Forest Service issues multiple aircraft solicitations or RFIs

The U.S. Forest Service has recently posted multiple solicitations or Requests for Information (RFI) for fixed wing and rotor wing firefighting aircraft — Next Generation air tankers, scooping air tankers, various call when needed aircraft, helicopters, and one for the purchase of a new air tanker.

Purchase of a new air tanker

LM-100J
Lockheed Martin’s new LM-100J, expected to sell for about $65 million.

An RFI has been issued for the “potential” purchase of a new, turbine-powered, multi-engine turboprop aircraft with a payload of at least 34,000 pounds. It would be used as an air tanker, and for the transport of cargo and personnel, according to the RFI. Likely, the announcement is a response to the $65 million the USFS received in this year’s budget for the purchase of a new air tanker.

Since a requirement is that it haul cargo and personnel in addition to dropping retardant, this restricts it, as far as aircraft types being used in wildland fire today, to a C-130-type or the new civilian version of the aircraft, the LM-100J which is expected to sell for about $65 million. Coulson’s C-130H has a 3,500-gallon retardant tank that can be easily removed to haul cargo.

However, the LM-100J is not configured for carrying passengers, since it will not have a flush toilet or sound-deadening and temperature-controlling insulation blankets used on C-130s. If the USFS wants to use an agency-owned aircraft for hauling passengers, a better choice would be the 22 other aircraft soon to be added to the fleet — seven C-130Hs the USFS is receiving from the Coast Guard, or the 15 Sherpa C-23Bs transferred from the military.

The reply due date on the RFI is March 20, 2015.

Lockheed’s LM-100J brochure.
Code One Magazine article about the LM-100J.

Contracts for next generation air tankers

The USFS issued a solicitation for up to seven next generation air tankers. They are seeking aircraft tanked and approved by the Interagency Airtanker Board, furnished with crews, maintenance, and support. It would be a five-year contract with an additional five one-year options.

The aircraft must have a 3,000-gallon retardant capacity. The solicitation states, “Aircraft with less than 3000-gallon dispensing capacity will not be considered”. It is interesting they specified all 3,000 gallons must be “dispensable”. The first BAe-146s provided by Neptune could not adequately dispense all 3,000 gallons, especially on downhill runs.

The minimum cruise speed required is 300 knots (345 mph).

Unlike most previous air tanker contracts, this one specifies seven-day coverage, except six-day coverage is permissible during the first two years, but with a five percent reduction in the daily availability rate. We first advocated seven-day coverage almost a year ago.

Proposals are due on March 24, 2015.

RFI for water scoopers

The USFS is looking for vendors to provide up to two water-scooping amphibious air tankers from 2015 through 2020.

Like the next-gen contract, the USFS expects to begin this contract in a matter of days, weeks, or months after first mentioning it on FBO.gov. That is very optimistic, since the first next-gen contract took 550 days before it was finally awarded.

Here’s a tip. The USFS should get their sh*t together and advertise the solicitation, not the RFI, at least one year before the mandatory availability period. Top quality air tankers, crews, and maintenance personnel can’t be magically produced out of thin air.

Call When Needed aircraft and services

The USFS is seeking information from vendors interested in providing the following types of aircraft or services:

  • Approximately 25 turbine engine aircraft with a minimum tank capacity of 2,000 gallons or more.
  • Airworthiness and Maintenance Program specific to air tanker dispensing mission.
  • Logistics support system to operate throughout the western states.
  • Turnkey retardant base to support operations at locations away from established bases.
  • A multi-engine support aircraft capable of supporting logistics needs and directing tactical operations for the AT. Sufficient flight crews to provide seven day coverage while in use.

Type 1 and Type 2 helicopters

A solicitation for Type 1 and 2 helicopters closed February 12, 2015.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Greg.

21 thoughts on “Forest Service issues multiple aircraft solicitations or RFIs”

    1. Why the need for that? Does the entire aircraft need pressurization or just the flight crew deck?
      Sounds like one more thing to go wrong – thus grounding an asset.

  1. I would guess the pressurization is because they want the next gens to fly @ flight levels requiring oxygen when they are transiting long distances. I know this summer some of the next gens flew long distances @ high altitudes.

