Associated Aerial Firefighters, Reno 2017

In spite of the blazes ravaging Southern California the 2017 Associated Aerial Firefighters Meeting was well attended by industry companies and government agencies who gave insights and updates on their slice of aerial firefighting.

It was a privilege for the AAF to host the group largely responsible for moving the aerial firefighting industry into the future. These are the people, companies, and agencies who have gone all in, investing their money, time, and reputations in order to provide the boots on the ground the support they need from the air.

Industry participants gave updates on their company’s status and their ongoing participation in this year’s devastating fire season.  These companies have rebuilt the nations firefighting capabilities in the course of just a few years. It is a heroic and ongoing effort that needs our continuing support.

Because of board member Dave Wardals efforts, our keynote speaker, was Colonel C. J. Sturckow, Marine Fighter Pilot, Test Pilot and Command Pilot of the Space Shuttle. His talk set a new standard addressing the principles of leadership that members of a crew need to develop to maximize crew efficiency and promote inter-crew communications. His comments on human factors added a new dimension to its effects on aviators where high task load, long working hours and little rest work together to degrade human performance.  Astronauts must deal with and overcome all these and other factors to a degree that is far beyond what the majority of aviators will ever face.  He made the parallel observation that firefighting pilots are similarly affected during periods of high activity on fires that create a hostile environment where long periods of high work load, stress and lack of proper rest can go on for days or weeks. The Colonels presentation would be invaluable to aerial firefighters during their annual training. It is the kind of quality training that we all need to aspire to.

Dave also arranged for a presentation on ABS-B by Mr. Matt Clark from Garman Corp. He gave us a detailed update on the requirements, benefits and usage of ADS-B as well as Garman’s extensive product line. This is an issue all Fire Aviation platforms will be required to comply with in the near future.

Industry aircraft providers alphabetically:

Air Sprays’ Ravi Saip updated us on its growing fleet of Fire Boss, wheeled 802 SEATS, and soon to be operational BAE 146 tanker.

John Bodie of Bodie Aviation provides Air Attack platforms and operates a full service FBO based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Coulson Aviation with its state-of-the-art C-130 retardant tank system and soon to be operational 737 tanker, was represented by Dennis Hulbert.

Mr. David Baskett of TTE International gave us an update on the Russian connection.

Hart Drobish from Courtney Aviation talked about their technological innovations and their fleet of Air Attack platforms.

Bill Moody gave a special presentation on the 747 Global Supertanker, the newest addition to the VLATS program.

Neptune Aviation, represented by Dan Snider, discussed the companies’ plans for their legacy fleet and next-gen BAE 146 operations.

Duke Puharich from Siller Helicopters gave us insights about their Sikorski Crane and H-3/S-61 contracts and operations. It’s great to have participation from our helicopter community.

Rick Hatton from Ten Tanker was back. His VLATS platforms continue to prove their value, one still on-duty as he spoke.

Agency participants included:

US Forest Service Chief of Aviation, Mr. Paul Linse, who spoke to us about the disposition of the Forest Service’s air program and its efforts to operate and update its projected fleet of 7 next gen C-130 tankers, with the first gravity constant-flow tank systems, projected to be installed by 2019. The RFP is expected to be offered in the near future. We were greatly honored by his attendance. This kind of interaction and information sharing is desperately needed and it is great to have the US Forest Service back with us up at Reno.

Cal Fire and DynCorp were well represented by Dennis Brown and Jeffrey Cavarra. Cal Fire has been at the cutting edge of Fire Aviation for decades with programs to re-engine the Grumman S-2, successfully operate and update the OV-10, as well as becoming the first agency to offer contracts for the DC-10 and 747 VELATS. They are currently investing in the future with an RFP for new helicopters to integrate with their venerable fleet of UH-!H platforms. It was also great to see two past Aviation Chiefs, Marshal Graves and Art Trask.

East Bay Parks gave a brief overview of their operations in Northern California.

Retired USFS Chief Ron Raley of PHOS-CHeK continues to give us updates concerning research on retardant use, its effects on the environment and how those effects are monitored.  In the past he has given us updates on legal challenges against the use of fire retardant and how it is affecting the way retardants are employed and applied. Ron has a better understanding of these issues than most and the ability to educate us on these important developments.  It is always great to hear from him.

Mr. Ben Drew, Head of Programs for Tangent Link Limited, was in attendance and gave us an update on Tangent Link’s activities for the upcoming year. Tangent Link presents aerial firefighting symposiums world-wide providing an international forum of aerial firefighters to share information on new technologies, aircraft and operations by different governments and agencies.  If you have never been to one of Tangent Links events prepare to be amazed.  You will not only encounter multinational participants from firefighting agencies, you will likely see high ranking officials from governments, militaries, the UN and NATO.  The highlight of these meetings is of course Admiral Terry Laughran of the British Royal Navy.  Admiral Laughran was the Commander of a Task Force of the British Royal Navy. Captain of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and later promoted to Flag Officer of Naval Aviation. He is the moderator or MC of these symposiums and he never fails to add inspirational speeches that often include side splitting hilarity. His leadership style inspired the affectionate nickname “Big Tel”. A close association with Tangent Link is a great benefit to the AAF and Tangent Link.

We also welcome Mr. John Bodie as a new member of our Board. His background as a business man, fleet operator and maintenance provider will bring new energy to our organization.

We also took time to recognize Jim Barnes. The first time I met Mr. Barnes was in Ukiah. It was burning. We were both Air Attack pilots flying Cessna Mix Masters hanging out at the edges of serious conversations about fire. A few years later we worked together as mechanics on S2s and DC6s at Sis-Q Flying Service. Jim struck me as a sort of gentle bull-in-a-china-shop. In the break room he’d splash coffee in a cup with cream and sugar then stick his finger in it and stir. A slick of 60 weight oil would spread on the surface of the coffee while he carried on a narrative, worthy of a Seinfeld episode, about the convicts from camp run-away we worked with or Sis-Q miss-management.

When the CDF tanker program hit bottom checks bounced and people died. Jim went to Marsh Aviation and flew the first turbine S2. He came back and helped make Cal Fire the great job it is today.

Over time I learned we shared a sense of privilege. We worked among people who had lived large. At our job we worked in a forest of individuals we looked up to. We got to enjoy the shade of their conversations at fire busts like movie sets then go out and have a shot of whiskey. They weren’t all Redwoods. Some were scraggy Digger-Pine and you needed to be wary if you hung with them. You could end up in a bar fight felled by one of their dead-fall limbs. With Jim gone from our skies, I think you’ll find there is less shade in the forest.

See you soon Jimmy.

If this fire season has taught us anything it is that we are all one team. All of our coordinated efforts are but for one purpose. To support the courageous men and women who battle the flames at the fires edge. The most potent weapon in our inventory to fight wildland fires, our Firefighters.


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