The future Tanker 134 on the move

These are photos of an air tanker that you don’t see every day. The C-130Q that Coulson recently acquired, was being moved from Tucson to another facility in Mesa, Arizona where it will be transformed into Coulson’s fourth C-130 air tanker, Tanker #134. Obviously it needs a little work.

It is the second C-130Q that they have acquired. The first was Tanker 131 that entered service about four years ago. The company also has two L-382G’s, which is the civilian version of the C-130.

Britt Coulson, who sent us these pictures, said they expect to have the conversion complete by the end of this summer.

air tanker 134 C-130Q

The photo below shows the aircraft before it was dismantled.

Coulson's L-130Q
Coulson’s C-130Q which will become Tanker 134 later this year.

Operator of illegal drone at Pinal Fire cited

This drone intrusion seriously compromised active helicopter operations at the Helibase and prevented an incident helicopter from returning from its mission until the intrusion was cleared.

Above: a P2V air tanker drops on the northern end of the Pinal Fire south of Globe, Arizona on May 24, 2017. Inciweb photo.

Drones operating illegally at the Pinal Fire south of Globe, Arizona have interfered with aviation operations four times since the fire started. One of those intrusions resulted in the drone being confiscated and the operator cited. Below is the text of a Rapid Lesson Sharing document about the incident, distributed by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.

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“On May 20 at approximately 1805, an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)—or drone—was spotted 60 yards from the Pinal Fire Helibase at approximately 50 feet above ground level.

The UAS was flying in the designated flight path of this incident’s helicopters where they were making their descents to land at the Pinal Fire Helibase, located within the city limits of Globe, Arizona. The UAS was white in color and approximately two feet in diameter.

Upon seeing the UAS, Helibase personnel contacted Helicopter 0TA, an incident helicopter that was flying a mission over the fire, to inform the pilot of the UAS intrusion into the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) and the hazard associated with the UAS being in the area.

The helicopter was asked to not come back to the Helibase until fire personnel were sure that the UAS was clear of the area. The Helibase Manager immediately called the Air Operations Branch Director (AOBD) to inform him of the UAS intrusion. The AOBD, in turn, contacted incident Law Enforcement—who responded immediately to the Helibase.

Helitack personnel were able to track the UAS while it was in flight. They were proactive in tracking the UAS and following its flight path. They observed the aircraft descend and land at a nearby residence in the vicinity of the Pinal Fire Incident Command Post.

UAS (Drone) Operator Located and Cited

The LEO arrived at the Helibase. He was informed of the location where the UAS descended and landed. The LEO had enough information to go make contact with the UAS operator and was able to confiscate the UAS and cite the individual.

This UAS intrusion within the TFR posed a serious safety concern for incident pilots and fire personnel involved in helicopter aviation missions on the Pinal Fire. The UAS intrusion impeded the operations of the Helibase and—should a collision occur—posed a serious hazard.

Quick and decisive action by the Pinal Fire Helibase Manager, incident Helibase Crewmembers, and local Law Enforcement personnel brought this intrusion incident to a quick and decisive resolution.

LESSONS

  • Establish appropriate TFRs early in the incident and ensure that the incident Helibase is included in the polygon.
  • All fire personnel should stay alert to the possibility of UAS intrusions, particularly when operations are in or near an urban setting.
  • If a UAS is sighted within a fire’s theater of operations, ensure that the intrusion is communicated to all incident personnel.
  • If a UAS intrusion should occur, ensure that incident personnel are diligent and persistent in documenting information relative to the intrusion, including: UAS description, direction of flight, and—if possible—determining the originating location of the UAS for LEO follow-up.
  • Provide UAS cautionary messaging as part of the incident narrative summary in INCIWEB.”

Photos of Coulson’s 737-300 air tanker

The company expects to have the conversion complete by the end of this year.

On May 21 we told you about Coulson Aviation branching out into a new line of air tankers to add to their three C-130s and a fourth C-130 that is being converted now. The company has purchased six 737-300’s from Southwest Airlines and intends to convert at least some of them into air tankers.

