Contract awarded to install retardant tanks in Forest Service HC-130H air tankers

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

HC-130H paint design
This is the US Forest Service approved paint design that will be used on the seven HC-130H air tankers acquired from the Coast Guard.

After a solicitation process that dragged on for almost two years, the U.S. Air Force has awarded the contract to build and install retardant delivery systems for up to seven of the seven HC-130H aircraft that are being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. 

The Coulson Group announced today that they received the contract. In one sense this is not unexpected because the company has installed and successfully operated two similar systems in C-130s — Tanker 131 and Tanker 132. In another sense, it is a surprise after the Government Accountability Office denied the company’s protest of the terms of the request for proposals in August of 2015.

C-130 retardant tank unload
Coulson’s retardant tank being removed or installed in one of their air tankers, T-131, in 2013. Coulson photo.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to work with the United States Air Force to provide them with state of the art retardant aerial delivery systems (RADS) for their fleet of C-130s,” says Wayne Coulson, CEO and President of Coulson Aviation.

The 3,800-gallon retardant system will be gravity-based with retardant tanks that can be quickly removed, making it possible for the air tankers to also haul cargo or passengers.

One of the seven HC-130H aircraft began working out of McClellan Air Field near Sacramento last summer. Since it did not have a permanent retardant tank it borrowed one of the Forest Service’s eight Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that can be inserted into the cargo hold of a military C-130 to provide a surge capacity of air tankers during a time of heavy wildfire activity. The MAFFS pump the 3,000 gallons of retardant out of a pipe through the door using compressed air, rather than letting it drop out of the belly with the assistance of gravity as is done with conventional air tankers.

The Air Force is responsible for the retrofitting and performing the heavy maintenance that must be completed before the seven HC-130Hs are finally turned over to the USFS over the next three years. This contract is for the installation of one trial “kit”, one verification kit, and three production kits. There is an option for the installation of two additional production kits.

Coulson Aviation has 25 years of experience in aerial fire suppression and they operate both Type 1 helicopters and large fixed wing air tankers. Coulson is one of the few companies to hold multi-country aerial firefighting contracts, including Canada, the United States, and Australia.

Updates on firefighting aircraft

Coast Guard C-130H
One of the C-130s, No 1706, that is being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by Mohit Purswani, October 2008.

Today Fire Aviation has three articles with updates on the status of the C-130s that were transferred from the Coast Guard, the C-23B Sherpas that came from the Army, and the next-generation air tankers that are working their way toward being certified by the Interagency AirTanker Board.

Wildfire briefing, April 3, 2014

Three firefighters injured in South Carolina

Three firefighters were injured while fighting a 12-acre wildfire that spread to a structure in Florence County, South Carolina late Wednesday afternoon. One firefighter suffered second and third degree burns to his face and neck while suppressing fire in a mobile home.

wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina |

Arizona Forestry Division outlines changes for 2014

According to an article at KNAU, Arizona State Forester Scott Hunt told reporters on Wednesday:

“Our first priority is firefighter and public safety. And it’s always going to be our first priority,” he said.

But, Hunt did say that he expects when there is an initial report of a fire that there will “heavier responses” than in the past.

On June 30, 2013, 19 firefighters were killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire which was being managed by the Arizona Forestry Division.

Los Alamos National Laboratory under pressure to move radioacitve waste before wildfire season

From TheState.com:

Los Alamos is under a tight deadline to get nuclear waste off its northern New Mexico campus before wildfire season peaks, and the New Mexico dump [temporarily closed due to a fire] is the federal government’s only permanent repository for waste from decades of nuclear-bomb building.

Aerial firefighting training for California National Guard

California National Guard aerial firefighting training
File photo of California National Guard aerial firefighting training, April, 2010. Photo by Bob Martinez.

Helicopter units of the California National Guard are scheduled to conduct their annual aerial firefighting training Friday through Sunday at the CAL FIRE academny in Ione.

Colorado Senate passes funding bill for aerial firefighting

The Colorado state Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would provide $21 million for a portion of the aerial firefighting program recommended by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corp (CFAC) in a report the agency released on March 28. The funds would enable contracting for four helicopters, four Single Engine Air Tankers, and the purchase of two fixed wing aircraft for fire detection and remote sensing, but not for the two large air tankers called for in the report.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has been quoted as saying farmers and ranchers should be the state’s first defense against wildfires, is opposed to spending the additional $11.9 million for contracting for two large air tankers.

Wildfire season begins early in Russia

From ITAR-TASS:

Forest fires have broken out early in a season dubbed “tense this year”, Minister of Natural Resources Sergei Donskoi told a conference chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and addressing preparations for difficult days ahead.

“The situation is tense in Russia this year. Because of low precipitation, the season has begun almost 1.5 months ahead of the norm,” the minister said. Seventeen fires have already been registered across a territory of 2,000 hectares, the minister said.

Citing reasons for danger, the minister noted an early spring and a shallow layer of frozen soil. This was only 40-50% of normal levels and was leaving dry surface soil.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has adopted an inter-regional fire prevention plan employing an additional 3,000-strong contingent of firefighters, 800 units of firefighting equipment and 4,000 fire extinguishers, the minister said.

GAO sustains protest of non-competitive air tanker contract

The Government Accountability Office announced today that they sustained the protest filed by three companies over the sole source air tanker contract that the U.S. Forest Service awarded to Neptune Aviation December 12, 2013. The non-competitive contract, worth about $141 million, specified that Neptune would supply two or more next-generation air tankers, BAe-146s, for the next four to nine years beginning in 2014.

More details are at Fire Aviation.

Behind the scenes — the protests of an air tanker contract

Neptune's Tanker 41 at Missoula
Neptune’s Tanker 41. a BAe-146, at Missoula, August 11, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Today, March 11, the Government Accountability Office will hold a hearing at their office in Washington, DC to consider the protests filed by three air tanker companies over the propriety of the U.S. Forest Service’s non-competitive contract award to Neptune Aviation for next-generation large airtankers. After reviewing dozens of documents that revealed what was going on behind the scenes, Fire Aviation has the story of how the sole source contract developed, and the arguments from the other vendors about why that contract should be terminated.