Time flies

The 2010 summer fire season is now in the history books and it will go down as one of the least active seasons in a long, long time. As in the past two seasons, conditions were present for a lot of activity but Mother Nature provided few widespread lightning events to trigger ignition.
As a result, the entire fleet of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) only flew 1,800 hours. This compares to past years when up to 14,000 hours were logged. Many SEATs that were pre-positioned were never placed on duty. After three lackluster seasons, many operators and flight crews are hoping the 2011 season will be better.
Every three years the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issues new contracts for SEATs. I received my copy about a week ago. There were no big changes from past contracts and most of the new items are related to pilot training and safety. All pilots will now be required to pass a mission competency evaluation.
These evaluations will be conducted in accordance with the Interagency Airplane Pilot Practical Test Standard administered by an AMD Pilot Inspector or designee. The tests will be given in simulators located at McClellen Air Force Base. Level II pilots must complete it every 24 months and Level I pilots every 36 months.
Also new in pilot training is pilots can fulfill the requirement for mountain flying by attending one of the two approved schools. In past contracts proficiency flights were at the option of the government. They will now be required if the pilot has not been mission active in the past fourteen days.
Earlier, I related to the summer fire season, but some parts of the country have fall and winter seasons. West Texas and southern New Mexico are shaping up to have a very active winter season. Heavy rains in late summer contributed to an already heavy fuel load and once a killing freeze blankets the region and cures the grass, the stage will be set.
The Texas Forest Service web site has already forecast the most devastating season on record. As I write this, I am on the King Ranch in south Texas and we are under a Red Flag Warning due to high winds and low relative humidity.
Social networking has become very popular these days. I originally signed up on Facebook to keep up with what my kids are up too. I soon found that it was a tool to contact people with common threads. Aerial fire fighters are no exceptions. I now have contacts on every continent, except Antarctica. It is very interesting and informative to see how others perform our job around the globe.
Now is the time of year for meetings and training programs. I had hoped to travel to Georgia for the NAAA convention, but contract obligations will prevent me from making the trip. It is always good to attend and see old friends and make new ones.
I hope that as you participate in these gatherings that you bring something with you. I have always said the best training tool is combined experience. Have a safe and profitable year and I hope to see you in the mountains.

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