Above: Tanker 118, an HC-130H, at McClellan Airfield. Photo by Jon Wright, July 25, 2015.
The induction, modification, and maintenance program for the seven Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft into the U.S. Forest Service’s government-owned air tanker fleet is requiring some shuffling of the planes. In 2015 Tanker 118 (Coast Guard #1721) operated as an air tanker out of McClellan Airfield. It did not have a conventional gravity-based retardant tank installed yet so it was temporarily outfitted with one of the eight Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that are normally only used by military C-130s conscripted into an air tanker role during periods of high wildfire activity.
T-118 will be going through programmed depot maintenance (PDM) at the Coast Guard facility at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Replacing it during the 2016 fire season will be Tanker 116 (Coast Guard #1708) after its PDM is complete at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Like its predecessor, it will use a MAFFS unit, rather than a gravity tank, and will be based at McClellan Airfield at the facility the USFS likes to call “Forest Service Air Station McClellan”.
One of the obvious differences between T-118 last year and T-116 this year will be the freshly applied USFS approved livery. The HC-130Hs are being painted as they go through PDM.
The plan is for all seven of the HC-130Hs to have a gravity-based retardant delivery system. Most of the maintenance and retrofitting of the aircraft, including arranging for the installation of the retardant system, is being done by the Air Force on their own schedule. There is no indication, however, that their September 17, 2014 solicitation for the retardant tanks has been awarded, after 18 months.
Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told us the schedule calls for the programmed depot maintenance and the installation of the retardant systems to occur on the seven aircraft between 2016 and 2020. The delivery of the first HC-130H with a new retardant delivery system is expected in late 2017 or early 2018 with incremental delivery of the remaining aircraft through 2019.