Senators introduce bill to transfer C-27J aircraft to USFS

C-27J Spartan
C-27J Spartan

Three U.S. Senators have introduced a bill that would transfer 14 surplus C-27J Spartan aircraft from the Department of Defense to the U.S. Forest Service to be used as air tankers. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced legislation on Wednesday known as the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 (S. 3441) “to help replenish the agency’s aging airtanker fleet”.

A news release from Senator McCain said:

The Forest Service says the C-27J Spartan would become a vital component of its overall airtanker modernization strategy. These aircraft would provide a modern, flexible, and extremely efficient Type 2 platform specifically designed to operate in challenging conditions.

“The Forest Service needs to modernize its entire airtanker fleet,” said Senator John McCain. “We have an opportunity to take the C-27J, an aircraft the Pentagon no longer wants, and give it to the Forest Service to enhance aircraft safety and lower existing maintenance costs. The C-27J should be kept in the service of the American people to help our brave fire crews, rather than sit in an airplane boneyard.”

The U.S. Air Force has ceased operating the aircraft in Afghanistan and plans to retire its fleet of 21 C-27-Js no later than fiscal year 2013 which begins in October. The only operator of the C-27J inside the United States is the Air National Guard.

The C-27J looks like a baby brother of the C-130J and uses two of the same turboprop engines that are used on the larger four-engine aircraft.

If converted to an air tanker, at only four years old they would be by far the youngest large air tankers being used in the United States. The P2Vs that currently comprise 8 of the 9 large air tankers active on exclusive use contracts today are over 50 years old. Even Tanker 40, the newish jet-powered BAe-146 operated by Neptune, is 26 years old.

In 2007 the Department of Defense awarded a contract for the acquisition of 78 new C-27J Spartan aircraft at a cost of about $26 million each, but according to one report only 52 have been built. It has sold to other buyers, new, for as much as $53 million. The United States received its first C-27J on September 25, 2008. The aircraft cruises at 362 mph, has a service ceiling of 30,000 feet, and a minimum control speed of 121 mph.

If it were converted to an air tanker, airworthiness compliance and adding a tank could cost around $2 million.  The C-27J can carry a 25,353-pound payload, which could translate to a retardant capacity of 2,000 to 2,500 gallons; perhaps more if the interior was stripped. This would not meet the preferred USFS target of 3,000 gallons for a next-generation air tanker, but could be a valuable addition to the firefighter’s tool box. However, it would carry about twice as much as the S-2Ts being used extensively, and successfully, by CAL FIRE.

We have written previously about the possibilities of this aircraft serving as an air tanker, HERE and HERE.

There is one little dark cloud hovering over this announcement. It was just 11 days ago that the entire U.S. fleet of C-27Js was grounded following a mechanical failure of one aircraft’s flight control system. Few details were disclosed by the Air Force, who characterized the grounding as a “precautionary measure” that is under investigation by the Air Force and the C-27J manufacturer, Alenia Aermacchi. Groundings like this for aircraft are not uncommon and are frequently resolved in a matter of weeks.

Should we do this?

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the 55-year experiment of contractor-owned, contractor-operated air tankers should come to an end. We need to move to a government-owned, contractor-operated system. Well over 100 air tanker pilots have lost their lives during that period flying aircraft that have been discarded by the military decades before. Their age leads to frequent engine, air frame, and other mechanical problems that contribute to crashes, deaths, and down time for these aircraft which should be seen in museums and air shows, not diving into steep canyons, low and slow. The new next generation contracts will be bringing us converted passenger airliners that have been retired by their owners. While this may be better than 50-year old maritime patrol P2Vs, it is not a great solution, but is what the contractor-owned system is producing. Contractors can’t afford to purchase new C-130Js, C-27Js, or CL-415s at $25 to $90 million each.

A federal agency that has the experience and knowledge of managing aircraft should manage these C-27Js after they are acquired from the military, and they should acquire additional new or nearly new aircraft that have the design and performance criteria necessary for the very demanding task of delivering retardant in the wildfire environment. Then develop specifications for operating these aircraft to include extensive, regular, professional-level training for pilots and mechanics. Contractors would then maintain and operate them, seven days a week, using relief crews to provide days off and enough back home family time to reduce the currently unacceptable turnover rates among these crews.

So the bottom line is, yes, Congress should pass the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 (S. 3441). While a 3,000, 5,000, or 20,000 gallon air tanker would look great flying over and supporting firefighters on the ground, an addition of 14 C-27Js would be a great shot in the arm of the atrophied fleet of air tankers that has declined through neglect and mismanagement from the 44 we had in 2002 to the 9 we have today.

