By Bill Lavender
Dauntless Air and Fire Boss LLC, an affiliated company of Wipaire Inc., all based in Minnesota, have teamed up to provide training for Dauntless Air’s Fire Boss pilots this spring. Fire Boss LLC takes single or dual-seat Air Tractor AT-802Fs and converts them into a Fire Boss by adding Wipline 10000A scooping floats, fire gates and other specialized equipment to make it a cost-efficient direct attack single engine aerial firefighter. Wipaire’s Dale Fehrenbach, Director of Sales and Flight Operations was on hand during the training for factory support of the Fire Boss with Wipline 10000 floats. The training was based at Wipaire’s Leesburg, Florida service center hangar and the surrounding area. The Leesburg area is ideal for float plane operations with numerous large lakes in the vicinity.
Dauntless Air conducts Fire Boss initial training for its new Fire Boss pilots that meets the requirements of the Department of Interior’s Office of Aviation Services (OAS) for float pilot carding to fight wildfires managed by the federal government. The OAS was established by the Secretary of the Interior on July 1, 1973 to “Raise the safety standards, increase the efficiency and promote the economical operation of aircraft activities in the Department of the Interior. OAS’s vision is to attain and sustain zero aircraft accidents across the Department of Interior.”
For 2018, the Dauntless Air training course has had seven pilots carded by the OAS after completing an approximate 10-flight hour course that can vary depending on the pilot. Pilots that are carded by the OAS must have a minimum of 1,500 hours total time of which 200 hours must be considered low level and of those hours, at least 100 hours of ag time with 50 hours of aircraft on floats time. Low level flight time is time spent working an aircraft below 500 feet. Causal flights do not count towards the required time. Dauntless Air Fire Boss pilots during a typical fire season can log from 150 to 250 hours, depending on the number and intensity of fires.
Dauntless Air’s Director of Operations and Chief Pilot Jesse Weaver assisted Dauntless Air’s Director of Training Steve Bailey during the training with flight and ground instruction for both experienced “wheeled” AT-802 pilots’ and brand new to the industry pilots for the transition into the Fire Boss to fly for Dauntless Air.
The seven recently carded Dauntless Air Fire Boss pilots each received approximately 10 hours of flight time, as well as structured ground training. For carding, the pilots must be able to demonstrate to the OAS inspector the ability to make the following three types of drops: Full Salvos, Split and Emergency dumps. Scooping techniques are also evaluated during the fill for each drop. According to OAS Fleet Operations Inspector Bill James, based in Atlanta, “I’m looking for smoothness when scooping and dropping the load without the aircraft oscillating, or porpoising, during the maneuver.” OAS carding is required to fly on federal fires.
While training in the Leesburg area, the new Dauntless Air Fire Boss pilots are under the direct supervision and instruction of Steve Bailey. Steve comes to Dauntless Air with a military background training T-38 Talon pilots. He has been flying a Fire Boss for four years. Jesse Weaver has a solid background in aerial firefighting. He started out with Jim Pierce while based in Arizona, and he flew his first AT-802 SEAT in 2004. Jesse started flying the Fire Boss while working with John Schwenk of Aero Spray based in Minnesota in 2007. 2018 will be his 15th season fighting fires and his 12th in a Fire Boss.
With the combination of Jesse’s more than a decade of real-time Fire Boss flying and the structured instruction that Steve offers, the new Fire Boss pilots are exposed to two different training methods that help them grasp the basics of float plane firefighting. As fire pressure increases, the fire season for Dauntless Air moves from Minnesota to Alaska and then into the Pacific Northwest. Starting the first of April through mid-to-late October, Dauntless Air has its aircraft on Exclusive Use and On Call contracts throughout these fire regions. The seven new Fire Boss pilots will join other Dauntless Air Fire Boss pilots and crews in Deer Park, Washington. Here, pilots and crew chiefs will train together in preparation for the fire season. Experienced Fire Boss pilots will go through refresher training to insure safety. The new Fire Boss pilots will start their season in Minnesota almost immediately. They will be paired with experienced Fire Boss pilots as they build time and experience.
“I like to take new Fire Boss pilots to Alaska with me,” says Jesse. “After they have gotten a better feel for the aircraft flying in Minnesota, I’m comfortable letting them fly with me there. Alaska has a very diverse environment for flying the Fire Boss, from lakes in between mountains, sloughs and shallow ponds, long distance mission planning, to high-density altitude calculations, to a mixed bag of weather. I feel a new Fire Boss pilot has just about seen it all after a season in Alaska.”
It is evident Dauntless Air values a strong training regime for its pilots. The AT-802 Air Tractor mounted on a set of Wipline floats can be an intimidating machine, not one that just any pilot can fly. This is particularly true when performing maneuvers required of an amphibious firefighting aircraft like the Fire Boss.