Is Washington policy conducive to a stable civil AFF industry?

Fireplanes Editorial – Austin,  Texas  05/30/2012

Does the U.S. have a fire department of sorts?  Not really.  Fire departments kill fires.

The U.S. Forest Service,  has a “fire management” (or mis-management) policy that is letting wildfires get out of control.  Other countries kill fires, while the U.S. manages fires.  But are they managed in time for effective control?   Washington’s priorities are all wrong, from whatever perspective one holds.  We hold our skin in high regard, as well as our homes, pets, crops, timber and livestock too.  And when a fire breaks out, do we call the “fire department”?     Silence . . .  Is the “National Fire Dept.” closed?

“Busy” at least.   Be prepared to wait in line.  With only eleven civilian  large  air tankers, – or  “LATs  in the American inventory,  the ancient P2 Neptune fleet is stretched thin.

When it comes to a national crisis in wildfire containment  we now have almost no one to call as it seems the U.S. Forest Service has arguably caused the demise of at least one viable Aerial Fire Fighting (AFF) company.  Executives at the Forest Service claim safety concerns, but that claim has reportedly been brushed off by airworthiness experts who  examined the company’s former P3 fleet.  “You will not see the P3 Air Tankers in service again in the USA”, according to Tony Morris of the Wildfire Research Network.

Now that all of Aero Union’s  converted P3 air tankers have been grounded and the company is bankrupt,  nobody supports the USAF’s  “MAFFS”  systems as installed on a number of C-130s.  Why?  Aero Union developed and supported the MAFFS system, which drops fire retardants on wild fires.   The technology may be tied up in a lawsuit (which Fireplanes will investigate further).  So is the Air National Guard going to put out fires this year?  They will, until all their MAFFS units are inoperative or a new system is developed,  deployed, supported and maintained.   Meanwhile,  the wind is up and we can all smell the smoke.


Above:   A California Air National Guard C-130 lays – down fire retardant with “MAFFS”.

And what about those Very Large Air Tankers, called; “VLATS” (or, Vee-LATS) in the AFF trade?  Evergreen operates a 747 Air Tanker with amazing capabilities.   “10 Tanker” has the modified DC-10.   According to our sources, Small Business set-asides are hurting Evergreen.   It costs a LOT of money to maintain heavy aircraft, and when the contract disappear,  companies go belly-up.

The AFF industry is a diverse collection of equipment,  systems and chemicals, so there are more acronyms.  Single-Engine-Air-Tankers, or; “SEATS” are in the mix,  along with “Scoopers” which are “amphibians” or “sea planes”, depending on whether they can take off on water and land or not.  We don’t want to fail mentioning helicopters,  new – tech drones, and environmentally friendly foams and gel retardants on which we are preparing reports to be released soon.

Seaplanes in use today include the Martin Mars owned by the Coulson Group in British Columbia.   Wayne Coulson’s Martin Mars services are amazing, but not available just now.   It appears to this writer – the U.S. Forest Service deemed it unimportant to keep the amazing Mars on contract, so the plane is now in Mexico saving lives and property while fires rage out of control in U.S. states.

“Scoopers” include the Canadian Bombardier CL-215 and modern turbine powered,  CL-415 today.  There are some foreign competitors, but not yet certified by Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) nor the Federal Aviation Administration.  It has been many months since the makers of one of those planes – a jet powered amphibian known as the BE-200 “Altair” from Russia filed for a restricted type certificate same as that granted by the E.U.   And why is anyone dragging their feet while American lives and property are in immediate peril?

Why?   ….  And, will memories of the 2012 NBA playoffs fade past the Baseball World Series with nary a mention of lives lost due to the failures of  bureaucrats and politicians?   Most likely.

Has Congress failed to notice another lost American industry?  Yes.

Can we imagine a better situation?  Yes again.   So here’s what you can do:

Tell them all;


Give the U.S. Forest Service a $5 Billion Aerial Fire Fighting program budget.

Encourage tax – deductible contributions to support regional wildfire mitigation.

U.S. Forest Service:  

Develop and grant long – term contracts to companies like 10 Tanker and Evergreen.

Issue contracts to companies that will operate NEW aircraft to be bought and owned by the Federal Government and operated by contractors under “GOCO” cost-plus terms lasting 5 – 10 years at a minimum.

If possible, BUY – the current MAFFS technology from Aero Union’s owners,  the Bankruptcy court, or perhaps the bank holding it in receivership,  then issue cost-plus contracts on a competitive basis to companies that can maintain and improve on the cantankerous systems.   Acquiring MAFFS will require a timely executive – level decision.