    Also I suspect the 40+ passenger requirement has to do with the movement of Hotshot crews. For whatever reason USFS wants to be able to mobilize hotshots via aircraft.(On agency aircraft vs how it is done now, on charter flights, which normally aren’t avialable immediately). The C-23 is not big enough to move the number of troops the USFS wants to move at one time.
    The C-27 report that USFS did mentioned several times using them to move crews, so I don’t think that ship has sailed yet.

  2. Been reading issues of Business and Commercial Aviation about reduction of airframe life depending on age of aircraft…so if the Part 91, 121, and 135 operators have to monitor these issues….then those airframe, bulkhead, and other pressurization issues all factor into costs….so this additional “contract requirement” on someone else should be equally be applied before USFS gets excited about “Next Gen ” altitudes…

    1. Back one April of the early 80’s they flew several crews from Denver to Knoxville on a C-141. We all carried our gear on the plane and piled it in the center of the plane and took our seats which beats crawling into the cargo hold of the NICC Jet. There were a couple porta potty looking structures in the center. Once airborne we were allowed to walk around and mingle. Plenty of room for groups of 3-4 to gather for conversations. But only two tiny windows to look out of. We were invited to come up to the flight deck in groups of 2-3 for a tour. I spent about 15 minutes siting in a seat between the pilots within arms reach of the throttles.

      The flight home was on a chartered 737. Yeah they had flush toilets but the seating was the tightest I have ever experienced. Much less comfortable than the trip out.

  3. Exactly Dennis

    Neither the C130’s or C141’s working Army operations and if they did flush ….that was a bonus!

    1. From the Code One article: “On the flight deck, the LM-100J will have a microwave oven, like on the C-130J. However, inclusion of a coffee maker is a customer option.”

      This feature alone should ensure it locks up the contract.

  4. Airplanes that are configured for carrying people/cargo and also retardant do neither particularly well. Removing internal retardant tanks is never as quick nor easy as the operator promises, and once you’ve ‘deconfigured’ from an airtanker and delivered your personnel, you now have an empty airplane in one location and its tank in another. So my suggestion is to keep your airtankers as airtankers, and if you need to move people and gear across the country, maybe the military Hercs would be more useful and cost-effective in this role than they are as MAFFS airtankers.

    Bill, I agree that the saga of these contracts is a pathetic legacy of how not to build an airtanker program. But your concern about “magically producing out of thin air” the quality airplanes and crews required is unnecessary; fortunately (for the USFS) several private operators have been building their fleets in expectation of a new contract – eventually. When it’s finally released, there will be eligible airplanes to bid…and the USFS can rest smugly on a job well done.

    One more question: are all Neptune -146s now able to dispense their entire load of retardant?

    1. Yes, Neptune”s 146 meets all of the original NextGen and NextGen 2.0 requirements and has full IAB approval.

  5. Who else besides aero flite would be in contention for owning and operating the Bombardier 415 scoopers…..

  6. I’ll bet Lockheed-Martin in Greenville SC could build 3 P-3’s with new wings (including upper and lower center wing) a new horizontal tail and a retardent hopper like the ones Aero-Union made for $65,000,000.

  7. The Bombardier 415 is about $33 to $35 million each. I spoke with them a few months back and the last ones were being built for Spain and some South American country I can’t remember. After that Bombardier was going to discontinue the plane. I was completely amazed the USFS was not flying 20 or 30 of the 415’s. They are a beautiful sight to watch in action.

  8. The CL-415 does not fall into the Forest Services strategy in the West. You can’t burn off of a wet line the next day like you can with retardant. Also CL-415 is only 1600 gallons.

    1. Burning off from a retardant line is fully dependant on the fuel type. While it can be done in grass and light fuels, it can’t be done in many others. Retardant droppers and water/foam droppers both have a place in the “toolbox”.

  9. The contract is for 1600 gallons currently I believe which thhe 415 carries.I would assume If bombardier had sales they would continue building a few more..Apparentely Newfoundland and Labrador asked for a few more also…Im certain they would want to build more.Just curious who else would even be in the running to operate them.

  10. Remember not only US and Canada operate the 415

    Med and European are operating 415 for probably 15 plus years now….just cuz it does not “USFS strategy”……doesn’t mean worldwide they are operating on a USFS strategy

    415 have a niche and have been working quite well despite US views

  11. There is currently a CL-415 being painted red white and black in eastern Ontario for an undisclosed customer…. There are still 3 unsold CL-415’s in North Bay.

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