USFS issues solicitation for a scooper air tanker

CL-415
CL-415, LA County photo

The U.S. Forest Service issued a solicitation on August 5 for one “amphibious water scooper aircraft”. It has a quick turnaround, with a response due date of August 19, 2013. Like some of the previous solicitations for air tankers, this one holds open the possibility of adding one additional aircraft during the contract period. The USFS expects to have the air tanker begin this calendar year, but the agency’s recent aircraft contracting history shows that may be a very optimistic goal. It took over 500 days to award the “next-gen” contracts.

The solicitation requires the following: amphibious and scooping capability, turbine engines, 180-knot cruise speed, 1,600-gallon capacity, and 7 days a week coverage. It also has to have previous approval by the Interagency Airtanker Board. The specs appear to limit the qualifying aircraft to only the CL-415. The BE-200 could possibly meet the operational specs, but does not have FAA or IAB approvals.

We are glad to see the requirement for 7 day a week coverage, instead of shutting down a firefighting resource one day a week like in some other air tanker contracts.

 

Thanks go out to John

Update on Tanker 131

Coulson's T-130, a C-130QBritt Coulson sent us these photos and told us that last week they ran the engines and conducted calibration static tests on Tanker 131, their C-130Q air tanker. The aircraft was over at the USFS Tanker Base at the San Bernardino airport for some of the tests. They expect to complete the calibration next weekend and begin flight testing in the next few days.

If any of the other air tanker vendors with new exclusive use contracts would like to send us information and photos, we would certainly appreciate it.

Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q

Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q

Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q

Coulson's T-130, a C-130Q

 

AVID air tanker report released

Tanker 07 on the Myrtle Fire, 2012
Tanker 07 on the Myrtle Fire, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The U.S. Forest Service has released another study on air tankers (large 10mb file), which is one of nine commissioned by the agency on the topic since 1995. The $380,000 contract for this one was awarded to AVID, a Virginia-based company that employed a crew of retired and current aviation professionals for this project.

It would be helpful if an expensive 117-page report like this clearly stated the objectives for the study, but all we could find was this:

The purpose of this study is to build analytical data that can be used to estimate the requirement for airtankers in the future.

The report includes a huge quantity of statistics about how air tankers have been used over the last several years. I was expecting to see some concrete recommendations about how they should be used in the future, but there was little along those lines.

This study, like the RAND report, included no information about Very Large Air Tankers. But while the RAND study was favorable toward scoopers, this AVID report addresses them like this:

There is a relatively small amount of USFS background data that documents the use of scooper aircraft, making it difficult to come to conclusions regarding their use. While continued analysis of scooper usage is warranted, the focus of the current analysis is primarily on large airtanker usage, followed by heavy helicopter usage.

There was little else in the report about scoopers, reinforcing the perception that the USFS has a bias against them.

There was definitely some interesting data in the study, and below are two illustrations. Click on them to see larger versions.

Wildfire probability June 14 Unable to fill requests vs number of air tankers

Other air tanker studies

USFS releases study on C-27J

C-27JThe U.S. Forest Service has released a study on how the C-27J could be used by the agency if the Air Force gives them seven as expected. This ninth air tanker study since 1995 was a surprise to us — somehow the Forest Service kept this one under wraps.

The report was prepared by Convergent Performance, LLC in Colorado Springs, Colorado at a cost of $54,000. We can’t find a date on it but the document must have been released very recently. We found a link to it on the Forest Service web site.

If used as an air tanker

The report confirms one thing that we were told by Art Hinaman, USFS Assistant Director for Aviation, on July 1 when we talked with him at the dedication of the memorial site for the crash of MAFFS 7 a month ago. Mr. Hinaman said he thought the C-27J would hold around 1,800 gallons of retardant when outfitted with a conventional, gravity-fed, constant flow tank, and that is what the Convergent study came up with. Of course, Mr. Hinaman had probably already seen Convergent’s findings when we talked about it.

The report concluded the C-27J could carry 1,850 gallons of retardant if 3,200 pounds of unneeded equipment were removed, including flight deck armor (approximately 1,100 lbs), miscellaneous mission equipment such as litter stanchions, tie-down chains, ladders etc. (approximately 1,000 lbs), and the cargo loading system (approximately 1,200 lbs).

If a mini-MAFFS slip-in retardant system was designed for the C-27J cargo space, which is smaller than a C-130, it would hold approximately 1,100 gallons if the same excess equipment was removed. A MAFFS2 has a maximum capacity of 3,000 gallons, but frequently carries less depending on density altitude and fuel load. The mini-MAFFS would not have an air compressor, therefore requiring the aircraft to depend on air compressors being prepositioned at air tanker bases. The USFS has six mobile air compressor systems that were built to support the original MAFFS, but the latest generation, MAFFS2, has an onboard air compressor.

