Retardant tank for the C-27J. And, is the Air Force buying more C-27s?

Retardant tank for Coulson C-130Q
Retardant tank, freshly painted, for Coulson Aviation’s C-130Q. Coulson photo

Coulson’s tank for their C-130Q

Coulson Aviation is putting the finishing touches on the 3,500-gallon retardant tank for their C-130Q, and they expect to roll it into the aircraft soon. Yes, it has wheels. Britt Coulson told Wildfire Today that they can install or remove it within 30 minutes. With or without the tank the air tanker can be pressurized. Without the tank, the C-130Q could be used for hauling cargo, or even smokejumpers, I suppose, if it were approved as a jumper platform.

Last week we posted an article, with photos, about the work the company is performing on the aircraft in a hangar in San Bernardino, California.

According to Mr. Coulson, the company bought from Aero Union “all the rights, engineering, and the drawings. We re-drew everything in Solidworks and re-designed the tank then manufactured it.” They are working with the USFS on the requirements for tests that involve dropping retardant into a grid of cups on the ground.

Use a similar tank for the C-27J?

Mr. Coulson said they are very interested in building tanks for the C-27J (an aircraft that the USFS may inherit from the Air Force) based on the same design, but scaled down to hold less retardant. He said the company responded to the U.S. Forest Service’s Request for Information posted in August to provide tanks for the aircraft, but the agency has not solicited for actual contract proposals yet. He believes the C-27J could carry somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 gallons in an internal gravity-fed tank. Not all knowledgeable aviation folks we have talked with are optimistic that it could carry that much of a load. We have heard 1,800 gallons mentioned, and my own estimate is 1,800 to 2,300, but I am no expert.

(UPDATE, May 20, 2013: It was pointed out to us that converting the military version of the C-27J into a civilian air tanker would result in thousands of pounds of hardware being removed, perhaps with 2,000 to 4,000 pounds of weight savings. This could increase the retardant capacity by as much as 450 gallons, raising our estimate of the tank size to 2,000 to 2,650 gallons. This assumes an internal, gravity-fed tank system. A pressurized design, like the military MAFFS, would have a much lower capacity, requiring tanks for compressed air, additional valves and piping, and an air compressor.)

The Air Force has decided they don’t want any of their five-year-old C-27Js. You have to wonder why an agency would want to give away hundreds of millions of dollars worth of almost-new aircraft.

Tom Harbour, the U.S. Forest Service National Director of Fire and Aviation Management, was quoted in the Missoulian Tuesday on the subject of the C-27J:

“We are still working with the Department of Defense to see if we can get up to seven C-27J Spartans,” Harbour said. “If we acquire those platforms, we would modify them so we could use them as a medium air tanker. They’re not the size that is going to be able to carry type 1, large air tanker-capacity tanks, but we think they’re a very capable platform.” The Spartan is an Italian-made turboprop-powered cargo plane. The U.S. Air Force has offered to transfer up to 14 of the planes free to the Forest Service. Harbour said the plane is capable of carrying smokejumpers, but has only had preliminary testing as a retardant bomber.

If the USFS does procure and convert the C-27Js into air tankers, they may choose to pay contractors to fly and maintain them, similar to the CAL FIRE model for their 23 S-2T air tankers. CAL FIRE’s current support contractors are DynCorp and Logistics Specialties Incorporated. DynCorp provides air tanker and airtactical plane pilot services, and all aircraft maintenance services. (All CAL FIRE helicopters are flown by CAL FIRE pilots, but maintained by DynCorp.) LSI provides procurement and parts management services.

Fire Aviation has learned that some USFS aviation personnel have talked informally with DynCorp about a government-owned, contractor-operated program. According to the Missoulian article, Neptune would also be interested in bidding on a contract to provide these services.

Is the Air Force buying more C-27Js?

And just to confuse the issue further, when I was searching FedBizOpps.gov for the USFS Request for Information about the C-27J retardant tanks, the search results included a Sources Sought Synopsis survey placed there by the Air Force May 10, 2013. The agency is looking for companies that can manufacture more C-27Js. While the military says they don’t want the ones they have, and are giving those away and saying good riddance, they are considering buying more. Their reasoning is, they are….

…contemplating procurement of C-27J aircraft, in accordance with Congressional language that states “The secretary of the Air Force shall obligate and expend funds previously appropriated for the procurement of C-27J Spartan aircraft for the purposes for which such funds were originally appropriated.”

Here’s an idea.

Instead of buying more C-27Js at $53 million each, contemplate instead, if it is economically feasible, designing and building some purpose-built air tankers to enhance our homeland security.

11 thoughts on “Retardant tank for the C-27J. And, is the Air Force buying more C-27s?”

  1. Welll Welll Welll

    The C27J comes up again!! Yeah maybe a 2500 to 3000 gallon tank if you strip the airplane clean but did anyone ask the USAF about loads (full) at high hot operating environments?? If the DoD / USAF allows it go to the USFS there should an MOU written SO tight that one violation of not complying with Alenia and Rolls Royce maintenance procedure are not followed….the aircraft goes to an Agency up to snuff and not just because of some USFS SMS system……there are plenty of other Agencies and civilian operators that could GOCO it with their current SMS systems

    Now ‘ol Tom admits it may not be able to do Type I but para phrasing here…they are freeeeeeeeeee! You know……… if we “acquire them!!”