In addition, the bill currently being considered by Congress should appropriate funds to convert the aircraft to air tankers, which could cost more than $30 million. Otherwise, the C-27Js may continue to sit in a boneyard.

We congratulate the three senators, McCain, Nelson, and Feinstein, for showing some leadership toward resolving the air tanker crisis…leadership that has been sorely lacking in the federal land management agencies’ aviation program over the last 10 years.
Thanks go out to Jerome and Ken

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

43 thoughts on “Senators introduce bill to transfer C-27J aircraft to USFS”

  1. Wrote both of my Senators asking for their support of this bill, it takes just a small input to get their attention–please contact them asking for support of this bill. Everyone not from SD please write your Senators.

    1. The House should support the bill, but make changes in conference that keep the aircraft in the Air National Guard. The MOA concerning USAF Reserve C-130 aircraft support with the US Forestry Service should be modified to include the C-27J. A few $million should be provided for a new Mini-MAFFS III aerial fire fighting system tailored for the C-27J airframe. If the configuration is deemed worthy, quite a number of them should be procured, because anything that will strap down to a the floor of a C-27J will fit in a C-130 (any flavor), and there is an acute need for this capability across the country at present. This solution will preserve the Air National Guard mission in all the states, cover maintenance on the birds, continue to support the states during disasters, and be ready for mobilization should that be necessary. Everybody’s a winner except the USAF brass who wants to kill the bird so they can support their singular position.

  2. I cannot even fathom how awfully mismanaged and terribly unproductive this will turn out to be. The tanker fleet is in the shape it is in becasue of the very people these aircraft would go to. The USFS isn’t the US Military or a for profit enterprise. Bureaucratic paralysis here we come!

  3. Funny. Not the idea but will happen going forward. I looked at the govtrackus link that was provided and saw the following.
    Prognosis:This bill has a 1% chance of being enacted. The following factors were considered:
    The sponsor is a member of the minority party. (-2%)
    Just 3% of all Senate bills in 2009–2010 were enacted.
    It is early. Will the USFS skip the normal 5 or 6 studies to see if the plane can be modified for intended use etc. The gear or critical airframe might be in the way. Problems that can probably be solved and it will take at least a couple of years to see but wonder if this would give you pause if you were in the middle of spending millions for a “next Gen”. In a couple of years will someone in USFS fire aviation say we dont need those 146s (or other) anymore? Dont think it that will happen? Look around.

    1. In regards to your comments about the tank, think about it, mini c130 equals mini maffs tank. Remember the USFS thinks that a little ineffective nozzle attached to a pressurized tank that lays a week thin line so no retardant gets on or in the aircraft, because they care more about not cleaning then a effective line of retardant.

  4. Oh, and I would like to add that my comment was not meant to disparage the good people over at USFS that are on the ground and keep the wheels turning. We all appreciate your hard work.

  5. Problem: if they were/are parked after four years
    what and why.? My guess is they are maintenance intensive. The 146, from what I have read,
    has some issues there, too . Also being of foreign
    manufacture, parts may be a problem. I do think it wouldn’t be a bad aircraft, but you will need spare
    aircraft, and parts. This is not it..

    1. if they were/are parked after four years
      what and why.?

      Answer: Inter service turf war between Army that has the need and Air Force that has the role to fill the need. The mission is low priority for Air Force so they are cutting costs from low priority program to keep core mission programs running.

      It looks like there is enough international business that this plane and manufacturer will be around for a while.

      1. It is a shame that a USAF core mission is NOT to support our troops in the foxholes at the end of the logistics train, and deliver emergent and time sensitive cargo that ‘last combat mile’ efficiently. The USAF says “72 hours is good enough”. THAT is why Air National Guard was flying the mission. The USAF wouldn’t, and historically run from, the mission. The C-27Js were just pulled from Afghanistan where they were doing a superb job. The USAF position was that they were not needed, then they filled the tasking with contractors. The USAF has a credibility problem.

  6. Looks like 60% of the payload of the C-130J. And shorter and narrower. Will any existing MAFFS fit it? How long would it take to design and build a C-27 MAFFS? Are there other options for a tank?

    Good politics but may not be very effective in addressing the air tanker issue unless it opens up other air craft for transfer from DOD to Fed Land Management Agencies. I think the Fed Owned and contractor operated option it the way to go. Maybe this will be the first step down that road.

  7. This is an interesting move. These could make a good type 2 air tanker if the forest service doesn’t just leave them in the bone yard like they have done the the 65 P3s that the Navy gave them. As for the tanking system. I think the old aero union gravity feed constant flow tank would work. It worked on the C-130As. It should work on the C-27 with some modifications. I don’t think putting a using a mini MAFFS system is a good idea as we would be putting the eggs in one basket with a tanking system. That just my 2 cents on the matter.

