The Never Ending Season

The U.S. 2011 fire season has come to a close in most parts of the country, except Texas! The Lone Star State has suffered its most devastating fire season in history and it just doesn’t seem to be letting up.
The lack of relief from the unprecedented drought and abundant dry fuels has forced the state to keep numerous fire-fighting resources (heavy tankers and Single Engine Air Tankers [SEATs]) in place for the normally idle winter season. Several dispatch centers across the state are being staffed to facilitate aircraft activity even through the holiday season.
So far this year, almost .8 million hectares have burned and nearly three thousand homes have been lost to the raging wildfires in Texas. I have been on fire duty for over three hundred days now and it looks like a full year of duty will become a reality.
Many records have fallen during this never-ending season and several first time tactics have been tried. When aerial resources were in short supply toward the later part of the season, Texas contracted with aircraft from outside the United States.
A British Columbia company supplied the state with three of its Convair 580 heavy air-tankers to help in the battle. Neptune Aviation of Montana, also contracted its brand new and unproven BAE-146 to the state. The BAE-146 showed to be very capable in the role of heavy air-tanker. It is quiet, fast and has good short field performance.
I would forecast there will be many more BAE-146s added to the U.S. fleet in the near future. At the peak of fire season there were fifteen SEATs on duty in Texas. All were Air Tractor AT-802s and they proved to be the backbone of the aviation program in the state. Some of them recorded over 350 hours of flight time.
This is unprecedented in an industry that considers 100 hours of flight time to be a good season. The high level of activity showed there is a shortage of qualified pilots as some had to be taken out of service during days off due to lack of relief pilots. The industry needs to do something to attract more young pilots to enter the program.
Old guys like me aren’t going to fly forever. Being on duty for so long is going to make receiving some of the mandatory training difficult for some of us. I hope the government will take this into consideration and possibly waive some of the requirements, especially the simulator training in Sacramento.
Those I have spoken with that have completed it say that it really serves no purpose, is very expensive and time consuming. I recently took a break from fires to complete a BLM brush contract in New Mexico. I have often wondered why the pilots and aircraft on these contracts are not required to be carded by AMD.
They are public use and I can’t find any other government run operation that does not require carding. I hope everyone has a great holiday season, even if it is spent at the tanker base. Be safe, and maybe I’ll see you in the mountains some day.

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