Find innovative ways to support states that will buy new aircraft purpose – built or modified for aerial firefighting on government-owned,  company operated,  or;  “GOCO” contracts.   Example:  There is not one single Air Tractor  – “SEAT” owned and operated by the State of Texas.  The single-engine AT-802 “Air Tractor” is made in Texas, exported around the world to countries that have AFF fleets I think of as, “aerial fire departments”.   This amazing plane is available as a land-based single-engine air tanker or, as a seaplane called the Fire Boss – which can operate as a “scooper” from lakes and relatively shallow streams in remote areas.

Fire Boss

Above:  Fire Boss


Ask for and accept the advice of California, which operates it’s own aerial fire fighting fleet within “CAL FIRE“; which,  on an austere budget can respond to fires reported anywhere in the state within 20 minutes.  CAL FIRE is an amazing example of what IS right in America.   Rapid “Initial Attack” often keeps the fire small enough to defeat.

All wildfire agencies:

In the case of civil air tanker operators,  the contracts must be of sufficient term to attract private capital investment,  with depreciation of equipment realized over a ten – year span.   Cost – plus contracting will ensure continual improvement and professional incentives required to support the men and women on the front lines.

 Mr. President:

“Please make Aerial Fire Fighting capabilities a top priority”!

We are in a wildfire crisis of unprecedented proportions.  Too much is at risk to sit down and do nothing.  In the case of Wildfire Policy,  the status quo may kill you or your neighbor.   This is the time to be proactive.

Randall Stephens –

Would you like to make a difference?   Please print and mail this article to your Congressional and State representatives.     Bloggers and Publishers, please reprint or post our work with links to 

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Topanga’s 1993 Fire Led To Leasing Two CL-415

Tony Morris,  Topanga, CA  5.15.2012


As a survivor of the Topanga-Malibu wildfire of 1993 which started on Old Topanga Canyon only a mile from our house in the Fernwood neighborhood of Topanga I became interested in firefighting  aircraft, particularly the Canadair CL-415 , by necessity. I wanted to know why Bell 412 helicopters operated by the Los Angeles County Fire Department were not able to stop the wildfire  when it started on Old Topanga Canyon Road.  

Viewing Breaking News on Los Angeles television station Channel 7 I ran outside the house to see a 3,000 foot smoke cloud rising over Old Canyon. I grabbed my video camera and started filming.

We had to evacuate from our house in Fernwood when firefighters from Alturas California , camped out in our neighbor’s driveway during the course of the wildfire, told us they could no longer protect us.

The wildfire killed three individuals and destroyed more than 400 homes, causing $400 million in property damage. Shortly after the fire was extinguished I invited a group of Topangans to meet and share their experiences during the fire. We began discussing the Canadair CL-415 firefighting aircraft. I contacted Bombardier Amphibious Aircraft in Montreal, Quebec, to ask the company to send a representative to Topanga.


CL-415  Credit: Wikipedia Commons

An informational  video on the CL-415 was screened followed by a lively question and answer session. As the only purpose-built water scooping aircraft of its size the CL-415 can scoop 1,620 gallons in 12 seconds.  My Topanga neighbors wanted to know everything about the aircraft.

A Topanga citizen’s group was organized to further research the CL-415. We learned that the aircraft’s productivity rate, number of gallons scooped per hour, made it an ideal firefighting  aircraft for extinguishing wildfires by Initial Attack, within minutes of a wildfire’s start.   Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman ‘s reaction to the Topanga-Malibu wildfire was swift and decisive. Chief Freeman said that he never again would allow such a wildfire to threaten the citizens of Los Angeles County.

Chief Freeman met with the management of the Service Aerien Gouvernmental de Quebec,  the Aerial Firefighting Service of Quebec Province, to explore a leasing agreement for two CL-415s from September 1st to December 31st  during the height of the so called “wildfire season” in Los Angeles County.

Quebec 1 and Quebec 2, the designation given to the two Quebec CL-415s, have been coming to Van Nuys Airport since 1994. Recently a five year extension to the lease agreement between Quebec and Los Angeles County was signed.

TWO  CL-415s

In 1996 I was invited to appear before a committee of the California Legislature in Sacramento which was taking testimony on the CL-415.  A bill had been introduced in the Legislature proposing the purchase of two CL-415s.  I remember appearing before committee Chair Debra Bowen, now California Secretary of State. My testimony essentially offered specific reasons why the CL-415 was an effective firefighting aircraft designed to fight wildfires and knock them down before they could burn out of control.

Also testifying before the committee was a representative of the California Department of Forestry (CDF—now CAL FIRE)) who said there were not enough water sources in California to operate the CL-415.  To the right of the CDF representative was a large National Geographic map of California. The Pacific Ocean was clearly a part of the map.  The CL-415 is designed to scoop out of the ocean and can do so if wave heights are less than six feet.


