Friday, December 30, 2011

Testing of Hawaii Mars (circa 1945)

This video from the United News Newsreels is posted on fedflix, more info may be found on this fed flix page. I am embedding this video because I was fascinated by the first feature in the newsreel showing what I think may be the first test flight of the Hawaii Mars circa 1945. Part 2 of the newsreel shows the 2nd Marines landing on and securing an atoll in the vicinity of Okinawa sometime late in WWII. Part 3 shows President Truman and other dignitaries arriving at Antwerp along with some scenes from the Potsdam Conference.

The newsreel says that the Hawaii Mars is the first of twenty of her type. It turned out that only four or Five were built, including the Hawaii Mars. Two remain, the Hawaii Mars and the Philippine Mars, see this page on the Coulson Flying Tankers website for more information about the two Mars aircraft.

I loved seeing the Hawaii Mars, albeit in black and white, in her military colors. Enjoy!

Some of the scenes of emaciated Japanese citizens and children might be a little disturbing to some.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blue Angels Winter Training

During this holiday week, enjoy these two videos from Envenometer1 showing the 2012 Blue Angels winter training.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bambi Buckets

Before Christmas, I was posting about firefighting helos:

Thanks Firefighting Helos!
CAL FIRE Super Huey Bucket Work Demo

I want to continue with one more post, at least for the time being, on the good work that Helos do as aerial wildland firefighters. To that end, I hope you enjoy this video on bambi bucket training.

Happy holidays everyone and stay safe!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Shepard

For more info on the Shepard see the information on youtube.

I love this story. Merry Christmas everyone! Safe travels.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NTSB update on Morris County NJ airplane crash

Yesterday I reported here on an airplane crash on Interstate 287 in Morris County NY. Here is this afternoon's NTSB briefing on yesterdays plane crash. I believe but am not certain that the wreckage has been cleared from the highway. The plane, a Socata TBM 700 (single engine prop-turbine), was at an altitude of close to 18,000 when it went into an uncontrolled spin crashing into the I-287.

The names of those who died in the crash, widely reported in the press, have not been released by the authorities. My prayers go out to their family, friends, colleagues, and school mates.

CAL FIRE Super Huey Demo (bucket work)

Here is a nice video of a demo of CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey 106. You will see her firefighting team exit the helo and attach the bucket before the helo goes off and does a demonstration bucket drop.

Thanks firefighting helos!

I want to pause and remember all of you helicopter pilots and crew who play such an important role in aerial wildland firefighting. You might be under a federal contract. Alternatively, your helicopter might be owned by or under contract with a state or local government agency. You helos come in various sizes performing various missions.

I know you are there.

Perhaps you are a Bell Super Huey (medium helo) with a 300 gallon bucket. Your state agency got you through the federal excess property program. You get the call, a wildfire in your division. The ground crews need your help, they need your bucket. You fly to the fire, there is a pond minutes from the fire where you can dip your bucket. The incident commander on the ground has been in touch with your pilot telling him where to drop. You dip and fly to the fire to make your drop. You fly back and forth to the fire for as long as the incident commander needs you, dip and drop, dip and drop. Dip, oh there is a spot fire outside the fire line, you drop on the spot fire. Dip and drop, dip and drop. . .

I know you are there.

Perhaps you are another Bell Super Huey (medium helo) flying for an agency in a different part of America. You carry up to 8 firefighters, you have a 360 helitank with a snorkel hose and a separate foam tank. You also have a 324 gallon bucket. There is a wildfire in a remote area in the hills within range of your base. Your job, drop off your firefighters and their captain at a safe landing spot near the fire. You drop off your firefighting team. This time your bucket is needed. They quickly unload their gear and attach your bucket to your belly.

The fixed wing tanker and air attack platform from your base are already at the fire when you arrive. You will support your firefighting team, with your bucket, and your pilot talks to Air Attack and the captain of your team on the ground. As long as necessary you go back and forth, dipping and dropping.

I know you are there.

Perhaps you are an Erickson Air Crane with a 3,000 gallon tank and a snorkle hose. Your tank can carry water as well as retardant. You are working a large fire, there is a portable retardant tank set up at a temporary base near the fire.

You are working with some fixed wing tankers, and another "Crane. After you fill your belly tank with retardant you circle the fire in the fire traffic area at an orbit and altitude assigned by an aerial supervisor. The aerial supervisor tells you when it is your turn to drop. If requested by the aerial supervisor, you make multiple drops. You go back and forth from the fire to the retardant tank, to the fire traffic area, dropping, and then back to the retardant tank.

