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 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.

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.

A fourth DC-10 air tanker nearing completion

The conversion of the fourth DC-10 into a Very Large Air Tanker is nearing completion. Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said he expects Tanker 914 to be finished with the modification process in June, including the incorporation of their Next Gen tank controller.

Tanker 914 will join the other three DC-10’s that can each hold up to 11,600 gallons of fire retardant.

air tanker 914, DC-10
Tanker 914 undergoing conversion. 10 Tanker photo.

Scoopers on Lake Chatuge

Mark Carr sent us these photos he took November 18, 2016 of CL-415 water-scooping air tankers refilling at Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee, Georgia. That was a busy time for firefighters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and other areas in the southeast United States.

Aero Flite tanker 262

Empty water bucket contributed to New Zealand helicopter crash

New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has determined that an empty water bucket contributed to the cause of a fatal helicopter crash on February 14, 2017.

David Steven Askin was piloting a helicopter for Way To go Heliservices working on a wildfire near Christchurch when it went down in the Port Hills.

Steve Askin
Steve Askin. Way To Go Heliservices photo.

The TAIC determined that a cable from the water bucket struck the tail of the Eurocopter AS350-BA.

The TAIC explained:

In the early afternoon, one of the helicopters, a Eurocopter AS350 ‘Squirrel’, registered ZK-HKW, crashed while the pilot was returning to the dipping pond to refill the firefighting ‘monsoon’ bucket. The helicopter was destroyed and the pilot was killed. Evidence shows that the likely cause of the crash was the empty monsoon bucket swung back into the tail rotor, damaging the tail rotor and causing the loss of the vertical stabiliser from the tail boom. After the loss of the vertical stabiliser, the helicopter gradually rolled to the right and descended until it struck the ground.

The TAIC’s investigation was aided by video from a camera mounted on the aircraft which showed the bucket swinging up toward the tail as the helicopter was enroute to a dip site.

Below is an excerpt from the Stuff website:

An abbreviated mayday call was heard by several pilots about 2.05pm, but it was not clear which radio frequency the call was made on.

The air attack supervisor asked for a role call of all aircraft involved. Askin did not respond.

After a brief search, another pilot found the wreckage of Askin’s helicopter on a steep slope near the head of a gully east of Sugarloaf.

According to TAIC’s report, the helicopter had struck a steep, tussock-covered slope. Main rotor strikes on the slope indicated the helicopter had tumbled further down the slope.

TAIC recommended several solutions, including using heavy ballast slings, and having someone monitor the operation from the ground.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chad.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

A new member of the Fire Aviation team

Jason PohlToday we’d like to introduce a new member of the Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation team, Jason Pohl. He will be contributing articles beginning May 7 while I am temporarily tied up on a project.

Jason Pohl reports on law enforcement and public safety issues for the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. A 2012 graduate of journalism and sociology at Colorado State University, Pohl has reported in Colorado newsrooms including The Denver Post, Greeley Tribune, and, since March 2014, the Coloradoan. Most recently, Pohl — who has been trained as an EMT and wildland firefighter — embedded for two weeks with a team of firefighters and first responders conducting refugee rescues on the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya. He has also written about wildfire, first responder mental health and other public safety, breaking news and accountability topics.

Pohl in December successfully defended his master’s thesis in sociology at Colorado State University. Through dozens of interviews and extensive fieldwork, Pohl investigated emergency evacuation messaging during natural disasters, specifically the 2013 Colorado Floods that came on the heels of devastating wildfires in the state. Outside of journalism, Pohl is an avid marathon runner who enjoys indulging in a craft beer — or three — and exploring Colorado’s high peaks with his wife and adventure partner.