Update on Forest Service C-130 air tankers

USFS http://fireaviation.com/2014/03/20/tom-harbour-talks-about-air-tankers/
The paint design that has been approved by the Forest Service for the seven C-130s that are being transferred from the Coast Guard to the Forest Service.

It will probably be a year before any of the seven C-130H aircraft that are being transferred from the Coast Guard, to the Air Force, and finally to the Forest Service will be seen dropping retardant on a fire. Tom Harbour told us last month that he expects at least one to be flying by 2015.

The aircraft all need various levels of maintenance and it is thought that at least five will have to have the wing boxes replaced, a 10-month project that costs around $7 million each. Then the retardant systems will be installed. The Air Force, the agency overseeing the work on the aircraft, is expected to issue a solicitation for bids on the retardant system within the next two to three months. The Forest Service is working with the Air Force to write the specifications, which will reflect some of the language in the existing air tanker contracts, and information that the agencies have learned about retardant systems over the last 50 years.

The Forest Service is partnering with the Coast Guard for training and higher level, or Depot level, maintenance for the C-130s. The discussions within the Forest Service have been that the logistics, support, routine maintenance, and pilots for the C-130s would be provided by contractors, making it a government-owned/contractor-operated (GO/CO) program.

But no solicitations have been issued for these services. The Forest Service’s recent track record for awarding aerial firefighting contracts can lead one to an assumption that contracts for a GO/CO operation will not be awarded any time soon. Three USFS air tanker contracts have been officially protested in the last two years. Two of those were sustained by the GAO — the recent sole source contract and the original attempt to issue contracts for next-gen air tankers, while the third, filed by Neptune, was dropped five months before the company received the sole source award in December.

It could take longer to award the contracts than to refurbish and retrofit the C-130s. We would be very surprised if it happens by the end of this year.

After the contracts are signed, it could take quite some time for the contractors to ramp up to procure equipment, and to hire pilots, mechanics, and other employees to provide the services. If the pilots have no air tanker experience or qualifications, that will be another issue that has to be overcome. However, there is probably a large pool of ex-Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve C-130 pilots. Some of them may even have prior Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) experience. In fact, Coulson has hired several pilots with MAFFS experience to fly their recently converted C-130Q air tanker.

The good news is that it is much easier to find and hire a C-130 pilot with recent experience than it is to find a P2V pilot that has flown the aircraft recently.

Annual MAFFS training at Cheyenne

MAFFS aircraft at Cheyenne
MAFFS aircraft at Cheyenne, April 30, 2014, MAFFS numbers 0, 1, and 3

Yesterday I visited the Wyoming Air National Guard facility at Cheyenne Regional Airport during the annual training and certification/recertification for the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) units from Cheyenne, Wyoming and Charlotte, North Carolina. Each unit supplies two C-130H3 aircraft that can carry the 3,000-gallon fire retardant system when they are needed to help suppress wildfires, supplementing the United States’ atrophied fleet of large air tankers which has declined from 44 in 2002 to 9 this year.

The training includes classroom and airborne sessions, actually dropping, in this case, water, however, very strong winds required cancellation of the practice drops Wednesday. They hope the weather improves so they can get off the ground today.

MAFFS unit
Lt. Col. Alan Brown of the Wyoming Air National Guard stands at the rear of a MAFFS unit inside a C-130H3. Loadmasters sit in the two chairs to the right of Col. Brown. The retardant is pumped out of the pipe in the lower half of the orange paratroop door. The upper pipe in the door allows outside air to enter the tank as the retardant exits, if compressed air is not used to push the retardant out of the tank.
MAFFS unit Alan Brown
Lt. Col. Alan Brown, of the Wyoming Air National Guard, is seen near the two air compressors at the front end of a MAFFS unit. If the compressors are working properly, which is not always the case, it takes about 30 minutes to refill the two compressed air tanks, which push the retardant out of the tanks. A specially-built ground-based air compressor sometimes meets the MAFFS aircraft at their temporary base and can refill the tanks in about 14 minutes.
Lt. Col. Alan Brown
Lt. Col. Alan Brown of the Wyoming Air National Guard holds a MAFFS retardant release control.