I know you are there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

small plane crash in NJ - five dead

updated on July 18, 2013: video that I had embedded here reporting on crash of the Socata killing all aboard is no longer available. :-( 

For more info go to this NJ dot com article. My prayers go out to the family and friends of those who died in the crash.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Single Pilot Firefighting Aircraft

Some tanker pilots fly alone, without the aid of a co-pilot. Their tankers have one or two engines with fewer gauges to keep track of than their heavy cousins. But that doesn't make what you do any simplier. There is nothing simple about flying fires whether you are a single pilot or part of a multi-person crew of a heavy tanker.

As a single pilot you do all the flying. Running through the checklists, working the radio, making the drop, watching the gauges. All of it. You love the flying, but it isn't simple.

You know and respect your own limits and you respect the limits of your aircraft. You are always aware of the situation and you follow your intuition. If something is wrong you go around or land. And if you are working with a Canadian bird dog pilot, an American lead plane pilot, or a CAL FIRE air tactical platform you have told them about your problem. The goal is to stay safe so that you can go back to your home base and fly again the next day.

You may be alone in your tanker but there may be other aircraft over the fire. On the other end of that radio there may be a Canadian bird dog pilot or an American lead plane pilot, or a CAL FIRE air tactical platform. If you talk to other tanker pilots from your group or agency you do so on a predetermined private channel. Perhaps you are a pilot for a state forest fire service, in that case you may be talking to a pilot or incident commander in an observation aircraft.

I write this short piece for all of you tanker and helo pilots who are flying as single pilots. I know you are there. Thank-you for what you do.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Safety in the tanker and helo biz

I've been thinking a lot about the safety in the tanker and helo biz recently. I believe that I can say that one common thread to various communications with those of you in the business of aerial wildland fighting is a concern for safety. A common concern for safety. I now have the experience of attending aviation ground school, passing the FAA private pilot written exam, and while I am not in flight training I do go on scenic flights. While it is likely that I may never get a pilot's certificate, I can say that out of my own experiences with aviation that I have thought about aviation safety in a new way. In a new way because, perhaps, I have role in the safety of my scenic flights. My role is confined to being a knowledgeable passenger, but it is a role I take seriously.

Some of you know that I have spent some time on this blog writing about safety as relates to the world of aerial wildland firefighting. As I reflect on safety in the aerial wildland firefighting business, I have been thinking about these earlier posts. I also find myself thinking about all that I have learned about aerial wildland firefighting. And of course, I have my own experiences in aviation ground school and my scenic flights to draw on.

Regarding safety, I have recently written about emergency retardant drops and using checklists. For reasons that are difficult to explain, I felt the need to sit down and write about my reflections on tanker and helo safety. What I thought would be something that I could sit down and have ready for posting today is turning into a longer piece, something that I am spending some time on.

While I am working on these reflections, I'll be making some additions to the pages on this blog, adding a page on tanker and helo safety. Stay tuned. I'll let you know as I work on the other pages to this blog. Further, I'll be posting the as yet unwritten reflections here when they are ready. In the meantime, I may continue to post more specific posts along the lines of what I have recently written about emergency retardant drops on take-off and using checklists.

Stay safe out there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Using checklists is important for all pilots

I probably first learned about the importance of checklist during ground school as I was studying for the FAA private pilot written exam. The check lists are in the aircraft's POH, Pilot's Operating Handbook. The trainers at the airport have aircraft specific checklists (laminated) on a ring in each airplane. Most every detail that happens during a flight is on that check list. In a few of my scenic flights, upon request by the pilot, I have read the checklist to the pilot where s/he responds by repeating the item and the result.

As I continue to go on my scenic flights and gain appreciation for the importance of checklists, my appreciation for the importance of checklists in the tanker biz grows. I remembered an e-mail that my tanker pilot friend G sent me about checklists over a year ago. I recently dug it up, this is what he says:

Use of a checklist in any airplane is essential. Even if your personal checklist is just a mnemonic like "CIGAR" (controls, instruments, gas, attitude, run-up) or whatever, it is absolutely foolish to not use your checklist. Accident statistics are full to the brim with guys who were too cool to use a checklist.