    1. Matt then there is the problem of no MAFFS -type
      systems. Aero Union’s gone and their tank people gone too. If you could put Aero-Union back together
      then use those P-3s that are parked- much better aircraft. However the C-27 might make a great Smokejumper transport..

      1. I just spent yesterday watching the auction of pretty much all the support equipment that would have brought back Aero Union. That horse is dead and no matter who kicks it, its not coming back to life in my opinion.

  8. Gary…. DUDE… what is your beef or agenda?

    Stew on it a little…. read… and re-read the various opinions and ideas. Then come back with some educated ideas and discussion.

    So far, all I see is that you are completely anti Forest Service… but 100% in support of the troops.

  9. Wikipedia has a lot of info on this turkey:

    Ex: “In February 2012, Alenia warned that it would not provide support for C-27Js resold by the United States.[41] On 23 March 2012, the U.S. Air Force announced that it will cut the C-27J from its inventory in fiscal year 2013 after determining that its per-aircraft lifecycle costs are higher than those of C-130 aircraft performing the same combat resupply mission.[43][44]

  10. I’m not sure I would believe life cycle cost data for the C-27 vs the C-130. Studies tend to reflect policy needs and not just bottom lines.

    MAFFS should be the last choice. It does not provide a rapid jettison capability. Flying low and slow removes a great deal of safety margin. Inability to rapidly jettison cargo makes the problem worse. I expect the investigation into the last C-130 crash will find that rapid jettison capability might have enabled the crew to avoid ground impact.

    Bureaucratically speaking, if you want a government operated program to succeed, you do not bury it as an underfunded line item of a budget of 1 of 7 other divisions of the Department of Agriculture.

    Perhaps the Senators should have thought about putting the entire program under the Guard along with an expanded Title 32 mission definition. The Guard can operate under USC Title 32 and thus work around the constraints of the US Economy Act of 1932. Making it a Guard mission fixes many of the concerns associated with maintenance, parts, flight safety and training, and provides a much cleaner “management chain”.

  11. “specifically designed to operate in challenging conditions.” What does this mean?

  12. Gary is spot on with his comment. In addition I would like to add that is does not matter what type…. nor amount of aircraft the USFS may be gifted… their organizational structure and decentralized management can neither manage nor fund an internal aviation program of that size. The current regionally centric and fractious nature of the existing USFS aviation program is the fatal flaw. Lack of a centrally managed aviation program has been ….and continues to be…. the Achilles Heal of the organization. C-27s gifted to the USFS would be “pearls before swine”. DIscussing the merits, performance capabilities, limitations, etc of the C-27s for USFS aviation is a moot point.. Until the organization evolves/changes from its regional feudal fiefdoms into an effective centrally managed independent organization… coupled with the required fiscal resources to operate such a program….there is no chance of enhanced wildland firefighting mission capability or effectiveness….no matter what type aircraft is wheeled up to the castle gates..
    The C-27 program has been a debacle since it was hijacked from the Army Air National Guard by the US Air Force years ago..under the politically motivated guise of a “joint program” …
    “Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan”….and now the USG is moving to dump 14 orphans on the doorstep of an organization that can’t feed or clothe the orphans they have now… Pure politics…its a bad’s bad policy- and does nothing to address the real issues that impeed the moderization and enhancement of aerial wildland firefighting capabilities. This is not a bash on USFS…its just the reality of the situation… Orphans need to go to a good stable home….that is not the USFS aviation program.

  13. Maybe the fine folks at the US Postal Service, Medicare, Social Security, etc. can show them how to run the program efficiently and on budget, but I digress. Besides, I thought the Coast Guard was making a push for those airframes.

  14. I just don’t see the C-27s going to the Forest Service Interior or any land management agency. The simple reason is as stated by others is they are incapable of managing a fleet of this size and complexity and it would get very,very expensive. Granted USFS has a small fleet of fixed wing aircraft that serve some of it’s programs well. In the end it’s a forestry agency not a aviation business. I have seen Interior and USFS put people into the managment and operational end of aviation who have very little experience in it and create major problems.

  15. “the conclusion that the 55-year experiment of contractor-owned, contractor-operated air tankers should come to an end”
    … as dysfunctional as the USFS relationship with their VLAT fleet seems to be, a statement like the one above might not be correct Bill. Look at other agencies using contractor owned/operated/piloted platforms such as Con-Air in BC, AB (the canadian one), YK and AK. Not saying there is a golden solution here but there are certainly success stories to be told.

    1. The problem is…US contractors are not welcomed. Look at WHOSE regs the Convairs are flying under. They are exempt from regulations US contractors must operate under, AU gets the shaft. Its all part of an agenda and the USA must pay for its sins. Ask the POTUS. Meanwhile, the remaining, surviving experienced tanker pilots and crews arent getting any younger.