The first conversion has started, with a freshly painted 737 rolling out of the paint shop in Spokane today.

The next step is to add a gravity-based tank which will have the same technology used on their C-130’s.

Coulson 737 air tanker

The air tanker is being designed as a multi-use aircraft with the ability to haul passengers. Britt Coulson said, “With a full retardant load and 4.5 hours of fuel we are so far under max gross weight we are going to leave the full interior and galleys in even when just in airtanker mode.”

Coulson 737 air tanker

 

The photos were provided by Coulson Aviation.

Neptune’s newest air tanker begins service

Above: File photo of Neptune’s eighth BAe-146 arriving for the first time at Missoula, September 29, 2016. Photo by Bill Moss.

We first wrote about the aircraft that was to become Tanker 15 when it arrived at Missoula in October of last year. It began its Mandatory Availability Period today.

Colorado county approves first-of-its-kind deal with Global SuperTanker Services

Above: 747 Supertanker in Chile, January 26, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A Colorado county on Tuesday approved a deal that sets the stage for a response from the largest firefighting aircraft in the world if and when major wildfires flare up near Denver, marking the culmination of a first-of-its-kind contract.

Commissioners in Douglas County on Tuesday approved the one-year, $200,000 deal with Global SuperTanker Services LLC that gives the county access to the mammoth Boeing 747-400 aircraft that can drop roughly 20,000 gallons of water or retardant — nearly double the capacity of its closest rival, the DC-10.

The deal is unique in that it gives the 800-square-mile county situated between Denver and Colorado Springs exclusive access to the SuperTanker.

“Douglas County is establishing a model for wildland fire-prone municipalities to follow,” Bob Soleberg, senior vice president and program manager for Global SuperTanker, said in a statement Tuesday night to Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation. “Their planning is comprehensive and designed to protect lives, property and the natural resources.”

The county’s office of emergency management requested approval of the deal, citing “ongoing dry conditions in and around Douglas County and coupled with the limited air resources in the region for the purpose of wildland fire suppression,” according to county documents proposing the contract.

drop Tanker 944 747-400
The first drop from Tanker 944, the 747-400 operated by Global Supertanker.
The Denver Post first reported elements of the proposed contract on Monday.

Director of Emergency Management Tim Johnson told the newspaper the move was part of a multi-pronged effort ensuring adequate air power existed when fires ignited. From The Post: 

Douglas County has firefighting contracts with Castle Rock-based Rampart Helicopter Service, Broomfield-based HeliQwest, Loveland-based Trans Aero Ltd., and 10 Tanker Air Carrier, which uses DC-10s carrying more than 11,000-gallons capacity on board. It also has access to state and federal firefighting air resources.

“We need redundancies in our abilities during fire season because the resources may not always be available — we want to be able to go down a list,” Johnson said. “We’re leaning forward in terms of preparedness.”

Specific terms and conditions of the contract are available beginning on page 382 of this county commissioners’ board meeting packet, available here.

Avid readers of this website might remember that the SuperTanker made headlines earlier this year when it responded to Chile. Fire Aviation’s own Bill Gabbert embedded with that crew for more than a week and chronicled the trip online.

747 SuperTanker
Local firefighters keep portable tanks full of water that will be used to refill the 747 SuperTanker. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Coulson to convert 737’s into air tankers

Coulson Aviation is adding not only additional air tankers to their fleet, but is branching out into a different model of aircraft. The company has purchased six 737-300’s and intends to convert them into 4,000-gallon “Fireliner” air tankers. Britt Coulson said they saw an opportunity when Southwest Airlines made a decision to replace their 737-300’s with the new 737-Max. Since the FAA only allows Southwest pilots to fly two of the 737’s with the same rating, the airline opted to sell the 737-300’s even though they have a relatively low number of hours in the sky.

The first conversion has started, with a freshly painted 737 scheduled to roll out of the paint shop in Spokane on May 22, 2017. The next step is to add the gravity-based tanks which will have the same technology used on their C-130’s.

The air tanker is being designed as a multi-use aircraft with the ability to haul passengers. Mr. Coulson said, “With a full retardant load and 4.5 hours of fuel we are so far under max gross weight we are going to leave the full interior and galleys in even when just in airtanker mode.”

