Dates: August 22, 2023 8:00am to May 22, 2024 8:00am
2023 BIA exclusive use air attack platform

Bureau of Indian Affairs - Pilatus PC-12 Aircraft sits at the National Interagency Fire Center for inspection by the Department of Interior – August 24, 2023 – Lessa Peter – BIA

In 2023, the BIA National Aviation Office (NAO) awarded two 150-day exclusive use aircraft contracts to Bridger Aerospace for sensor enhanced air attack platforms. The cost of the contracts amounted to $4,588,200 in FY 2023 preparedness and suppression funding. The contracts, an increase from the previous standard 90-day contract, were for two Pilatus PC-12 (single-engine) aircraft with attached Wescam MX-15 air surveillance and reconnaissance sensors.

Generally, an air attack or air tactical aircraft used in wildland fire management is an airplane that flies over an incident, providing tactical coordination with the incident commander on the ground, and directing airtankers and helicopters to critical areas of a fire for retardant and water drops. They make these observations using the blind eye of the pilot and air attack support unit and radio in their observations to provide tactical coordination support.

The newer model Pilatus PC-12 aircrafts used in the BIA’s 2023 contracts were in executive-level condition, having the latest technology and hardware installed. These Wescam MX-15 sensor enhanced air attack platforms use an imaging system that is attached to the underside of the aircraft unit that uses electro-optic wide and narrow imaging systems, a thermal imager and a short-wave infrared sensor, advanced video tracker and speed measurement tools to provide a considerably more accurate and technologically advanced picture for on-the-ground and other wildland fire air attack resources.

Bridger Aerospace air sensor operator inside air attack platform

Bureau of Indian Affairs – Bridger Aerospace sensor operator shows how the Wescam MX-15 sensor works onboard the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft – August 24, 2023 – Lessa Peter – BIA

The exclusive use aircraft are staffed with a government provided qualified air attack and a contractor provided sensor operator to conduct aerial supervision, fire mapping, new fire detection reconnaissance flights, and live tactical support to fire personnel all on one platform. BIA is the first agency to provide this capability for wildland fire management although the enhanced aircraft are in high demand to support wildland fire incidents in addition to non-fire needs such as range management.

“We received a great deal of accolades for the accuracy and consistency of delivered products,” said NAO Assistant National Aviation Manager George Violante. “The BIA is the only agency which uses a data specialist to coordinate daily mission planning and product post-processing for end users to ensure reliable and accurate data. Although there were challenges along the summer, we were able to get them worked out with the coordination centers, dispatch offices, and partners. This is what makes it all a success.”

Although the nation experienced an unusually inactive fire season in 2023, the air attack platforms were used for a combined 290 hours of air support for both BIA and interagency use.

In 2024, BIA aviation is continuing with two 150-day exclusive use contracts for the sensor enhanced air attack platforms.


2023 BIA exclusive use contract air attack platform

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