      1. Former H&P you got it. Oregon has Butler
        Under contract for their DC-7’s and like American contractors in Canada, they are locked out of Fed work because of their
        “Old ” airplanes. Ye they are the only flying
        3000 gal. tankers. The DC-7’s were all built in the 1957-58 period. Meaning they are years newer than the Newest P-2 or Convair 580.
        With less overall time on the airframe by the way.

    2. Just because a company makes a lot of money on the backs of taxpayers doesn’t automatically constitute success. When it comes to wildfire success should be measured in other ways such as efficiency.

  16. Before anyone get excited about this project…

    Where is the RAND study?

    What kind of parts support is the LMA’s or future GOCO’s going to get from Alenia consortium folks in Italy?

    Are current tanking systems “gonna” fit this aircraft?

    Just because thebill has been introduced…how long is it going to take to pass?

    After that…How long is it really going to take the IATB to run their “studies” for coverage levels? 2 years? Should be shorter due to the age of the airframe.

    Get excited now……..there are some unfortunate delays coming ahead both in the Beltway and with the “leadership at USFS – FAM….even before this C27 project even becomes reality.

    Bet on that!

  17. Didn’t we go through this thirty years ago with the C-130’s? Is this an American built airplane? Why is the military trying to unload this inventory? Does this proposal start putting on the brakes for current and future air tanker operators to continue building their fleet? When a man gives you a free horse that is when the expense and problems begin.

  18. Johnny Coldwater- I was thinking the C-130 fiasco myself.
    There could be quicker solution-The P-3 (Aero Union’s TANKED P-3’s for instance,) and the Parked P-3’s that
    Matt J . referred to above, are/were dedicated to the program .
    But, no, we don’t want to do anything that makes sense…
    Also there may be a structural issue preventing the C-27
    from being tanked like a C-130A. So we have to do
    a Mini-MAFFS which may be problematical…

  19. This has been very enlightening. The US Air Force cancellation of a program may not mean there are chronic problems with a weapon system. In the case of small fleets, the Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP) requirements must be fulfilled regardless of fleet size. The goal of this program is to provide a framework that allows for safe and efficient operation of aircraft to the original Design Service Objective (DSO) and beyond provided the usage has been tracked and maintenance findings support continued operation. The USAF has extended operational capability of several aircraft, A-10, T-38, F-16 and is currently evaluating capability of others. Activities in this regard can be found in proceedings from the yearly USAF ASIP Conference. Although this integrity management philosophy is involved, it does not need to be expensive. There are many factors influencing the cost of aircraft sustainment but there are success stories within the USAF where organic capability has been able to provide significant cost savings back to the taxpayer by employing state of the art methods allowing validated increases in capability.

    It would be fantastic if a new airframe could be provided to firefighters. There is no reason tanker crews should be lost due to loss of structural or mechanical system integrity. The Air Force has successfully utilized the Damage Tolerance Philosophy for airframe management since 1975 and the FAA followed in 1978 for management of commercial aircraft. Using the flight loads data recorder program requirements from MIL STD 1530 and the associated analysis methods already adopted by the USFS provides the fundamental capability to schedule maintenance and ensure safe operation.

    Politics are going to be challenging at the national level, within the specific organizations and in developing alliances between organizations. Successful relationships, however, can be realized. For example, the USFS has been interacting with engineering resources within the Air Force for several years in an effort to build their internal capability leveraging lessons learned in both communities. Communication at the working level forms the basis for successful beginning of aircraft health management.

    Whether the C-27 is the answer or not, successful fleet management is certainly possible. One avenue is through cooperative agreements between the USAF Mature and Proven Aircraft (MAPA) organization and the Forest Service and BLM. Synergistic use of existing engineering and technical resources can provide an economical solution.

    1. Thats a bold statement, so what your saying is because the c27 is somewhat new it will never incur a structural failure or system failure resulting in a lose of life? You sound like the two guys I see on TV that want to run this country, which neither will be receiving my vote.

      1. I must not have been clear in my description. I did not intend for my comment to be interpreted as stating that a newer aircraft would never incur structural failure. My point was that through data collection and characterization of the aircraft usage, maintenance can be scheduled to find damage before it becomes critical. This management philosophy requires detailed understanding of crack growth, residual strength and non-destructive inspection critical locations on the aircraft. The connection to newer aircraft is that you have fewer assumptions to make regarding the configuration and state of integrity when the mission changes.

        The difference between what I describe and the comments made by the two candidates is that this process has maintained flight safety for millions of training and combat hours flown by military jets from transports to attack aircraft not to mention the millions of seat miles flown by the flying public.