In the photo above and the video below, Lt. Col. Alan Brown of the Wyoming Air National Guard shows and explains how a hand-held control can be used by the loadmasters in a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tanker to release the 3,000 gallons of fire retardant, if for some reason the pilots, who normally trigger the release with an identical controller, are unable to perform that function. The video was filmed by Bill Gabbert for FireAviation.com on April 30, 2014 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Continue reading “Annual MAFFS training at Cheyenne”

Deicing an air tanker

Deicing MAFFS 8 Cheyenne
Deicing MAFFS 8 at Cheyenne. @AEGMAFFS photo.

That is something you don’t see every day — deicing an air tanker. Some overnight snow at Cheyenne required deicing on the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, air tankers that are in Wyoming for training, certification, and recertification this week. C-130s from Charlotte, NC, and the base at Cheyenne are participating. These National Guard units each provide two C-130s, a portion of the eight that can be called up nationwide, if the atrophied United States air tanker fleet, down to nine now, needs supplemental aircraft. 

Ground MAFFS training at Cheyenne
Ground training for MAFFS crews at Cheyenne, April 28, 2014. AEGMAFFS photo.

New SEAT base at Chadron, Nebraska

SEAT base dedication at Chadron
SEAT base dedication at Chadron, NE. South Dakota Wildland Fire Div photo.

A new base for Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) was dedicated at the Chadron Municipal Airport in Nebraska on Saturday, April 16. Thanks to the Nebraska legislature’s passage in 2013 of the Wildfire Control Act, three SEAT bases are now available in the northwest part of the state. Last year a contracted SEAT came on duty July 15. Other bases managed by the Nebraska Forest Service (NFS) are at Valentine (see photo below), and Alliance. A fourth base is scheduled for construction at North Platte Regional Airport later this year.

 

SEAT base in Valentine Nebraska. Nebraska Forest Service photo.
SEAT base in Valentine. Nebraska Forest Service photo.

DOI contracts for 33 Single Engine Air Tankers

Air Tractor 802 single engine air tanker

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group announced today that the Department of the Interior is funding 33 exclusive use Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) in 2014 as national shared resources. Historically, SEATs have been funded as primarily a local or regional resource with assigned home bases. The 2014 exclusive use SEAT fleet will not have assigned home bases. They will be treated as national shared resources similar to Large Air Tankers (LATs). Geographic area Coordination Centers (GACCs) can preposition SEATs using the same mechanisms and rationale used for other national resources.

There are three start dates — May 26th, June 5th and June 12th. Based on the number of DOI National Exclusive Use SEATs allocated to their GACC, Bureau of Land Management State Aviation Managers and Bureau of Indian Affairs Regional Aviation Managers will coordinate with fire staff and the Geographic Area Coordinating Group to determine the initial starting location of DOI Exclusive Use SEAT’s.

As National assets, DOI National Exclusive Use SEATs will be moved to areas of greatest need. Within Geographic Areas, Fire Staff on an interagency basis will provide direction to the Dispatch system on the mob/demob of SEATs to meet existing or forecasted fire loads within their jurisdiction. GACCs can preposition SEATs using the same mechanisms and rationale used with LATs.

Below are some of the provisions of the contracts:

  • These are one year Exclusive Use contracts with 4 option years.
  • There are no designated bases under these contracts.
    • Notice to Proceeds will be issued giving the contractor direction on where to report to at the beginning of the contract.
  • The Mandatory Availability Period will be 100 days with three different start dates — May 26th/June 5th/June 12th.
  • The aircraft will be AT-802s with an Interagency Airtanker Board approved gate system.
  • The Level I Pilots will be on a fixed 6/1 work schedule set at the start of the contract.
    • No relief pilot is required.
    • Companies can exchange pilots.
  • The contracts allow for the government to order an additional service truck at a daily flat rate of $500 when needed to augment the existing truck or to utilize the second one at a remote base.

The AT-802 holds 800 gallons of retardant. This compares to the 2,000 to 3,500 Large Air Tankers can carry, or the 11,600 gallons the DC-10 holds. But, SEATs are a very useful tool in the aerial firefighting tool box — a tool box that should have a variety of types and sizes of aircraft with different capabilities and niches.

As the western fire season gets under way, there are nine LATs available on exclusive use contracts, and one Very Large Air Tanker, a DC-10. It is possible that an additional five “next generation” LATs may eventually meet the requirements of the contracts that were issued to them a year ago and could be added to the fleet.

