Monitoring Aerial Firefighting
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Air Guard is monitered in every fire-fighting aircraft as an emergency hailing frequency, much like Marine Channel 16. If an aircraft can't be found on any other frequency, they will call on this frequency as a last resort. Definitely worth having in your fire-season scanner bank. Air Guard has some high-level remote bases for ground monitoring and remote transmissions.
Flight Following is typically used for aircraft transitioning between incidents or travelling long-distances. Aircraft being called on Air Guard will move to this frequency to talk further.
Smoke Jumpers like to hang on the 168.550 since it is a very quiet frequency. It is also the ICS Calling Frequency so it's fairly quiet.
All California Air Attack Bases can be monitored on 123.975 for general ramp operations etc. You'll hear pilots talking to the ramp operators telling where to load their tankers etc. The 163.100 Deck frequency is used on larger fires where a temporary helibase is setup at the incident. In case of multiple incidents nearby, additional Deck frequencies could be assigned out of the Fed Common Use freqs seen on the USFS page.
Air to Ground is used for any aircraft talking to any ground resource. You will hear helicopters talking to their ground fire crews, or their ground support unit, or you'll hear air attack over an incident giving an update to the Incident Commander.
USFS is transitioning from an Air/Ground of 170.000 to multiple Air/Grounds depending on geographic region. 170.000 should be deprecated by the end of 2012 fire season.
CALFIRE will use 151.220 for A/G on Initial Attack but any extended attack should find it's own unique frequency, typically an odd CalFire tactical.
Air Tactics is for the radio traffic between Air Attack and the Air Tankers and copters fighting the fire. This is where you'll hear the air tankers setting up for their drops. Naturally, you can get a very good idea of the birds-eye view of the fire by the descriptions given by the aircraft.
Air Tactics 1-3 are typically assigned to federal fires while 4-23 are typically assigned to state fires. When these frequencies are overwhelmed over a complex fire with many aircraft, or numerous fires, they will often switch over to a Victor net, an AM frequency in the aero-band.
All FM aircraft communications are narrowband over state and federal incidents. Air tactics 21 will be used as last resort until Calfire successfully completes the narrowband transition of their Command 2 151.265 system by 2011.
NorCal (by geographic area)
|128.475||134.875||Napa to SLO|
Additional common victor freqs used
122.925 * (unofficial state common)
Victor Nets are utilized when either the airspace over a fire gets pretty busy, and the Air Tactics net becomes overloaded with traffic where it becomes a safety issue to have so many aircraft on a single frequency, or when all the available VHF FM air tacticals are utilized. When too many aircraft are over a fire, Air Attack will assign the helicopters to a Victor Net, keeping fixed wing on the FM tactical or a second Victor. Victor Nets are also assigned on larger campaign fires to free up the VHF FM tacticals in the area to initial attack.
Victor Nets are assigned over Federal fires north of Sacramento by a geographic region, splitting the north state into four quadrants. For instance, NW Redding would cover most of SHF and all of SRF, and KNF. NE Redding would cover the eastern side of SHF, and all of MDF. SW Redding would cover all of MNF and SE Redding would cover all of LNF, PNF and a little of TNF. An additional pair of victor nets covers the Hwy 101 corridor from southern MNF down to the northern tip of LPF. South of Sacramento, Victor Nets are assigned over Federal incidents by the nearest responding air attack base.
Victor Nets over state fires can also use the above nets, but will often utilize another pre-determined set of AM frequencies (noted by a *), with the most common being 122.925 and 122.975 in NorCal. Victor Nets assigned over State incidents must be approved by the ECC first. Victor freqs with a minus (-) have been used over recent large fires for Helco operations.
Unlike the FM tacticals which each have a name, Victor Nets are referred to by frequency. Pilots like to speak quick and succinct so you may only hear them say "nine two five" which would be 122.925 or "two five seven five" for 122.575.
173.9875 Air Ground USFS MNF
164.1625 Helco over MNF, A/G over SHF
169.400 Air Attack
170.050 Air to Ground
I will leave this section to the rule breakers. When all heck hits the fan, frequencies are pulled out of thin air at times for incidents that don't follow any of the "written" (or even unwritten) rules. This place will be for confirmed frequencies that I have heard on an incident for air use, but I have never seen labled or listed otherwise for air use.
I hope this helps stretch your mind as a scanner hobbyist, and makes you think out of the box. Sometimes you know there should be something talking over the radio, but you just can't find them. Start looking where you least expect them and 9 times out of 10, they'll be there.