        If the preferred method of modernizing the air attack fleet involves providing these aircraft to the private sector, that is fine too. When these aircraft are flown in the air attack mission for the USFS, BLM, etc. they are considered outside the jurisdiction of the FAA. Therefore, the responsibility for assuring airworthiness falls to the operating government agency. This was the lesson learned following the accidents nearly 10 years ago that precipitated the move within the USFS to develop an airworthiness plan. Therefore, whether the USFS and AF team to perform this sustainment model or it is performed by the private sector doesn’t matter. My point was simply that there can be synergistic relationships that can benefit from existing infrastructures.

  20. Mr. Mark Thomsen is this a great dissertation. Thanks for sharing this very important info. What does it mean to an already confused Federal air program? Are there any DC-10 Extenders headed to D/M for reutilization? A careful study of each step you have brought forward between goverment agencies places the time line for a prototype fixed wing air tanker outside private ventures at about the year 2060. This is based on previous development of the air tanker business starting in 1954, Operation FireStop.

  21. What this means is that the confusion within the federal air program, if you are referring to the BLM and USFS, can be clarified by using existing, safe and effectively managed aircraft fleets as a model and move in that direction. Whether you pick damage tolerance (the USAF and FAA for commercial aircraft) or safe life (US Navy) methodology, safe management can be achieved.

    Because there is already an existing infrastructure to support use of these aircraft, the timeline you mention is not correct. The OV-10 Broncos were retired in the early 90s and CAL Fire has been managing them for fire operations for at least the last 10 years. The USAF has provided periodic support of these aircraft through their Mature and Proven Aircraft (MAPA)directorate but the bulk of that effort was handled by CAL Fire and their support contractors. In discussions I had today with the MAPA Engineering Chief on this issue, support of the C-27 could be provided if asked as it has for both domestic and foreign operation of other retired Air Force assets.

    The timeline for standing up an operation would likely involve 3-5 years to allow development and testing of a viable tanking system and then budgeting for fielding and maintenance. It would not mean fielding in 2060.

    As I mentioned in my previous response, transferring these aircraft to a private sector operator for management is certainly an option. I was simply presenting a high level framework to allow government agencies to work together which we have been doing for the past 7 + years.

    Moving to a purpose built aircraft would be ideal but Northrop Grumman and Boeing are hesitant to enter this arena due in part to a percieved limited market. Without the ability to selll at least 200 aircraft, they see the program as too risky. Lockheed has the C-130 and sees no reason to further explore aircraft development for such a purpose.

    Having spent several years in my twenties watching tankers drop on fires I was assigned to as an engine slug and now 20+ years as a fatigue and fracture engineering practioner in commercial and military aircraft, my perspective is different. I am not saying it is right just different.

    As for the super tankers like the DC-10, 747 and the like, I don’t think they are versatile enough to address a wide range of fire scenarios. Firefighting in the Great Basin, some locations in southern California, Oregon, southwestern Idaho, Airzona, Utah, New Mexico and eastern Montana offers conditions that are not well suited to aircraft of this size. Typically, the 100′ wingspan and the ability to fly below 130 knots provides Incident Commanders assets that can really be effective.

  22. You might want to recheck your facts Mark, the USFS or for that matter the BLM does not oversee or hand out FAA airworthiness certificates nor do they issue 145 repair station certificates or STC certificates for converting aircraft. The FAA does that,10 years ago the company your talking about that had those unfortunate incidents most likely had a FAA approved 145 cert a FAA approved 137 cert and last but not least were probably visited by their FAA POI on a regular basis. These private operators at least the one I worked for maintained their aircraft to both FAA and Navy standards. Im curious Mark you seem to know a awful lot on this subject what are the USFS and BLM maintenance and flight standards ten years ago or today? And for your statistic with millions of miles of public seat flight hours, how do you think that stat would look if that airplane had to drop to a hundred feet off the ground and release a couple of people every now and then between point A and B. Your statement was clear and your point not well received at least by me sir.

  23. You are right, the USFS does not issue certificates but I didn’t say they did. They do have a plan for their airworthiness oversight of aircraft operated in their behalf. A similar process exists within the USAF and is currently evolving into a system of quasi-independence.

    The USAF fleet operates outside the jurisdiction of the FAA with the exception of a few commercial derivative aircraft. What I mean by this is that the FAA does not oversee maintenance, airworthiness, repair stations, mechanic certification, or type certification for those aircraft that do not have a commercial equivalent. Sometimes I wish they did.

    It is my understanding in discussions with the USFS and the NTSB personnel that the “public use” category has unique requirements placed on the using organization when the aircraft are involved in public use activities. I believe this is covered in this link .