In 2001 I wrote an Op Ed piece for the Los Angleles TIMES calling for a lease-purchase of two CL-415s for Los Angeles County.  Rather than spend an average of $2.4 million to lease Quebec and Quebec 2 from the Service Aerien Gouvernmental de Quebec every wildfire season, would it not be more productive to enter into a lease-purchase agreement.  Los Angeles County had no plans to operate fixed-wing firefighting aircraft.


Italy’s  CIVIL PROTECTION  owns  nineteen (19)  CL-415s based at Rome’s Ciampino Airport.  France’s  SECURITE  CIVILE  owns and operates  twelve (12) CL-415s based at  Marignane near Marseille.  There are no permanently deployed CL-415s in this country.

 As a scooping aircraft the CL-415 can scoop from fresh water sources and the ocean. In Los Angeles County there are fourteen (14) water sources and the Pacific Ocean.

The helicopter fleet of LACoFD Air Operations, three Sikorsky S-70A Firehawks and six  Bell 412 helicopters works well with Quebec 1 and Quebec 2. During wildfire emergencies the aircraft can be seen flying over Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu on their way to scoop water from the Pacific ocean.


With the State of California experiencing a $16 billion deficit there are no funds to purchase two CL-415s for deployment in Southern California. 

A possible way to acquire and operate two additional CL-415s would be a Public Private Partnership. The capital for the purchase of two CL-415s would be provided by a 501 ( c) (3) non-profit Foundation. A number of Southern California corporations and high-net worth individuals would contribute to the creation of a non-profit Foundation.  Los Angeles County is currently the only county which leases two CL-415s

Southern California county Fire Agencies in need of  Intial Attack  CL-415 s could organize  a Consortium to share the cost of operating two CL-415s for the same period as Quebec 1 and Quebec 2.  Interested counties would include:

San Diego,  Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange,  Ventura, Kern and Santa Barbara.


U.S. Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management should consider the use of CL-415s as a valuable and effective component of contract firefighting aircraft . The most effective Aerial Firefighting fleet should include Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATS),  Large Air Tankers (LATs) now reduced to the smallest number in decades,  and Very Large Air Tankers (VLATs) Tanker 910 and Tanker 911 based at Southern California Logistics Airport,  Victorville,  CA.     See the CL-415 on Youtube


Editor’s note:  Tony Morris  co-founded Wildfire Research Network, and is greatly appreciated by Fireplanes.    POB 170189  Austin TX  78717       Fireplanes On YouTube    Fireplanes on Facebook
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BE-200 USFS Testing Update

“Last week, the U.S. Forest Service, International Emergency Services, Inc., of Santa Maria CA,  and the Beriev Aircraft Company  (which has been building amphibious aircraft for 95 years) teamed up to test the new,  jet powered, fire fighting BE 200 – a 3000 gallon Large Air Tanker at the factory in Taganrog, Russia.  Beriev covered actual costs for conducting the long-planned tests.  Russian Federation, BE-200, Large Air Tanker,  IAB, USFS, Beriev, Scooper

For a period of 10 intensive work days, a dedicated, integrated  U.S. and Russian technical team  tested the multi-purpose BE 200  with U.S. instrumentation and equipment against a standardized criteria designed to ensure effective aerial fire suppression.

Phase 1 of the special program was a historic first, and indicates both the opportunity to introduce a specially designed, new fire fighting aircraft as well as the U.S. Forest Service’s desire to modernize it’s air tanker fleet with flight – proven technology.

First-Phase test criteria required putting the 90,000 pound airplane on special ramps for static flow tests and three days of flight testing to include demonstrations of the very effective Russian fire fighting “salvo” tactic onto an instrumented grid with 100 data points.

The 30 – day Phase II test program is scheduled for late this summer and will include the use of the U.S. Forest Service standard retardant flown over and then dropped on about 3,000 data collection points.

Preliminary Phase 1 test results indicate that the BE 200 passed the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) criteria for scoopers, heavily used in Europe and Canada, which are likely to see more service in fighting US fires.  Scoopers can load up with lake, river or ocean  water in 15-20 seconds by skimming over the water at about 120-130  MPH to collect it with special inlets on the hull,  then dropping it in direct attacks on  the fire.

Studies indicate that more than 80% of US wildfires are within 10 minutes of a suitable water source .

Large Air Tankers , loaded at specially equipped airports,  drop long lasting retardant used to control, slow and suppress wild fires while ground crews do the close fighting.

The BE200 is being tested for both missions”.  – David Baskett, IES.


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