Fire Helicopters and Night Flying

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clanusb

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Caught a clip on the news last night, about depts such as CAL FIRE trying to get the permission to fly at night. Why cant they? Shouldnt all they need to do so is night time qualifications and night vision goggles?
How is it that law enforcement can fly at night, while fire is grounded?

wouldnt ATC and IC be able to cont. what they do during the day?

(sorry this isnt really radio related, but with all the fires working and up and coming thought id post about it)
 
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IanS

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"How is it that law enforcement can fly at night, while fire is grounded?"

There many reasons why most firefighting agencies do not drop at night and all are related to safety.

Water drops work when supporting the crews punching in hose or cutting line. Water is very heavy and at night people are hard to see. I have been a couple times and it can injure or at worst, kill.

Dropping water means you have to fly low, in canyons, around mountains and such, not making circles at a comfortable altitude like a PD bird.

On fires, copters are called in from where ever they can be found. While a few local pilots may be intimately familiar with local terrain , the folks from hundreds of miles away most likely are not. If you ask ( which I have) folks who do drop at night, they will tell you it is done only in limited circumstances and the NVGs are used in transit, not on the drops.

Things like power lines are hard to see.

Remember when you see LA City dropping at night, there is a lot of city glow ( I live here in LA and sometimes night is like day) and most often their firefighters are nowhere near where the drops are being made ( I never seem to see those guys going direct!).

One last thing we must take into account, the whole night dropping issue is being used by local media and those without any real knowledge of wildland firefighting or air operations in wildland firefighting (San Diego City) for sensational stories and a grab for power. CDF has been the victim of an ongoing joint attack perpetuated almost daily by the San Diego Union Tribune and the San Diego City Fire Department who are using the night dropping issue as propaganda to meet their goals. We all know dropping anything at anytime of day in the conditions we face last Fall will be token at best and not stop a wind driven fire front. The above mentioned, organizations are providing a dis-service to the public with their mis-information.

Monitor 151.220 this summer, I am sure it will be colorful.
 

SCPD

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Federal fire fighting aviation resources are not allowed to operate at night. They have listed cutoff times for each day of the year that are based on the sunrise/sunset times for that particular day. I don't remember what the formula is, but I think it is between 1/2 hour to 1 hour before sunrise and the same period after sunset. The evening cutoff time is commonly referred to as "Zulu" time, a reference to UTC or Universal Coordinated Time, or what used to be called "Greenwich Mean Time." It is used rather than local time to avoid confusion as aircraft frequently respond to incidents outside the time zone their bases are located in. The slang for this cutoff is often called "pumpkin time" by pilots when they talk to each other on air to air frequencies.

That is a bit off the subject. The real reason for not flying at night is that aircraft operations on wildland fires are typically conducted in remote locations in mountainous terrain. Operating in those locations during the day are more hazardous than they are in flat country. Just take a look at how many air tankers and helicopters have crashed because of these hazards. Power lines are just one of those hazards. Combine smoky air, lack of moonlight over the terrain, and many other hazards making visibility often impossible, even with night vision equipment. Also consider that fixed winged aircraft and helicopters doing bucket work are flying at elevations only 200 feet or less above the terrain, which is not enough margin to work with at night.

I would love to hear from some pilots with IFR qualifications (instrument flight rules) as the FAA has some strict regulations about night flying. My understanding is that when visibility is reduced for any reason, be that fog, rain, snow, etc., the pilot must be IFR qualified and the airport they are landing at must be equipped for IFR landings and takeoffs. Obviously mountain and wildland terrain lacks IFR equipment.

Like I said I would love to see someone with a pilots license jump in here. I hadn't heard that there is some controversy about night flying in the San Diego area. If someone down there thinks that night time helicopter and air tanker flights should be undertaken, I can only shake my head. The numbers of air tankers available has been reduced significantly because of safety problems already and that is when they are only allowed to fly during the day. Flying at night would probably result in an accident rate high enough to ground the whole fleet!
 

SCPD

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IanS also raised a very good point. You cannot see where water lands at night. Retardant dropped by aircraft, most often fixed winged, but sometimes by helitankers, is colored with dye. This is done for two reasons. First, and primarily, so all the air resources can see where the retardant landed. Second, so ground forces can tell where it is as it is so slippery that it can be hazardous to walk on. The first reason is the operative one when considering night time operations. Even if mountain flying at low levels could be conducted safely, drops could not be effective because nobody could see where the stuff landed. Retardant delivery is very expensive, often the most expensive item on fires costing in the tens of millions of dollars. I can't imagine what the cost would be if night time operations were conducted. The results bring to mind an image of a portrait painter with blindfolds on.

I can also vouch for IanS's comments on the media entering a controversy where they no nothing about the subject. The use of the so called "super scooper" water dropping fixed winged aircraft from Canada is a good example. Politicians and the media think it is the greatest thing for firefighting that has ever come along. For experienced fire fighters, we think of it as a farce or some type of bells and whistles device that is pretty much useless. It might work acceptably under a limited circumstances in Canada, but in the lower 48 states the money spent on it reduces funding for more effective fire fighting resources. Mention "super scooper" to L.A. County fire fighters and you will get an earful. The media and one politician have shoved the use of that aircraft down that departments throat. The people who push its use in California don't know which end of the shovel to use when putting out a campfire, let alone a widland fire. I've worked on a few southern California fires as a fire information officer and I can tell you that the collective knowledge of wildland fire of every person in the media in southern California is much less than that of firefighter with one years experience on an engine or hotshot crew.

I could go on and on about how everyone seems to be an expert on wildland fire management and those who have actually gotten dirt under their finger nails working with it are ignored, but I don't have the time.
 

Eng74

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I think the L.A. County guys would rather see the money they spend each year on the "pooper scoopers" used to buy some Type 3 engines. Hard to belive that they do not have any Type 3 engines.
 

Lt51506

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Boise, Id
Airtanker's do fly at night, just not on the fires as they reposition and return sometimes in the dark. As far as flying on the fire's at night, here's the following:

USFS Contract C-8, H

4. To reduce the hazards of airtanker drops in the early morning and late afternoon hours, the following
limitations shall apply. These limitations apply to the time the aircraft arrives over the fire, NOT at the
time the aircraft conducts retardant drops.
A. Normally, airtankers shall be dispatched to arrive over a fire not earlier than 30 minutes after official
sunrise and as late as 30 minutes before official sunset.
B. Airtankers may be dispatched to arrive over a fire as early as 30 minutes prior to official sunrise and
as late as 30 minutes after official sunrise provided:
(1) A qualified (ATGS) Air Tactical Group Supervisor or AMS Airtanker Coordinator (lead plane) is on
the scene; AND
(2) Has determined that visibility and other safety factors are suitable for dropping retardant; AND
(3) Notifies the appropriate dispatcher of this determination.
5. Airtankers shall not drop retardant during periods of outside the civil twilight. (Alaska Only)



These are the current rules as provided by the USFS Aviation contracting section. So, to make it simple, you don't drop retardant when you can't see where it's goig to hit. IFR will get you from point A to B in bad weather and other low visibility situations, it won't keep you from augering into a hillside.
 
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