    As for the management of structural integrity and the reference to millions of military aircraft hours flown safely along with seat miles flown, I will agree to disagree. Stresses developed during tanker drops in a typical tanker result in a flight loads spectrum. The same stress development scenario is true during a strafing run for an A-10 or those developed as a result of maneuver, gust, and ground-air-ground cycle for a commercial transport. The damage tolerance analysis using this spectrum, the material properties of the alloys used in construction along with the specific geometry can yield predictions of cracking behavior. This information is critical in scheduling maintenance actions. The difference between an air tanker, an A-10, or a 737 from an engineering analysis point of view is the mission and the expected service objective used in initial design.

    I am curious what specific structural integrity management system you would propose?

    1. The same one Lockheed did for the P3 slep they statically placed one on a test platform then simulated stresses on it to find how out many hours the airframe was good for before it encountered structural failure. I believe it was around 18,000 hours a little crack in the center wing box around station 57 developed. That simulation pretty much covered every major weakness in the airframe with a inspection program and time interval to replace major structural airframe components, such as ring fittings, wing planks ect…. I guess that wasn’t good enough for the USFS. The P3 had twenty plus years of service in fire and never encountered any structural deficiency different from a Navy P3. As for your different role theory let me shed some light on that, what we do isn’t anything special or different than some guy in a cessna with a bag of flower, Its pattern work plain and simple instead of a runway to overfly its usually mountains and if a problem arrises here comes the danger part there is little room for error everyone who flys a tanker accepts that risk its part of the job, yeah sometimes it gets a little bumpy from the thermals or a little windy so what your typical commercial airliner takes a beating, military air craft takes a beating, the only difference I see is who’s running it, the USFS would do a great job running the military or a airline? Next time you see one of your FS buddies ask them why they did away with their own P3 program. Heres the answer, they don’t know what they are doing or how to do it.

  24. The testing you refer to is performed to validate the analysis used to manage the fleet. Either the safe life or damage tolerance philosophy is still employed. The test article is considered a baseline and since each aircraft has its own usage and repair history, the differences between the test article and the individual aircraft are handled via analysis. These test programs are very expensive. The USAF has invested as little as about $15M for small trainer aircraft to as much as over $150M for large jets in life evaluation testing in the recent past. Therefore, the reliance on analysis validated by test is critical.

    For example, this link provides a high level description of one recent USAF life extension program I was involved in.

    Another challenge facing the P3 as well as many legacy aircraft is the ability to sustain them through part replacements you mention. One particular challenge is that there are operators outside the US Navy who rely on the fact that the US Navy still has a need to support the P3. Once the P8 is completely online and the Navy gets out of the P3 business, supportability will become a larger challenge. This reduces parts availability for some major components to whatever happens to be stored at Davis Monthan or squirreled away somewhere else that can be shown airworthy.

    The alternative is to regenerate major compoenent production capability to support a legacy system. The USAF has done this too on the T-38 and A-10. The USFS, to their credit, explored this option by spending a day reviewing lessons learned and programmatic challenges with the A-10 program office and their new wing program. Some elements of the A-10 wing program were presented this past spring at the 53rd Structures, Structural Dynamics, and Materials and Co-located Conferences by one of my colleagues. The USFS has worked very hard in the past several years to improve flight safety from a technically sound management point of view. We all have obstacles to navigate in order to get our jobs done and it can be very frustrating.

    One of my original points was that the USAF has an infrastructure to acquire and sustain aircraft. Until recently, much of this infrastructure relied on engineering oversight of support contractors. In the case of legacy weapon systems that may no longer be in production, this becomes much more challenging. Therefore, an organic sustainment engineering capability has been developed that has proven successful in providing the critical support necessary to extend operations of aircraft beyond their design goals. The development of this capability is discussed in this link.

    This infrastructure can be leveraged to help in the firefighting arena. It is recognized that differences in missions exist but the fundamentals of metal fatigue apply across all metallic aircraft.

    Finally, the issue of data rights enters into the equation. Depending on what data is available and who owns that data can become a show stopper unless there is a significant amount of funding available.

  25. Why would the FS attend a structural conference, did they promote someone from a forest outlook tower in bfe and gave them the title of chief of fs organic aircraft structural cop. They don’t own or work on or maintain Tankers, if you said the contractors that own and maintain tankers attended the conference that would make sense. Also please explain how the Fs has improved aviation safety over the past several years, It still seems same as the first day I started I guess I missed the safety conference. As for sustainability of p3 parts you have to be kidding you actually think Lockheed won’t support parts when there are how many other countries operating them, I guess thats why they offer a rewing kit because once the US Navy retires the last one then Customs, Canada, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand they might as well send them to the bottom of the ocean. Mark its pretty simple private industry owned and operated Tankers, preferably P3s but whatever, the contractor Fs blm state who ever, they need to hire AVIATION PEOPLE with a real life aviation backgrounds and be allowed to sanely run the FS aviation department. I would love to see the FS employee handbook and the section labeled chain of command, I bet its a cluster F maze of titles and names that will point you in the wrong direction. The military is not the answer, I am great full for our military and what they do, but they need to focus on bombing other countries not wild land fire.

