Update on large air tankers, including the USFS C-130’s

This article was first published on FireAviation.com August 11, 2016.

Ten additional air tankers brought on temporarily

In the last few weeks the U.S. Forest Service has brought on ten additional air tankers on a temporary basis. This includes CL-415 water-scoopers, CV-580’s, and Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130’s. Two of the aircraft were acquired through Call When Needed (CWN) agreements; four via agreements with Alaska and Canada; two MAFFS through an agreement with the Department of Defense; and two water scoopers through other contracts.

HC-130H’s

The U.S. Forest Service expects to have two HC-130H aircraft at McClellan Air Field in September. These are part of the seven aircraft fleet of HC-130H’s that the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard.

Tanker 118, an HC-130H
Tanker 118, an HC-130H, at McClellan Airport. Photo by Jon Wright, July 25, 2015.

Last year one of the HC-130H’s worked out of McClellan using a MAFFS, a slip-in 3,000-gallon pressurized retardant system that pumps the liquid out the left side troop door. That was aircraft #1721 designated as Tanker 118, still painted in military colors. T-118 is now undergoing scheduled depot-level maintenance and should be replaced in September of this year by #1708 designated as Tanker 116. It will also use a slip-in MAFFS unit, one of the eight owned by the USFS, but should be sporting a new USFS air tanker paint job. After T-118 left, another former Coast Guard aircraft took its place, #1706. It is being used for training the contracted pilots and will not serve as an air tanker.

Early in 2015 the plan was to have two HC-130H’s at McClellan. One would be used as an air tanker, and the second would be used as a training platform. Below is a portion of that early 2015 plan which we covered February 9, 2015.

Forest Service C-130H schedule
The USFS plans in early 2015 for incorporating the seven HC-130H aircraft into a Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated fleet of air tankers. Click to enlarge.

Eventually the USFS hopes to have all seven converted to air tankers with removable retardant tanks. A contract for the installation of the retardant delivery systems was awarded to the Coulson Group in May. There is also much other work that has to be completed on the aircraft including programmed depot maintenance, painting, and wing box replacement on most of them. The work is being done or coordinated by the U.S. Air Force. They were directed by Congressional legislation to use their own funds, up to $130 million, so it is no surprise that the schedule keeps slipping as delays continue to occur in awarding contracts and scheduling the maintenance.

In 2014 Tom Tidwell, Chief of the USFS, said all seven aircraft would be completely converted by 2018. In early 2015 the USFS changed that to 2019. Now, a year and a half later, it’s anybody’s guess when or if this project that started in December of 2013 will be finished.

CL-415’s

four CL-415 cody wy
Four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Some of them had been working the nearby Whit Fire and scooping out of Buffalo Bill Reservoir six miles from the fire. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

The USFS has two water-scooping CL-415 air tankers on exclusive use contract. As noted above they recently temporarily brought on two more on a call when needed basis. All four are operated by AeroFlite and as seen in the photo above were together at Cody last week.

Air Spray

There was some discussion in the comment section of another article on Fire Aviation about the status of the BAe-146 aircraft being converted to air tankers by Air Spray. The company has five of the 146’s; two are out of the country and the other three are at the company’s Chico, California facility. Ravi Saip, their Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told Fire Aviation that they expect to begin flight testing one of them in air tanker mode around the first of the year. After they receive a supplemental type certificate from the FAA, work on the second one would shift into high gear. Then conversion of the other three would begin.

T-241
Air Spray’s T-241 finishing its amphibious conversion at the Wipaire facility in Minnesota. Air Spray photo.

Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 single engine air tankers that they have purchased since 2014. Five of them have received the amphibious conversion by adding floats, and the other three are stock, restricted to wheels.

Air Spray’s Tanker 498, an L-188 Electra, is currently in Sacramento being inspected and carded by CAL FIRE so that it can be used in a Call When Needed capacity.

747 SuperTanker

Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, told us that the FAA has awarded a supplemental type certificate for their reborn 747 SuperTanker — a major and sometimes very difficult barrier to overcome. Within the next two weeks they expect to receive the airworthiness certificate.

air tanker 747 T-944 colorado springs
T-944 at Colorado Springs May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Beginning next week representatives from the USFS will observe some additional static tests and then there will be an airborne descent test, a new test added in 2013, releasing retardant in a downhill drop. That test was not required when Version 1.0 of the 747 was certified. It may have been added after it was discovered that the first BAe-146’s that were converted and issued contracts still retained hundreds of gallons of retardant after downhill runs.

These steps should take less than two weeks, Mr. Wheeler said, after which they will submit the results to the Interagency AirTanker Board.

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told Fire Aviation that the company was offered an opportunity to submit a proposal for a call when needed contract solicitation in 2015, along with numerous other companies, but declined to do so. Their next opportunity to obtain a contract will be when another general solicitation is issued in 2017, or perhaps sooner, Ms. Jones said. The agency issued a Request for Information a few weeks ago, which is usually followed some months later with an actual solicitation.