Colorado Senate passes modified air tanker bill

Tim Holmes P2V
The second place entry in our contest to Photoshop an advertisement onto an air tanker. A Colorado state Senator suggested that ads on firefighting aircraft could generate revenue for the state. This image shows the Colorado Rockies logo on a P2V, by Tim Holmes.

On Friday the Colorado Senate unanimously passed a revised version of SB14-164, completing another step towards the state being able to issue contracts for firefighting aircraft. If the House passes the same version of the bill, this year there would be up to three helicopters fighting wildland fires in the state and in 2015 they could add up to four large air tankers to the fleet.

This version of the bill is very different from the one that was first introduced, which listed numerous specific requirements for the types and capabilities of the aircraft, including night flying air tankers, which would have been the first on the planet Earth.

Colorado SB14-164, April 25, 2014

The configuration of the bill allows and actually states, that the legislators intend for the subject matter experts that will work for the Colorado Firefighting Air Corp (CFAC) to make the decisions about the specifications of the aircraft. The legislation when it was introduced took many of those decisions out of the hands of the fire aviation specialists. Instead, they were made by politicians who had no applicable expertise. The current version passed by the Senate requires that the CFAC adhere as nearly as possible to the recommendations as presented in the Special report: Colorado firefighting Air Corp, report to the Governor and General Assembly on strategies to enhance the state’s aerial firefighting capabilities, which was released March 28, 2014.

The bill allows the CFAC to use 19.3 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, or employees, in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014.  A previously passed bill, “FY 2014-15 Long Bill”, appropriated $19.67 million for the Division of Fire Prevention and Control to acquire aircraft.

The legislation also creates a “center of excellence for advanced technology aerial firefighting”, to…:

  • Serve as a laboratory to evaluate the “three fundamental contributing factors to successful aerial firefighting: effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability”.
  • Conduct research to evaluate new technology in a variety of settings, such as initial attack, night operations, and operations in wildland-urban interface areas.
  • Produce data and documentation on science and technology relevant to aerial firefighting.

Since the Senate has passed the bill, it is now up to the House, where it was introduced April 25 and referred to the Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee.

New National Historic Landmark recognizes mid-air over the Grand Canyon

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis today marked National Park Week by announcing the designation of four new national historic landmarks

  • Adlai Stevenson II Farm in Illinois,
  • The Detroit Industry Murals in Michigan,
  • George Nakashima Woodworker Complex in Pennsylvania, and
  • 1956 Grand Canyon TWA-United Airlines Aviation Accident Site in Arizona.

Below is a brief description of the mid-air crash of two airliners over the Grand Canyon.

1956 Grand Canyon TWA-United Airlines Aviation Accident Site, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

On June 30, 1956, a Trans World Airlines Super Constellation L-1049 and a United Airlines DC-7 collided in uncongested airspace 21,000 feet over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, killing all 128 people onboard the two flights. The tragedy spurred an unprecedented effort to modernize and increase safety in America’s postwar airways, culminating in the establishment of the modern Federal Aviation Administration. Other improvements that resulted from the crash included nationwide radar coverage, a common military/civilian navigation system, and the development of technologies such as collision avoidance systems and flight data recorders.

1956 crash over Grand Canyon
The severed tail section of the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation operating as TWA Flight 2 on June 30, 1956. TWA Flight 2 collided with United Flight 718 in what became known as the 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision. The photo was taken by National Park Service employees in the course of the Civil Aeronautics Board’s investigation of the crash.

Another air tanker company moves out of California

 

Coulson's T-131 at Reno
Coulson’s Tanker 131 at Reno, April 18, 2014. Photo by Ryan Coulter.

The Coulson Group has moved their air tanker operation from McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California to Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada. This is the second air tanker operator that has moved out of the state in the last six months. In October, 10 Tanker Air Carrier relocated their corporate headquarters from Victorville, California to the airport at Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10 Tanker has two DC-10 air tankers and is converting a third, while Coulson has one C-130 on U.S. Forest Service contract and hopes to acquire another. Coulson expects to have a minimum of 20 employees on their payroll at Reno.

Still left in California is Air Spray, who in 2012 took over a hanger at Chico formerly occupied by Aero Union. The company has a  Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra “Long Liner” air tanker and is converting two BAe-146s into air tankers at the facility. Several employees that formerly worked for Aero Union are now employed by Air Spray at Chico.

 

KTVN Channel 2 – Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video –
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Britt, Ryan, Dave, and Scott.