We took these photos last week, March 20, at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento. There were about 90 minutes set aside for displays of firefighting aircraft at McClellan Air Force base, as well as live demonstrations of water and water pellet drops from a helicopter, and the use of the AirTEP Airborne Tactical Extraction Platform marketed by Aerial Machine Tool. We have photos of Coulson’s C-130Q in another article.
Two state senators in Colorado have introduced a bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 164, that would authorize the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) to acquire helicopters and air tankers for the newly created agency.
For the 2014 fire season the bill authorizes the acquisition by lease or contract of up to three helicopters, and in 2015 up to four “large aircraft”, presumably fixed wing air tankers. If they obtain three helicopters, one must be capable of “command and control” and another would be a Type 1 heavy ship that would have rappel ability and could carry up to 18 passengers. The air tankers must be capable of night flying operations.
The bill was introduced by President of the Senate Morgan Carroll and Senator Steve King on March 21, 11 days before the CFAC Director Paul Cooke is due to release a report on April Fools Day that would recommend the direction the new agency should take.
The bill that created the CFAC last year did not appropriate funds to operate the agency or acquire aircraft. The new bill just introduced does not yet specify a monetary amount, but it will be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a fiscal note attachment and then sent to the Joint Budget Committee for recommendations on funding.
If the final version of the bill includes funding, getting it past Governor John Hickenlooper could be a challenge. He was quoted by the Durango Herald as expressing the belief that farmers and ranchers should be the first line of defense in fighting wildfires. However, the fact that one of the cosponsors of the bill is the President of the Senate is a sign that it has a chance of passing the legislature, and perhaps even overriding a veto.
The folks at Air Spray continue to work on the two BAe-146 aircraft that they are converting into air tankers. I found myself at the Chico, California airport yesterday and stopped by their hangar and talked with Ravi Saip (Director of Maintenance/General Manager) and Paul Lane (Vice President and Chief Financial Officer). The tanks they will install will employ some of the same principles as the gravity-based Aero Union RADS I tanks. They are being built now by Air Spray’s staff, which includes some former Aero Union employees. Mr. Saip also worked for Aero Union before they went out of business.
I looked inside one of the BAe-146s and observed some of the work that has been completed, including the gutting of the flight deck and the former passenger area. Before they install the tank in the interior they will cut a hole in the belly through which the retardant will exit.
They hope to have most of the work done by the end of the summer, then they will begin the testing, tweaking, improving, and certification phases.
They don’t have a contract for the BAe-146s, but are hopeful that they will find work for the air tankers after they are ready to fight fire.
On Wednesday Tom Harbour was kind enough to make time in his busy schedule at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California to give us an update on the air tanker program. He talked about the status of the C-130Hs that were recently transferred from the Coast Guard and commented on Buffalo Airways’ purchase of a P3 air tanker formerly owned by Aero Union.
Tonight at the Aerial Fighting Conference DynCorp and Coulson are announcing a strategic alliance. They intend to work together to bid on aerial fighting contracts and will provide those services if selected.
Coulson has operated air tankers and helicopters in North America and Australia for years, and DynCorp currently has a contract to provide maintenance and pilots for CAL FIRE’s S2T air tankers and maintenance for their helicopters.
Breaking news from the Aerial Firefighting conference. Buffalo Airways just purchased Tanker 22, one of the P3s formerly owned by Aero Union. They intend to use it as an air tanker. This was confirmed by Joe McBryan of Buffalo, who was pleased to say the P3 will live on.
They purchased it from Blue Aerospace/United Aeronautical Corporation.
You might recognize Mr. McBryan from the Ice Pilots reality show on the History Channel.
We had an opportunity to photograph some of the aircraft at McClellan Air Force base today. Click on the photos to see larger versions.