Judging from the list of CWN air tankers with contracts, apparently it is possible to submit a proposal and receive a USFS CWN contract even if the aircraft exists mostly on paper and could be years away from being FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board certified.

In the meantime Mr. Wheeler realizes that the USFS is not the only organization that hires air tankers and has been talking with a number of other agencies in various states and countries as well as companies involved in marine firefighting.

Global SuperTanker is in the process of finishing repairs on the 747 in Arizona after some of the composite flight control surfaces (flaps, spoilers, elevators) and engine cowlings were damaged by golf ball sized hail at Colorado Springs several weeks ago. There was no windscreen or fuselage damage.

Mr. Wheeler said that was the first severe hailstorm within the last seven years at the Colorado Springs airport. But, after the aircraft left to be repaired in Arizona a second hailstorm struck the airport that some have said was a 100-year event and did much more damage than the first one.

Permanent base for the HC-130H air tankers

On September 2, 2015 the USFS formally requested information from facilities that could support the seven-aircraft HC-130H fleet (Solicitation Number SN-2015-16), with responses due September 16. The agency was only asking for information from interested parties, and will not award a contract based on the Request for Information. A few politicians fell all over themselves arguing that the aircraft should be based in their state.

Since then no decisions have been made. Ms. Jones told Fire Aviation:

The U.S. Forest Service continues to cooperate with the Department of Defense to identify potential federal facilities, which must be considered first.

It is unlikely that more than one or two of the seven HC-130H’s would be at the new base at at any one time, except during the winter when they would not have to be dispersed around the country to be available for firefighting. While the base might not be a huge expansion of the aerial firefighting capabilities in an area, the stationing of the flight crews, maintenance, and administrative personnel would be a boost to the economy of a small or medium-sized city.

California: Tecolote Fire

Tecolote Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
A BAe-146 drops on the Tecolote Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

The Tecolote Fire burned about 275 acres in the Angeles National Forest on August 17 near Highway 39 about 18 miles north of Azusa, California. Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes and campsites but the marine layer moved in that night and slowed the spread.

The agencies responding included the U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County. In addition to very steep terrain, firefighters had to deal with temperatures around 100 degrees.

These photos were contributed by Jeff Zimmerman, of Zimmerman Media. Thanks Jeff.

Tecolote Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
Tecolote Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
Tecolote Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.
Tecolote Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Wildfire briefing, September 12, 2013

Live streaming of memorial service for Token Adams

The memorial service for Token Adams, the firefighter who was killed in an apparent ATV accident while scouting a fire in New Mexico, will begin at 10 a.m. MDT today, Thursday, at KRQE and also KOBT.

Inmate firefighter truck rolls over in Arizona

An Arizona Department of Corrections crew carrier transporting a wildland fire crew rolled over Wednesday afternoon on State Route 79 near Florence, Arizona. Several inmates and one corrections officer were injured, but none of the injuries were considered life-threatening. It is unclear what caused the accident but authorities are looking for a newer white Chevrolet Tahoe or Suburban that may have been involved. The older male driver of the SUV is believed to have left the scene traveling south.

Deceased person found in Clover Fire in Northern California

On September 10, 2013 during the late evening hours, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office located a deceased person inside the Clover Fire perimeter on Coal Pit Road in the community of Igo, California while conducting a welfare check. Next of kin was notified and the person has been identified as Brian Stanley Henry, 56. We send out our sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Henry.

Survey says voters have strong connection to national forests

A recent survey of voters commissioned by the National Forest Foundation concluded that they have a strong personal connection to National Forests. These connections are so strong that four in five voters polled said despite federal budget problems, funding to safeguard National Forests should not be cut. Seventy-two percent of voters surveyed would support additional funding to maintain and restore National Forest lands even if it meant a small tax increase.

Such supporters include groups that are traditionally more tax sensitive: 63 percent of seniors and 56 percent of conservatives said they would support additional funding even if it meant a small tax increase.
wildfire serious problem
Forty-four percent (44%) of voters see uncontrollable wildfires as a serious problem. Just under half (44%) of U.S. voters say “uncontrollable wildfires that destroy property and forests” “is a serious problem, facing the nation” – with one-in-four calling it an “extremely” or “very” serious problem. This is the highest proportion to register this view since 2007. Concerns about this issue are drastically different by region, with 67% of voters in the West saying wildfires are an extremely or very serious problem and two-thirds deeming them to be at least somewhat serious.

Distribution of federal disaster aid to states

Elected representatives of some of the states that received the most federal disaster aid for wildfires, crop insurance, and storm damage, voted against federal aid for victims of superstorm Sandy.

Thief hit fire stations while firefighters fought wildfire

While crews in Walnut Creek were out fighting the Morgan Fire east of Berkeley, California Sunday night, a thief broke into Fire Station No. 7 and rummaged through lockers, desks and gym bags making off with money, an iPad, two firefighters’ wedding bands, and a watch. A second firehouse was also targeted, but a sleeping firefighter scared away the thief.