In large, complex, multi-engine aircraft, the written checklist is the bible. You read it religiously. In a multi-crew cockpit, the checklist is always a call and response type exercise, unless it's a checklist that the non-flying pilot can accomplish without distracting the flying pilot from flying, eg: the pre-drop check performed by the non-flying pilot before a retardant drop. My co-pilots would always have to say something like, "Pre-drop check complete, standing by the jets". I would always acknowledge the check list complete announcement with something like: "Pre-drop check complete, thank you, light 'em up", which was a call to start the jets before the drop.

It's the same in the taxi check. When the co-pilot was finished with the taxi check, he would say, "Taxi check complete" and I would always acknowledge with a "Taxi check complete, thank you" to let him know I had heard him. Sometimes, you are listening to a radio transmission and you don't hear the checklist call. The guy running the checklist should always demand a response if one is necessary.

Missing even one item on almost any flight checklist can kill you. It is not a student pilot exercise, it is a matter of safe flight. Flying is absolutely unforgiving of sloppiness and tanker flying is more unforgiving of any carelessness or "Mr Cool" attitude. Miss one switch, and you become the latest accident statistic.

Given the importance of checklists in aviation in general, including multi-engine airtankers, it is appropriate and within sound aviation practices that the 2011 Federal Airtanker Contract requires checklists be present in the cockpit. The copy of the tanker contract that I have mentions these checklists. I'd expect that there may be additional checklists not listed in the contracts:
  • before starting engines
  • before takeoff
  • cruise
  • before drop
  • after drop
  • emergencies
  • before landing
  • after landing
  • stopping engines
The oncall SEAT contract that I have for 2011 has a similar list of required checklists. What is on these checklists will depend on the type of aircraft, the tank configuration and perhaps by the contractor.

Not included in the list above is the all important pre-flight checklist where the crew inspects the aircraft before and sometimes after each flight.

Regarding helicopters used in aerial wildland firefighting. I don't know nearly as much about helos as I do about fixed wing aircraft. However, I suppose that what is good for fixed wing aircraft is also good for helos. Following that logic then it may stand to reason that checklists are just as important for helos as for fixed wing.

Monday, December 12, 2011

P-2 Tanker (T-48) Landing

The same person, Kyler Boylan , who posted the video on youtube of T-48 taking off also posted the above video on T-48 landing. Recall the article here where my friend G who was a P-2 tanker captain provided some commentary on that video. G does the same for this video on T-48 landing. Remember that there is no audio on the video, so G is only providing commentary on what he is seeing in the video. Also, tanker captains may run t heir cockpits a little differently.

This is a normal landing, both recips are running, so there are no extraordinary measures in place.

0:13 - CP is flying with both hands on the yoke. He reaches up to adjust the throttles with left hand. Goes back to flying with both hands. These aircraft are heavy on the controls, so it usually takes
two hands to maneuver the yoke.

0:18 - P reaches up to advance the prop lever to increase RPM. If the props are not brought forward, they should be pushed full up on touchdown for the upcoming reversing of the props.

On landing, the pilot takes the throttles, reaches ahead of the throttles and grabs the reversing handles. The copilot reached overhead and hits the reverse override, which allows the props to reverse even if the squat switches in the landing gear are not fully made yet. He also takes the yoke to hold the nose wheel on the runway to improve the hydraulic steering response.

If this were a single engine landing, the pilot flying would be manipulating only one recip throttle. The jets would be online and the non-flying pilot would be handling the jet throttles for use as necessary on the  command by the flying pilot. The jets would be ordered off on short final when the landing is safely assured.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Emergency retardant drops on take-off

One more point that I feel has to made regarding tanker take-offs, whether they be P-2's or other tankers, is the need to make an emergency retardant salvo. There are many things that can go wrong on take-offs, an engine or hydraulic failure are but two examples. The ability to jettison a load of retardant in the event of an emergency can be crucial to a safe return to base by the tanker. As I understand it, most tanker bases have an area, usually stated by coordinates, where tankers may make emergency salvos of their retardant in the event of an emergency.

Different tankers have different cockpit controls and tank configurations. Many tankers have an emergency drop switch in addition to the normal drop switch. What switch the pilot presses in the event of an emergency on or after take-off may depend on the pilot's knowledge of what happens when the emergency drop switch is pressed. Dropping ten tons of retardant at once leaves the tanker uncontrollable for a few nerve wracking seconds. Something that may not be desirable in an emergency. There might be other options.

For example, when I was writing about retardant drops in the DC-7 T-62 two years ago, Larry Kraus (T-62 pic) told me here that the emergency drop switch on all of Butler's DC-7 tankers (including T-62) is configured to salvo the load at a coverage level of five. If I am correct in understanding how this works, a salvo at a coverage level of five might avoid the sudden pitch-up of the nose.

