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Smokejumper Ram Air Program Update

by USFS Briefing Paper |


Purpose: USFS and BLM Smokejumper Leadership recently met in Missoula, Montana for a Ram Air After Action Review and to develop the 2017 Ram Air Operations Plan. The following briefly discusses background, updates and key messages as we move into the second year of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Ram Air transition.

Background: On July 1, 2015 the Director, Fire and Aviation Management, made a decision to begin a measured transition to a ram-air parachute system in the USFS smokejumper program. A “square” ram-air parachute system will eventually replace the “round” FS-14 parachute system currently in use. The reasons behind the Director’s decision include a need for improvement and innovation in equipment to optimize operational capabilities of the USFS smokejumper program.

USFS smokejumpers have used a variety of parachute systems over the 75 year history of the program. All of these primary parachute systems have been round in their design. The round parachute system has been developed to near its performance potential. As parachute systems have evolved, ram-air parachute systems offer a greater opportunity to increase operational capabilities so that fires may be staffed during more severe environmental conditions (i.e. higher winds,) thereby reducing fire suppression costs by catching high potential fires at the earliest opportunity, instead of waiting for more favorable parachuting conditions. Ram-air parachutes enable smokejumpers more control over vertical and horizontal speed to help minimize landing impact injuries, and promise future advancements in technology.

In 2008, Region 1 began evaluating and training on the Ram Air parachute system through a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Smokejumper Program, and the Missoula Development and Technology Center (MTDC). By 2015 there have been 72 smokejumpers that have transitioned to the Ram Air parachute system.

The Ram Air parachute system transition officially began in 2016. 37 smokejumpers from three regions successfully completed the Ram Air parachute system training:
• 16 jumpers from Region 1
• 8 jumpers from Region 5
• 1 jumper from Region 4
• 12 rookie smokejumpers (Region 1)

This brings the current number to 108 of the 300 USFS Smokejumpers that are now using the Ram Air parachute system.

Updates:
• The 2017 Ram Air Operations Plan is currently being developed and is expected to be ready for approval as early as February, 2017. Goals that will be included in the 2017 Ram Air Operations Plan include:
o Manufacture parachute components and jump gear to train up to 56 jumpers on the Ram Air System.

o Redding will host the first Ram Air parachute refresher class of the season. All other Ram Air refreshers will be held in Region 1.

o The first Ram Air transition training class (RATT 1) will be in April in Missoula.
o The RATT 2 class will be in May/June at the McCall.

o Trainers and parachute riggers for both RATT classes will be from Region 1, and potentially the BLM.

The following displays the number of jumpers by each smokejumper base in the 2017 transition:

Smokejumper Bases Attending
# of Jumpers Attending RATT 1 (MSO)
Redding, CA 6 Jumpers
North Cascades, WA 2 Jumpers
Redmond, OR 2 Jumpers
Grangeville, ID/Missoula MT 4 Jumpers

# of Jumpers Attending RATT 2 (MYL)McCall, ID 14 Jumpers

# of Rookies Attending Ram Air Training (R-1)
Missoula, Grangeville, and West Yellowstone 28 Rookies

o Boise BLM may train 4-6 Region 1 transition smokejumpers and provide any additional equipment needs. This will be in addition to the goal of 56 smokejumpers.

o All bases will have an opportunity to have “shadow” assignments to prepare to host future Ram Air transition training.

o The Ram Air Parachute System Implementation Steering Committee (RAISC) and the Ram Air Parachute System Change Management Action Team (RACMAT) will host quarterly phone conferences or as needed to provide oversight and continued sharing of information.

Key Messages:
• All Smokejumper Base Managers agree and support the course of action for the Ram Air transition in 2017. All have confidence in achieving the goals described in the updates in a safe and efficient manner.

• The USFS and BLM will continue to work in partnership to achieve and maintain interoperability between both smokejumper programs. The goal is to ensure that mixed loads of smokejumpers continue to procedurally and seamlessly work as a national program.

• The USFS and BLM will use both the DC-7 and CR-360 Ram Air parachute canopies. The BLM will primarily use the DC-7 and the USFS will primarily use the CR-360. Both agencies are confident that cross-training will continue into the foreseeable future.

• The USFS will work in partnership with the Forest Service Council - National Federation of Federal Employees throughout the Ram Air transition.

• Support and adequate funding are key to the success of the Ram Air transition. The ability to share expertise and support personnel will require continued use of funding agreements between the USFS and BLM into the foreseeable future.

• There is support to continue with the Ram Air Safety and Training positions. These positions provide oversight, coordination and experience to the Ram Air transition. These positions will initially be filled as multiple 120-day details until a longer term solution can be resolved.

Contact: Roger Staats, National Smokejumper Program Manager (208) 387-5623 email at rstaats@fs.fed.us or Mike Fritsen, Ram Air Project Leader (406) 329-4901 email at mfritsen@fs.fed.us