cockpit panel. When Larry or his co-pilot lift the guard and activate the system by flipping the switch to the up position, the doors open at an approximate coverage level 5 drop. If I am thinking about this correctly, an added benefit is that an emergency drop at an approximate coverage level of 5 means that any pitch up of the nose of the tanker will not be nearly as bad as a sudden salvo of all doors at coverage level 8 (or higher). Larry provides some more details on emergency drops:

As far as having to jettison retardant in an emergency, it all depends on the severity of the emergency, the location and other local circumstances. In most cases, such as an engine failure deep in a canyon, there will be time for some quick (maybe 15-30 seconds) of trouble-shooting followed by determining if there is time (and the terrain allows) to fly to a suitable drop area. If we really are deep in a canyon, a suitable drop area will be anyplace nearby that doesn't contain a water source, people, vehicles or structures.

Again, it all depends on the circumstances. Generally, it will be possible to fly a few miles to an open area, but it's better for a spot on the ground to be covered with retardant than the flaming wreckage of an airplane. It would be unlikely that we would climb out of a canyon with 3 engines to carry the load to a designated jettison area. However, if the failure occurred enroute to the fire at altitude, that could be an option. There are also other emergencies not involving engines. Hydraulic problems being high on the list. I also once had a failure causing the loss of the fabric on the rudder on Tanker 62 during a drop run.
As I've mentioned before, nothing is ever easy in the tanker business.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Brushfires in NC and VA on Feb. 14

I was checking for wildfire activity yesterday (Feb. 14) as a result of yesterdays red flag warnings in the southern part of the US. So far, I have heard of a 580 acre brush fire in Surry County in western NC, for more information on this fire see this report from MyFox8 in Greensboro.

Then I found a website reporting reporting Fire News in VA with reports of several brush fires in VA. A media report of a brush fire in Dinwiddle County VA that was contained on the evening of Feb. 14 may be found here. In addition there was at least one smaller brush fire in the Richmond VA area that was contained mid-day on Feb. 14, go here for more information.

According to an article from the Hometown Annapolis.com (MD) on Feb. 15, there were multiple brush fires in Maryland yesterday and this morning.

Enhanced fire danger continues for Burlington, Cape May, and Cumberland Counties in southern NJ. Red flag warnings continue in portions of Maryland, Delaware, and Florida on the east coast.

obtained from http://radar.srh.noaa.gov/fire/briefing.php on 2/15/11

Monday, February 14, 2011

Red Flag Warnings in portions of the East Coast USA


Noting that all of New Jersey is under a wind advisory for this afternoon into the wee hours of Tuesday where there will be sustained winds at about 20 to 25 mph with gust to 45 or 50 mph, I got curious about what the fire danger might be south of me. That is, here in northern and central NJ we still have snow cover which I expect lessens the fire danger. However, this is not the case in southern NJ.

Southern NJ, while not under a red flag warning, the southern NJ counties of Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland and southeastern Burlington Counties will see enhanced fire danger this afternoon into this evening with fine fuel moisture at about 10 percent, gusty winds, and a the possibility of a decreasing relative humidity.

You will see from the map that areas to the south of NJ, including portions of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are under red flag warnings. I believe that the winter fire season in Florida and Georgia is under way. I'm not sure about the dates of the fire season in other regions in the south. But the spring fire season in NJ (and Pennsylvania) starts in early to mid March. As we move towards March I'll start to monitor fire conditions in NJ as I did last year. So, stay tuned.

Here is a wlildand fire hotlist thread on fire danger in No. Carolina. I will continue keep my eyes and ears out for fire activity that may result from today's red flag warnings.

The areas mapped in yellow in New Mexico are under fire weather watch.

If you want to check out fire weather for the U.S. National Weather Service was a fire weather page. The map on the top of this article is from the National Weather Service.

Friday, February 11, 2011

lead planes working with tankers

I wrote the other day about Conair (from Canada) leasing five tankers and a "bird dog" plane, a 690 Turbo Air Commander to Victoria, Australia for their summer season. What is a bird dog plane? A bird dog plane in Canada is similar to a lead plane in the U.S. One of the functions of a bird dog or lead plane is to sniff out the route that the tankers will take to drop retardant on a fire. Simply, the lead or bird dog plane leads the tanker to the site of the retardant drop.

Previously I have written about a couple of fires that Larry Kraus's T-62 worked, with pictures that show T-62 working with a lead plane. In this article, Larry explains how he works with an Air Supervision Module, function as both a lead plane and air attack. Another series of photos showing T-62 working with a lead plane with commentary from Larry may be found here.

I hope to write a little more about lead planes in a few weeks, but for now I found three videos that I am embedding here, they are all short, showing footage of a bird dog or lead plane working with a tanker. You know what they say, one picture is worth one thousand words.

The first video may taken from a Turbo Air Commander. I think, but am not certain that the footage is shot in Canada:



And here are two more videos of lead planes in the U.S. working with tankers. In both videos you will see the lead plane first followed by the tanker making a retardant drop:



Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Convair 580 firebombers, AT-802's, and a third AirCrane leased by Victoria Australia



I have been interested in the aircraft that are being used in Australia during their summer fire season. Late last September (Sept. 24, 2010 to be precise), I read This article by Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today reporting that the DC-10 air tanker had failed its test in Victoria Australia. At the end of the article, he reports that the State of Victoria was planning to bring in two Convair 580 firebomber planes an additional Erickson AirCrane and four other fixed wing aircraft for the summer fire season. More information may be found here.