  26. I will try to address your comments.

    The FS has hired maintenance and engineering resources in the last 10 years to begin the process of developing contractual requirements to the contractor base providing aircraft. These folks are not fire lookout employees, they were pulled from outside the FS with expertise in airframe and powerplant maintenance, aircraft depot engineering, parts procurement, etc. They are based out of Boise.

    The FS has some of their own aircraft they must manage as well so the maintenance and engineering personnel have a wide variety of aircraft types to consider. They do participate in conferences specifically the Aircraft Airworthiness and Sustainment Conference. They have made presentations and are active in discussions with others across government and private sectors regarding the challenges of maintaining aging aircraft.

    There was a training program offered through the University of California-Davis Extension that provided Aircraft Health Management training among other topics to mostly FS employees. This course was 4 days and included presentations from academia, USAF, NTSB, and others. It was offered for 6 or 7 years and hit approximately 27 FS employees per year. We also had BLM, contract operator and an occasional state employee attending the course so the total numbers per year were in the range of 30-32. Last year, the course fell victim to the same shrinking budgets the rest of the government.

    I am not kidding about parts for the P3. Lockheed and other major airframers need to see a sound profit stream before they set up production. If all the operators from outside the USN could muster about 200 wing buys, they might be interested. Otherwise it is simply not something they are likely to entertain. This would be over a $2B combined order. My number assumes you replace the entire wing as an assembly and that it will be more expensive than a shorter, similarly constructed, less complex (no engine attachment) wing I am most familiar with and know the costs of. Regenerating production for a new wing is a significant effort.

    If you want to replace the lower wing planks, that will be a costly endeavor too. If I recall the arrangement in the P3 correctly, they are extruded with integral stiffeners. Maybe you can clarify this for me. Simply getting an extrusion house to produce these would be a costly endeavor and there needs to be a lot of engineering and tooling put in place to support such a replacement program. Maybe it exists and can be replicated but someone needs to go find this capability for the benefit of all the non-Navy users. This might be a good business opportunity if someone has the capital to set it up and they can get the data rights. Avenger Aviation was doing a lot of work in this direction but I am not sure what their current status is. It might be worth a call to see if they have made progress toward obtaining big-bone parts like the lower wing covers.

    If you would rather machine the lower wing covers than extrude them, you would open a new set of challenges related to qualification and validation. Although it might be possible, it may not be economical. I don’t know if this option has been explored but it is a less timely option than extruded panel replacement because of all the analysis and testing required.

    I have had discussions with Boeing and Northrop-Grumman regarding developing support for the tanker fleet and neither are interested due to the size of the market. I explained that there are other operators around the world and they were still not interested due to the risk they would incur and the unknown status regarding data rights. They are simply not going to respond to a very limited market. I would be thrilled if you could convince them otherwise.

    I agree with your statement that the land management organizations need to hire aviation people. As I mentioned above, the FS has. I can’t speak for the BLM because I have not seen them at conferences. My FS contacts say the BLM has their own technical staff, I just can’t comment. I have seen former contract operators at conferences, however, and know they were trying.

    It took many years for the situation to get a bad as you describe and it will take time to turn it around. The engineering and sustainment expertise within the USAF, Army, or Navy could be beneficial but it would take a new paradigm to allow these organizations to provide support. I am not advocating the military take over firefighting, but I am advocating that they provide assistance in the structural integrity management of air attack resources.

  27. Good for the USFS for hiring MX and test engineering “resources.”

    With that understanding… in the world did a fleet of P3’s get grounded after the Bastrop and Abilene fires?

    Based on 10 yrs of their “handpicked experience yes men” OR a real independent contractor with NO ties and NO relationship to the USFS or any LMA’s?

    Really, if there are 65 more P3 airframes in the Boneyard and whatever is left from the Aero Union mission…

    Prove to all of us here….with data. that ALLLL of those P3’s failed all in one summer.

    I would appreciate that. Mr Thomsen. It’s great you can explain the engineering side to us here by the Mil Spec standards and how the USFS has been hiring these “resources.”