My friend G told me that he always armed the normal drop switch for a coverage level of four:
The emergency dumps I made were all done through the normal drop switch
on the pilot's yoke.  If you use the normal system, the load goes out at a more even rate. It's a controllable, predictable pitch-up.  At a coverage level four, that only takes about 3 seconds, so it is over in a heartbeat and the airplane climbs like it is homesick for the sky.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

USFS to contract for turbine tankers in 2012

I got a couple of e-mails last week from friends telling that the USFS has a solicitation for what they are calling Next Generation Tankers. As I understand it, next generation tankers means that the tankers must be turbine powered with a minimum retardant tank capacity of 2,400 gallons. A three to five gallon retardant tank capacity would be optimal. As for numbers of turbine tankers, it will be from 7 to 35 tankers. The contracts will be awarded in January of 2012 with mandatory availability starting in May of 2012.

Bill Gabbert of wildfire today did an excellent job on reporting on this on Dec 1 and Dec 2, including some additional information on the USFS solicitation, and a nice analysis of possibilities for these Next Generation tankers. There are some good comments on both of his articles as well. Good reading!

Included in the mix of possibilities will be the BAe-146, recall that Neptune Aviation has one (T-40) that has temporary approval from the Interagency Tanker Board. T-40 carries at least 3,000 gallons of retardant and
was working wildfires in Texas in the fall of 2011.

Monday, December 05, 2011

B-17 from WW II speaks

I wrote a series on the B-17 in March of 2011 focusing on her military history, the first article in this series (March 21, 2011) may be found here. Prior to writing this series, I did a lot of reading about the role of the B-17 and her crew during WW II. I was profoundly moved by the stories that I read. Just this morning, thanks to a friend, I came across the video I have embedded above. You will learn a little about Marvin Skubick a WW II B-17 pilot who made it back home after flying 35 missions. He shares a little and then takes a flight on the Yankee Lady, a restored B-17.

I found the video very moving. Thanks Marvin!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Reflections on a tanker taking off

I enjoyed the video on the P-2 tanker take-off that I posted the other day because it gave me a sense of sitting in the cockpit during take-off. A great feeling. But, I found myself wishing that I could look at the P-2 cockpit instruments during take-off. That is unlikely to happen anytime soon, if ever.

However, from time to time I do have the opportunity to go up in a Cessna Cutlass (172 RG) when I go on a scenic flight. Unlike the trainer, the Cutlass has a fuel pump, retractable landing gear, cowl flaps and a constant speed propeller. The engine is carburated. There are about four instruments in the cockpit of the Cutlass that are not in the trainers that I usually go up in.

Before our flight, I showed the pilot the P-2 tanker video along with G's comments.

Some of the instruments are the same as that found in the P-2V in the video. I wanted to watch these gauges for myself during a short flight to a nearby airport. By the way, a great day for flying. I was watching the gauges so no pictures from the flight.

So I watched the instruments. And got a bit of a sense of what my friend G was saying in his commentary describing the P-2 take-off. When we were on our take-off roll in the Cutlass the manifold pressure was 28" with a prop rpm of 2700. A point of comparison, G tells me "in the P2, we would pull about 52 inches and 2900 turns (of the prop) on take-off."

I have one important job on take-off and landing, when the pilot said that he was lowering the gear, I looked out my window and told him that the gear on my side is up (or down). He calls out that the gear on his side is up (or down).

As we climbed in the Cutlass, the pilot reduced the MP to 25" and a prop rpm of 2500. As we climbed the MP goes down but the prop rpm stays the same. Cruise power is MP of 21" and a prop rpm of 2300.

I watched the gauges as we flew and listened to the pilot as he spoke. And I learned more. I had dug up some Cutlass check lists on the internet so I had an idea of what the power settings would be. And I understand more thanks to a great pilot and teacher. But there was more. I thought about flying a tanker with two large recips and the jets used on take-off. And an awful lot more instruments to keep track of.

I thought about the how the pilot and the co-pilot in the video worked together during the take-off. Each had their jobs. Two pilots are needed to fly the P-2V. It was awesome watching them work together in the video. Elegance in action.

The role of the co-pilot is to watch the gauges as the pilot flies the airplane. And I thought that there is nothing simple about flying a tanker loaded with retardant. Or as Larry Kraus told me once, "See, I told you that the tanker business is complicated." Elegant but complicated.