Since then, firefighters say they’ve received endless food donations, hundreds of dollars in gift cards, and offers from multiple jewelry stores to replace the stolen rings.

Tanker 131 certified

T 131 taxiing
T 131 taxiing. Photo by Dan Megna.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a converted C-130Q, has been fully certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service. The 3,500-gallon aircraft was carded on Tuesday and the pilot check rides occurred Wednesday. It should be ready to drop retardant on fires today, Thursday.

Conair begins flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85 air tanker 

Conair RJ85 first flight
Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85 first flight. BAE Systems photo.

Conair Group of Abbotsford, British Columbia has started flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85, identified as Tanker 160, which is being converted from a jet-powered airliner into an air tanker. The RJ85 is a derivative of the BAe-146, but with improved engines. The 146 first flew in 1981 while the RJ85 was first delivered in 1993. Conair is the largest air tanker operator in the world with a fleet of around 50 fixed-wing special mission aircraft, including Convair 580s, Conair Firecats, Douglas DC-6s, and Lockheed Electra air tankers.

Tanker 160 first flight
Conair’s Tanker 160, a BAe Avro RJ85 after first flight, August 21, 2013. Photo by Coastal Pacific Aviation.

The aircraft still has to be certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service before it can be used on federal fires in the United States, a process which could take days, weeks, or months.

More information about the BAe conversion projects going on at four different companies.

Fire department packs up Granite Mountain Hotshots memorial fence

From The Daily Courier:

The chain-link fence in front of Prescott’s Fire Station 7 stood bare Tuesday morning for the first time since soon after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died in the line of duty more than two months ago.

In an effort to move forward from the June 30 Yarnell Hill wildfire tragedy, the Prescott Fire Department called for the removal this week of the thousands of items that materialized on the fence in the days and weeks after the Hotshots’ deaths.

Several dozen firefighters from around the area were on hand at the Sixth Street station to work with about 30 volunteers in taking down and packing up the curtain of interwoven flags, T-shirts, signs, and photos that had shrouded the fire station.

Spectacular retardant drop on Devore Fire

BAe-146 dropping Devore Fire, Cajon Pass
Devore Fire, Cajon Pass in southern California, 11-5-2012. Photo by Rick McClure

Rick McClure, a free-lance photographer for the Associated Press and fire publications, got this spectacular photo of Tanker 41, a BAe-146, dropping on the Devore Fire in Cajon Pass in Southern California November 5, 2012. He shot it with a Nikon D5000 at f/6.3, 1/640. And he was not half a mile away using a huge telephoto lens. This was a zoom lens at 150 mm.

Mr. McClure told us “I actually couldn’t run fast enough to get totally out of the drift.” One other photo he got for us is at our new sister site, Fire Aviation.

The Devore Fire burned 350 acres along Interstate 15 in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Monday morning one-liners

Fire near Pompeys Pillar, MT, BAe-146
A BAe-146 air tanker drops on a fire near Pompeys Pillar, MT, Sept. 2, 2012. Photo by Lisa Openshaw, Shepherd Volunteer Fire Department

On Sunday firefighters stopped a fire after it burned 326 acres north of Pompeys Pillar in Montana (see photo above).

The National Interagency Fire Center moved the national preparedness level from four to three.

Elizabeth Reinhardt of the USFS and Dick Bahr of the NPS are quoted in an article about how larger and more frequent fires over the last several decades have limited the size of some fires, as they move into the previously burned areas.

Wildfire south of Porto, Portugal, September 2, 2012
Wildfire south of Porto, Portugal, September 2, 2012

Hot, dry, and windy weather led to several large wildfires in Portugal on Sunday.

 

Thanks go out to Kelly

Photos of Tanker 41 and smokejumpers at Missoula.

Tanker 41 at Missoula
Tanker 41. Wildfire Today photo

Here are a couple of photos taken at Missoula, Montana today. Tanker 41 is the second BAe-146 that Neptune Aviation has leased from Tronos, a company based on Prince Edward Island in Canada. The air tanker can’t be put into service for the U.S. Forest Service until the agency resolves a protest about the contracts that were recently awarded for next generation air tankers.

The photo below shows smokejumpers loading onto a Twin Otter aircraft after being dispatched to a fire.

Smokejumpers loading onto an aircraft
Smokejumpers loading onto an aircraft at Missoula, August 11, 2012. Wildfire Today photo.

And, for a bonus, we have a photo of the TBM air tanker that Missoula’s Museum of Mountain Flying purchased last year. The TBM flew into Missoula on October 10, 2011 and is on display at the museum. TBM’s could carry about 600 gallons of retardant. This compares to the 3,000 the BAe-146 can hold. or the 20,000 gallon capacity of the 747 supertanker.

TBM air tanker at Missoula
A TBM air tanker at Missoula’s Museum of Mountain Flying. Wildfire Today photo.