    Problem is here, Mr Thomsen, is that there are plenty of us pilots and mechanics out here that FAIL to BELIEVE that one series of aircraft can fail with alll these knowledgeble “experts” YET, we are still wondering and wandering around here…..what really goes on in the heads of those Beltway USFS types and contract types who have eliminated TWO operators, if not more through ther selective use of SMS, safety, CRM, and what ever else “eioeieoo” that can justify the actions of the last10+ yrs, 6+ studies that really have got us no further ahead than yersterday.

    AND now we are clamoring about a ship that the USAF really did not “like” and now we got a bill sponsored by Sen McCain and some others….getting on the wagon for the free bill ‘cuz it’s out in the desert and by God, the USFS NEEDS this to fight fire.

    Same stuff, different day. At the end of the day, whether you get a ” free and reduced lunch” aircraft or not……You still have an agency that can claim some sort of prowess in aviation and yet can not come to terms with itself in decisionmaking and still tell us how great they are in aspects in aviation.

    If not for the US private contractors out there….the mission of LMA’s in the firefighting biz would not have all the successes out there. USFS does not own or operate the largest firefighting fleet of fixed wing or rotary wing…….. they merely “manage” and contract for services from these FINE operators.

    When the LMA’s finally own up to the fact that they merely the mission control and not necessarily , operational control and are not doing the MX and flying of the missions and their function is to “provide safe and reliable transporation for firefighting” then many of could believe in th current system….eliminating previous safe operators for jets and C27J’s is pretty short sighted to say the least

    Remember that………

  28. First a P3 wing machined planks and if I had about 18mil Lockheed would send me a few boxes with a brand new set of wings and vertical and horizontal stabs, might have to wait a couple months to a year but they would arrive since they have been producing this kit since 2009 for P3 operators and the us navy, Not Kidding. Those FS maintenance personal that your talking about are probably the same ones that scraped their fleet of DC3 turbines probably the safest aircraft ever produced because when it comes to sane aviation thinking they took the easy way out and just didn’t want to find a solution to fix there problem because there too lazy. As for Avenger Aero Union Neptune and others hired this company to essentially put together a maintenance program in regards to aging aircraft and structural engineering support, is what I gathered in discussions about Avenger, the company is made up of former Lockheed engineers. Why don’t you call them up and ask them what the difference in hourly cost would be between a 15000 airframe hour P3 and a 15000 airframe hour P3 with new wings, not including the price tag for the wings. Plus the time in the hanger would be cut by at least 75% in the winter because these new wings are made with new alloying techniques and metals thats right up your alley and would require less maintenance . Any smart aviation minded person would look at this and say, safe proven reliable airframe with support from the manufacture four engines effective tank system and god knows how many are just sitting in the desert not doing anything the FS even knew that, thats why they tried it themselves but failed because they don’t know aviation. They think throwing a crap load of money at something will produce the outcome they want. All it produced was a chopped up multi million dollar airframe, your tax dollars at work thanks FS. And finally as screwed up as the FS is in regards to there tanker program the last thing they need is to involve the military in maintaining them, how long do you think it would take a FS c130 to go through a military Depo especially one that has been used soley for fire fighting. Years would go by before they got it back, I know this because I use to work at one. As for former contract operators were there and you knew they were trying? trying what? I don’t think you think too highly of private industry, and as a wrench I don’t think to highly of engineers at least the ones that aren’t hands on who create things that don’t initially work, but it looked great on my computer. I agree with what Leo says also.

  29. Leo and Richard,
    I didn’t have anything to do with the decision impacting the use of P3s in firefighting. I am pleased to hear you already have access to new wings and structure that could restore the fleet to operational status. This saves you a large amount of time and the costs are known not estimated. Now it is simply a matter of finding operators and/or investors that are willing to invest $18M per aircraft for the parts, assemble the mechanics to perform the work, and demonstrate that the P3 is a viable solution. But is this an economically viable solution?

    You make the statements, “They think throwing a crap load of money at something will produce the outcome they want. All it produced was a chopped up multi million dollar airframe, your tax dollars at work thanks FS.” Can you clarify what you mean? You advocate $18M in parts to fix up a P3 so what are you disagreeing with?

    … My point with the former operators and their participation in conferences was that they were actively working to keep their air crews safe. From what I saw, they had requirements without adequate funding to address them.

    … I believe the federal agencies are doing what they can within the constraints imposed on them.

    … My original motivation to comment was through enthusiasm that maybe an avenue to low time airframes might finally be on the table. The challenges could be overcome through perseverance and improvements in flight safety could be realized. The expectation is that the knowledge within the private sector could be effectively brought to bear to develop an effective tanking system as they have done before.

    … The private sector is unlikely to take the financial risk to do this without sweeping changes in funding … change is taking place and we may need to find a way to make it work safely regardless of our frustrations.

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