If used as a smokejumper ship

C-27, jumping from rampSmokejumpers could exit the C-27J through the two side doors or the aft ramp. Depending on how the aircraft was configured, it could transport between 24 and 46 jumpers.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

The C-27J aircraft is very compatible with the smoke jumper mission. The aircraft is specifically designed as an aerial delivery platform for personnel as well as cargo. The C-27J is a high wing aircraft keeping the disruptive airflow above the jump platform; a distance of 41” between the propeller and fuselage to keep turbulence well away from the jumpers; and a horizontal stabilizer on the tail that sits well above the jumper path practically eliminating any parachute contact. The high wing design and the cockpit’s 16-windows provide the best conditions for air to ground visibility and the robust avionics suite with HUD allows pinpoint GPS accuracy for each airdrop. The side doors have a very safe and comfortable height of 6’ 4” and the rear door opening is 7’ 5” high. Free-fall jumpers can be deployed from either side door exit or from the aft ramp. Static line jumpers can only be deployed using the side door exits.

If used to transport firefighters

According to the report, the aircraft configuration can be changed and fitted with standard outer and center seating to accommodate 68 passengers with limited personal equipment plus 2 loadmasters.

The USFS asked Convergent to analyze how the C-27J could be used to transport two 20-person crews to high-elevation airports with relatively short runways. (The maximum allowable flying weight for a hotshot crew is 5,300 pounds.) The examples given were Alturas, CA (KAAT), 4,378′ above sea level; Reserve, NM (T16), at 6,360′; and Negrito Airstrip, Reserve NM (0NM7), at 8,143′. The conclusions were that landing would not be a problem. At two of the three airports taking off would be possible, but at Reserve (T16) with the 4,777′ runway, the aircraft would usually be able to carry only one crew when departing.

If used for cargo

The aircraft could carry between 12,222 and 25,353 pounds of cargo.

Cost

If the C-27J accumulated 250 flight hours annually, Convergent estimated it would cost about $7,400 an hour over a 20 to 30 year life span. At 400 hours a year the cost would be about $5,800 an hour over 20 to 30 years.

Training

From the report:

The C-27J is training intensive and requires constant skill application by the aircrews to remain proficient and mission-ready. Although highly automated, this is not an aircraft that can be effectively and safely operated with min-run training and skill. It requires highly skilled professional aircrew. The training available is thorough and adequate, but it is time consuming (2- 3 months) and relatively expensive in its current form. The length of training and lead-time required to have a fully qualified crewmember to meet fire season operational demand will require structured, deliberate, action. Training is only offered by two sources, one being the manufacturer, but it is conducted overseas with equipment not representative of the aircraft the Forest Service would receive and is generally limited to new purchase customers as part of the point of sale agreement. The only US based training offered is in Warner-Robbins, GA.

Other air tanker studies

Senators support transfer of C-27Js to USFS

Six senators signed a June 29 letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressing their support for the transfer of up to seven C-27J aircraft from the Department of Defense to the U.S. Forest Service. Here is the text of their letter:

****

“Dear Secretary Hagel:

As you near the completion of a divestiture plan for the C-27J Spartan aircraft, we want to draw your attention to Section 1091 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, P.L. 112-239 (NDAA), which governs the transfer of excess military aircraft deemed useful by the U.S. Forest Service for suppressing wildfires.

We are deeply concerned that the Forest Service’s wildfire air tanker fleet is stretched alarmingly thin and urgently needs to be recapitalized. According to press reports, there were about 914 requests to deploy air tankers at various wildfires in 2012 but about half of those requests were denied as “unable to fill” because of fierce competition for a shortage of air assets. To help address this shortfall, the Forest Service has proposed acquiring the C-27J as a 21st century platform capable of multiple wildland-fire missions including smokejumper and cargo delivery, fire crew transport, and aerial application of fire retardant.

Section 1091 of the NDAA 2013 clearly gives the Forest Service the first right of refusal on up to seven of the twenty-one C-27J aircraft deemed excess to the needs of the Department of Defense (DoD). We understand that U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), a division of DoD, may request up to 8 of the C-27J aircraft, which is consistent with Section 1091. However, in a memorandum to you from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), dated June 10, 2013, Secretary Janet Napolitano expressed an interest in obtaining up to 14 of the C-27J aircraft on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) under a “direct military-to-military transfer.” We want to remind you that a transfer of 14 of the C-27J aircraft to USCG (which operates under the service of DHS, not the DoD (14 U.S.C. §3)) is inconsistent with the language of Section 1091. Congress specifically relegated USCG’s priority in obtaining excess C-27J second to the Forest Service. This interpretation of Section 1091 is shared by experts at the Congressional Research Service, an objective legal and policy analysis branch of the Library of Congress.

We would appreciate knowing what steps you are taking to prepare the C-27J for transfer and request to be immediately notified when a plan is near implementation. We would also appreciate a reply explaining your interpretation of Section 1091 in light of the request by Secretary Napolitano.

Sincerely,

John McCain, Ron Wyden, Dianne Feinstein, Mark Udall, Mike Johanns, Bill Nelson”

Tanker 910 at Santa Maria

Tanker 910 at Santa Maria air tanker base
Tanker 910 at Santa Maria air tanker base July 28, 2013, supporting the Aspen Fire. Photo by Jim Kunkle. (click to enlarge)

Jim Kunkle sent us this photo of a DC-10 air tanker, T-910, making its first visit to the Santa Maria Air Tanker Base while supporting the Aspen Fire south of Yosemite National Park in California. Thanks Jim.

UPDATE July 30: The Santa Maria Times has an article about the aircraft.

Photos of helicopters working the Aspen Fire.