    But we think they are a very capable platform

    OK, Tom,,,giddyap………….. build the tanks and accept the costs by the manufacturer and accept all the costs of avionics and flight management systems, GPS/ glass cockpit updates every 28 -56 days for navigation, hardware and ground support equipment accept the policies set by Alenia and Rolls Royce and you “gots” yourselves a mini air force to call all your own!

    If not……leave it alone until you (the USFS) understand the program THOROUGHLY!

    At the same time better get those USFS wheelbarrows full of 100 dollars bills

    To be “capable” in the aviation world require….wait for it …….MONEY

    You know……. the stuff the contracts office was trying to save the last 531 daze to put the “legacy” contract” on the street!!

  2. Bill

    Maybe, just maybe, the FedBizOPps thing is for lease work such as the LUH72 Lakota where the ship has requirements due to them being leased to the Guard.

    Maintenance being done to both US Army standards and FAA standards on the civilian EADS/ Eurocopter requirements.

    Maybe the survey is for the like of AF depots, maybe CBP or DHS/ Coasties are looking at it from a contractors standpoint….that is how Modification Work Orders get done in the US Army for some of AD and Guard ships….call in LSI DynCorp, L3, Boeing, to do what normally would take soldiers and fulltime WG staff too long to accomplish due to special tools, levels of complexity, etc etc etc etc

    That is my guess for that little “Synopsis.”

  3. The divesture of the C-27J from the DoD was purely a budgetary decision. Congress gave the DoD the option to determine their own fleet mix within a mandated minimum level. The cost of maintaining a mixed fleet of C-130s and C-27s for tactical airlift outweighed the benefit that the smaller aircraft brought. Operations in Afghanistan using the smaller platform for the Army’s direct delivery needs showed that early projections about the benefits such a platform would have were far too optimistic. In hindsight, the C-130 was determined to be more than adequate for the job, and reducing back to one fleet type would produce better cost savings.

    As for the solicitation posted this month, that may be related to potential foreign military sales and does not necessarily indicate a procurement for use in U.S. military service. The Air Force wants to get rid of the airplanes, and one of the Air National Guard units that operates the C-27 has already been ordered to begin converting back to the C-130 before the end of this year.

    1. To follow up—If the DoD were to resume procuring more C-27’s, having a larger fleet would change the cost/benefit analysis significantly, and therefore potentially change the fleet mix decision. The Air Force, however, likely believes that any added procurement of C-27’s would come at the expense of other procurement programs, something the service is loathe to accept. My bet is this solicitation is merely the DoD going through the motions so that when they sit before Congress and have to defend their decision in front of committee members whose districts are negatively impacted, they can show that they did their due diligence in analyzing each option for their future years’ fleet mix.

  4. i think there is a possible issue with the structure of the floor.
    variable flow gravity feed may not easily done..
    A mini MAAFS will not cut it otherwise..

  5. [Note from Bill: this comment was automatically flagged as spam, and we just found it in the spam folder.]

    Any recent news on the USCG 2014 budget?

    “Other cuts proposed in the budget include a pause to HC-144A medium range aircraft, Papp said, adding that the service has acquired 18 so far. The Coast Guard is also negotiating with the Air Force and the Forest Service over taking possession of 21 C-27J aircraft the Air Force has said it no longer needs. The fiscal 2013 national defense authorization act (P.L. 112-239) gives the Forest Service the first right of refusal to the C-27Js after each agency has received seven of them. During the hearing, Papp said the Coast Guard needs at least 14 C-27Js in order for their deployment to be cost-effective, since they would also require new logistics and training support.

    Read more: Coast Guard budget reflects ‘tough decisions,’ Papp says – FierceHomelandSecurity http://www.fiercehomelandsecurity.com/story/coast-guard-budget-reflects-tough-decisions-papp-says/2013-04-18#ixzz2TTPEcSNb
    Subscribe at FierceHomelandSecurity
    The Coast Guard flies C-130Js and EADS-produced CN-235s, which it calls the HC-144. The Coast Guard opted for the HC-144 over the C-27J because of lower life-cycle costs, Papp said at a House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee hearing. Still, he’s not ruling out a mixed fleet of HC-144s and C-27Js.”

  6. I like your last paragraph Bill:

    Here’s an idea.
    Instead of buying more C-27Js at $53 million each, contemplate instead, if it is economically feasible, designing and building some purpose-built air tankers to enhance our homeland security.

  7. I like it too:
    It’s time to design a 3000 gallons Tanker.. super expensive? well it would be a fantastic investment for the next décades! Unless the planet starts cooling off, there will be fires.

    Here’s an idea.
    Instead of buying more C-27Js at $53 million each, contemplate instead, if it is economically feasible, designing and building some purpose-built air tankers to enhance our homeland security.

  8. In light of new information, we inserted some new text in the article, increasing our estimate of the retardant capacity of the C-27J to 2,000 to 2,650 gallons, assuming an internal, gravity-fed tank system.

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