I already knew that Erickson AirCrane Erickson AirCrane are among the aircraft used in Australia to fight wildfires, see for example the Victoria CFA aircraft page here.

So, I was interested in the arrival of these aircraft. in Victoria, Australia. One thing lead to another and I did not follow through on what was happening in Victoria Australia until I went to Wildfire Today on Feb. 4, 2011 and saw Bill's article reporting that Australia have leased 5 air tankers from Canadian based Conair along with a "bird dog" plane, a 690 Turbo Air Commander. The five air tankers being leased by Victoria, Australia from Conair include the Convair 580 bombing planes along with the three Air Tractor 802's. Erickson has three AirCranes in Australia. Elivis and Elise are joined this year by Marty.



Thanks to Bill Gabbert for posting this wonderful video of Convair 580's in action in British Columbia, Canada in his Feb. 4 article.

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Thank-you Bill Gabbert for your usual great reporting!

Go here and here for additional reports on the arrival of the two Convair 580 aircraft.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Wildfires in and near Perth Australia



Well, we go from flooding in Australia to wildfires (aka bush fires). After all, it is their summer fire season down under. The video that I embedded here reports on a bush fire in the Perth area of Australia. Sixty-four homes have been destroyed with evacuations in place. Firefighting Helicopters are working the fire. A report from Sky News Australia with a video clip may be found here. The Courier Mail reports on the fire here, they are reporting that the fire is at or near containment but the fire danger remains. Reports from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority in the Perth region including a map may be found here. Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today reported on this fire here in a post he made yesterday (Sunday, Feb. 6).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

still to come on aerial firefighting safety: escape routes

I wrote about how tanker pilots will jettison retardant in the event of emergencies such as an engine failure or an encounter with bad winds here. Of perhaps greater importance is that tanker and helo pilots working a fire will always plan for an escape route out of there should the need arise. I will be writing about escape routes a little later, perhaps this coming week.

Friday, February 04, 2011

TBM Avengers revisited



Some of you may recall that I wrote a series of articles on the TBM Avenger last August, these articles may be found here (scroll to the bottom to see the first article in the series). Briefly, the TBM Avenger was used in World War II and then later as a fire bombing aircraft.

She is a magnificent aircraft. Thanks to a new friend, I recently came across this video of a restored Avenger. I love the sound of the radial engine!

I also want to remind everyone about a very nice webpage about the history of the TBM Avenger's service with Forest Protection Limited (New Brunswick, Canada). There are some great photos of the Avenger along with some history of her use in aerial fire fighting and budworm spraying, a listing of pilots who flew the Avenger, and other great information. You could spend hours on this site, go here to get started.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Dumping retardant in an emergency

Unless there are firefighters and other individuals on the ground that might be in danger from falling retardant, a tanker pilot can jettison their entire retardant load if in the event of an emergency such as an engine failure or an encounter with bad winds. Typically the pilots will jettison the retardant in a controlled matter to avoid sudden pitch-up of the nose of the tanker. The hope is that once the retardant is jettisoned, the crew of the tanker in trouble can make it safely back to the nearest tanker base.

From what I understand, most if not all tanker bases have a designated area near the base for jettisoning retardant. These jettison areas are important when something goes wrong with the tanker during or after take-off. Most tankers can not land with a full load of retardant, so the pilot will jettison the retardant in the designated jettison area before returning to base to have their tanker repaired.

I promised you some numbers for the weight of load of retardant for a couple of air tankers. If memory serves, one gallon of water weighs about 8.35 gallons. Retardant weighs a little more than 9 pounds per gallon (ppg).

I will talk about three tankers: a DC-7 tanker, a P-2V tanker, and CAL FIRE's S--2T tanker.

Some of you may recall that I wrote extensively about Butler's T-62, a DC-tanker that has been piloted by Larry Kraus for over 27 years. Larry was very generous with his time and his knowledge of the tanker business, so it was easy for me to find information from my blog about weight specifications of T-62 that may found here.

The DC-7 tankers, including T-62, carry 3,000 gallons of retardant. Multiply this by 9 ppg and we can see that the weight of a full load of retardant on T-62 is roughly 27,000 pounds. Larry told me the normal take-off weight of T-62 with a full load of retardant is 108,000 pounds.

The maximum gross weight of a P-2V, for example those operated by Neptune Aviation is 80,000 pounds. While the P-2 can carry about 2,700 gallons of retardant, the current contract load according to Neptune Aviation is 2,082 gallons. 2,082 gallons of retardant comes in at a total weight of 18,738 pounds.

According to CAL FIRE, the S-2T tanker has a maximum gross weight of 29,150 pounds, carrying 1,200 gallons of retardant which weighs a total of 10,800 pounds.

The example of these three tankers, demonstrate how much lighter the tanker is with empty retardant tanks.

I am glad to post this tonight, prior to our latest round of winter. I may have more to say about this subject, but that may have to wait for a bit. In the meantime, enjoy!

working on tomorrow's post

I am working on my next post on the weight of retardant as I write this. I hope to make this post later tonight before going to bed in order to have the post up prior to our latest round of winter weather (in the form of an ice storm). If you don't hear from me for a couple of days you will know why.