The company likes the three C-130’s that they have already converted to air tankers, but finding additional C-130’s for the civilian market is very difficult.

A 737 will be able to use some air tanker bases that larger aircraft, like the C-130, can’t, with a wingspan that is about 38 feet shorter.

Mr. Coulson said they expect to begin installing the retardant system in June with a completion date of December of this year. When that is complete they will start on another. The first conversion will be done by Coulson Aircrane Canada.

More photos of the aircraft.

Air resources assisting crews working San Diego-area Gate Fire

Air resources continued to play a major role in containing the Gate Fire burning in San Diego County since Saturday.

The fire grew to 1,500 acres by Sunday morning, though crews made progress overnight, aided by cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels, Cal Fire reported. No structures have been damaged, and no injuries were reported.

Five airtankers and three helicopters were making drops on fire at one point Saturday, said Cal Fire Capt. Isaac Sanchez, according to the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper. Fire crews from several agencies were helping on the ground.

Evacuation orders lasted into Sunday.

Colorado studying SEAT-dropped water enhancer effectiveness during 2017 wildfire season

Above: State-contracted SEAT T-831 drops sunset orange FireIce HVO-F®. Courtesy photo.

Efforts are underway in Colorado to better evaluate how water enhancers delivered from a single engine air tanker can be more effective than retardants in fighting wildfires.

Colorado historically has only loaded long-term retardant into SEATs. These chemical concentrates are mixed with water and alter fuels so they do not support combustion. Retardant is dropped adjacent to — or ahead of — the fire to create a chemically induced fire break at its perimeter.

Molecular bonds from water enhancers, however, slow evaporation by creating a thermal protective coating. SEAT drops of water enhancers are mainly used in direct attack to slow or halt the fire’s rate of spread long enough for ground resources to access the fireline and mop up or supplement the knockdown process.

These gels have generally been limited in use in recent years, and field testing has been minimal. Information about water enhancers’ availability, use and effectiveness is sparse at best.

The study, lasting throughout the 2017 wildfire season in Colorado, has the following objectives, according to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control:  

  1. Observe and evaluate drops of water enhancers on wildfires and record information about 1) whether the water enhancer stopped or slowed the forward advance of the fire; 2)whether the water enhancer reduced fire intensity to a sufficient level for ground crews to manage the fire; and 3) whether the water enhancer persists on the surface fuels long enough to prevent hotspots from redeveloping or the fire from burning through the drop.
  2. Determine whether water enhancers delivered from a SEAT are effective on wildfires in Colorado. Effectiveness will be viewed in terms of how effective the products were in achieving the desired suppression objectives.
  3. Collect as much data as possible regarding the effectiveness of water enhancers used during initial attack and on emerging fires.
  4. Share lessons learned from the evaluations with interested parties, including cooperators and researchers.
  5. Test and evaluate newly developed ground-based mixing/batching equipment to assess the efficiency of the mixing and loading processes and the ability of the equipment to reduce response times.

“SEATs loaded with water enhancers will respond to fires on State and private land, as well as to fires under the jurisdiction of BLM, the National Park Service, and USFS. Mixing will be at the recommended ratios in the USFS Qualified Products List for each product on all drops. For the first load on each fire, State and Federally contracted SEATs will respond to the incident with water enhancer unless the ordering unit clearly specifies the need for LTR instead.

Decisions regarding where, when and how to apply a particular aerial retardant or suppressant are typically under the discretion of the Incident Commander, so if at any time the Incident Commander or the Air Tactical Group Supervisor feels that the enhancers are not performing as desired, the Incident Commander can immediately order that the SEATs be loaded with retardant.

The three water enhancers being evaluated in the study are: FireIce HVO-F, BlazeTamer 380, and Thermo-Gel 200L — each is approved by the U.S. Forest Service for use in SEATs.

The Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, with support from the Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Aviation Unit and the Bureau of Land Management, is conducting the study.

After weighing input from researchers and firefighters, investigators will compile a preliminary and final report about the project’s findings.