Non agency night aircraft??


#1

I’ve noticed that several times this year there have been aircraft over the fires at night, on Flightradar that are not agency aircraft (at least not fire agency aircraft.)
For instance tonight besides the night air attack there is a King Air N852JP that goes by the call sign ARACAT068 that is flying orbits over the Woolsey fire. It is owned by General Atomics(the company that makes Predator Drones). What little information there is out there, says its a sensors plane and was going to have it’s services offered to San Diego Fire
https://timesofsandiego.com/tech/2017/08/10/general-atomics-providing-sensor-aircraft-to-help-san-diego-fight-wildfires/

Also above the Camp fire there is an aircraft flying tight orbits around the perimeter of the fire. This is separate from the IR flight that is taking place at the same time. This aircraft does not return a tail number, just a call sign of Allied1. Digging around I believe it to also be a sensor plane of the PC-12 variety.

Are the capabilities of these aircraft and their use being somewhat muffled. I have not heard much about their use or who is paying the bill for them. I have noticed something similar on several other fires this year, in the evening hours.
Does anyone have any information on these aircraft, how they are being operated, and how the information gathered is being disseminated.


#2

Those are normally infared mapping flights


#3

I’ve been on a few fires in the last couple of years that have had a Air National Guard Asset assigned which was providing real-time data linked directly from the asset to the DIV/Branch and Ops. It would not surprise me if this were it.


#4

South Zone has one air attack aircraft that operates at night. It is stationed at Fox Field and staffed by the Angeles National Forest. It’s unit ID is Air Attack 51. There was talk of having the ANF’s helicopter operate at night, but I don’t think it happened, that or it was done on a limited basis and for a short period of time and stopped. Sorry my memory is not very good on this and I may have some notes on it, but can’t seem to locate it. There was pressure on the USFS to have night aircraft operations following the Station Fire, which I think was in 2009. The L.A. County Fire Department was quite critical of the USFS for not allowing night helo water drops and stated that the fire would not have gotten so large had night ops been allowed one night. Both LAC and LFD (city of L.A.) both have night ops, but it has been a long standing policy of the feds not having any night aviation ops with the natural resource agencies.


#5

I am very familiar with H-531 and the night AA51.
I was asking specifically about aircraft outside of those 2 that have been operating over fires this year, that have been lurking in the shadows shall you say.


#6

There seem to be several AA platforms owned by private companies that have all sorts of capabilities to do ATGS, mapping, IR, etc. I stumbled across the web site of one, might have been from around Columbia but I have forgotten.


#7

Likely a Drone. Private and military providing real time intel.


#8

The state of Colorado has 2 PC-12’s for fire recon, the Air Force also has PC-12’s I believe they are called the U-28


#9

@hose-reel I’ve seen what you’re talking about, the General Atomics plane doing some weird orbits around a fire midday or night, above the TFR or FTA at the time. I believe it might be a shadow plane to one of their drones. I don’t know why a drone needs a chase plane other than maybe in busy air space of socal to keep sit awareness, or being so close to San Diego and General Atomics (where the incident was that I saw this), or training or observing how the platform behaves over a fire etc. I can’t recall where I read or saw that their planes sometimes chase/shadow the drones around. The flight patterns I saw were not mapping patterns for sure. And whatever callsign they had, I googled deep and there was some joking relation to General Atomics, like their street name or something, can’t remember…

@Birken_Vogt Courtney Aviation out of Columbia, they have some fun imaging toys. 4717V was just over the BTU-Camp yesterday.

@bluefirebear I’ve seen Colorado’s PC-12 platform over some of the recent year lightning/fire sieges in NorCal. I’ll see it either on ADSB or AFF and I can’t recall if in or above the TFR/FTA, but every once in a while he’d pop up on Natl Flight Follow with North Ops with a lightning fire report, down to the height in the tree the hotspot is or the “2ft diameter of heat around the trunk on the ground.” Amazing. I don’t recall ever seeing them assigned to an incident up here, just more in a general observance/patrol, could be bouncing between fires and giving IR feed to their Ops to answer questions?


#10

H-531 has been online with AA51 from the beginning. They were only a night ship, but believe they now have a day ship as well, H532.


#11

hose-reel, sorry about that. Just as soon as I saw your reply the words “non agency” popped out at me like they hadn’t the first time I read your message. I must pay better attention!


#12

All the drones I’ve seen of General Atomics have always had a chase ship. I know while flying we always saw the chase ship first and the drone second, because they are harder to see. They have a private airport that sits right outside of Edward’s AFB restricted airspace.
It is interesting to note that tonight over the fire there was ARCAT068 and ARCAT68 both showing up on flightradar with slightly different tracks. So the use of a drone seems likely. The lack of publicity seems strange to me though. The fact that we aren’t hearing much about it on the ground surprises me.

I know the Colorado PC-12 was on the Thomas fire flying IR missions, there was some footage in the FTP site from them. You could actually overlay IR imagines into google earth and see the 3D topography and the hotspots location on the slope.

H-531 is a whole different beast. It was day and night from 2013-17. This year they finally went to a day ship 532 and a night ship 531. A good move that was desperately needed but thats off topic for this discussion.


#13

I was ATGS relief in AA-51 back in 2011-14. H-531 was our night asset. The GA plane used now is under a research/study program thru San Diego City FD. Should have an ATGS assigned on board during operarations?


#14

“ALLIED1” is over the Camp tonight. The info that I’m getting from ADS-B is that it’s a RC-26B (aka Metroliner) with a serial number of 94-0260. It’s not flying a regular mapping or ATGS pattern, so I’ll assume that it’s possibly a different kind of IR or other sensor flight.


#15

Tonight, the RC-26 out of Fresno flew the Camp Fire. The last time I saw this one in the air, it was over the fires that we had here in the center of the state.