Progress check on next-generation air tankers

We attempted to contact all four of the vendors that received contracts for next-generation air tankers that are still working to convert their aircraft into air tankers. We wanted to get updates on how close they are to being ready drop retardant over fires. Minden and Coulson returned our phone calls. 10 Tanker had their two DC-10s ready to go and fully certified when the contracts were announced, so their status is obvious.

As you may know, the USFS announced on May 6 that exclusive use contracts were going to be awarded for seven next generation air tankers. The activation of the contracts was held up by a protest from Neptune Aviation, but the awards finally went to.

Only one of the five companies had their air tanker fully certified and ready to go when the awards were announced — 10 Tanker Air Carrier and their DC-10. They put Tanker 910 to work around June 1. In fact, their second DC-10, Tanker 911, was activated on a Call When Needed (CWN) contract June 14 and both of them have been flying fires since then. The two DC-10s, which always carry 11,600 gallons, dropped approximately 698,000 gallons of retardant in the month of June.

The other four companies are finishing the tank installations and still have to obtain a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) from the FAA and have to pass a static test, dropping while parked on the tarmac; then, finally a grid test during which they drop actual retardant from the air into a grid of hundreds of cups on the ground which will determine the volume and consistency of the drop pattern. As far as I know none of the four remaining companies have scheduled a grid test yet with the Interagency AirTanker Board, which must certify all air tankers under contract with the federal government.

Minden Air Corporation

We talked with Len Parker, the CEO of Minden, who told us that they are making good progress on their BAe-146, Tanker 46, and that they expect to make the deadline for full certification, which is in the first part of August. Their tank design is very different from Neptune’s design for their BAe-146 which uses cabin air pressure to assist in forcing the retardant out of the tank. Mr. Parker told us their tank totally relies on gravity, having more than 10 feet of vertical head pressure. When asked if the door system was constant flow, he said yes and no, explaining that it is more advanced than a typical constant flow system, and uses advanced technology.

The tank holds about 3,100 gallons, he said, and when empty weighs about 2,000 pounds less than other tanks that may be used on BAe-146s, meaning they would not have to carry reduced loads of retardant as often when density altitude is an issue on hot days at high altitude.

Tanker 46 has passed the static test and meets the required flow rates, Mr. Parker told us. They are still working on the STC, but expect to select a date for the grid test by July 12.

Minden has purchased a second BAe-146 and has already started converting it.

Coulson Aircrane (USA), Inc.

Coulson's T 131

Britt Coulson sent us these photos that were taken June 28, 2013. He told us the aircraft, which holds 3,500 gallons, has been painted and they will apply the wrap, which we ran a photo of earlier, later this month. He said on July 2:

…most of the tank is now installed, gear and all flight controls are checked, tank doors are going on this week, hydraulics are being finished this week as is the floor to complete the tank install.

The tank in Coulson's T 131

As you can see in the photo, there are wheels attached to the tank. Mr. Coulson told us they can remove or reinstall the tank in about 30 minutes.

They still have to obtain the STC and the other certifications.

The other two companies

We called and left messages at Aero Flite and Aero Air, but the calls and emails were not returned.

Aero Flite photos?

We received the two following photos from someone who told us that they show Aero Flite’s RJ85 (Tanker 160) external retardant tank being attached to the belly and sides of an aircraft last week. We can’t independently verify they are genuine, so for now we’ll just call them an artist’s conception of what their RJ85 may look like.

AeroFlite RJ85 side AeroFlite RJ85

Four MAFFS being swapped out

The four military MAFFS air tankers that have been activated since June 11 and 21 are being swapped out for four others. Over the next few days the C-130s and crews from the 302nd Airlift Wing, Colorado Springs (US Air Force Reserve), and the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands (California Air National Guard) are being traded for two each from Air National Guard units in North Carolina and Wyoming

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Charlotte Observer about the North Carolina aircraft:

…Three C-130s will lift off Sunday from the base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and head to Mesa, Ariz., to fight a new outbreak of wildfires. Their assignment comes less than a week after 19 firefighters were killed on the ground while battling a raging wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz., about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix.

A year ago, four Charlotte-based crewmen were killed on a mission when a sudden downdraft hurled their aircraft into a mesa in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Charlotte’s Air National Guard unit is one of four in the nation, and the only one on the East Coast, equipped with what are called MAFFS units. Mobile Airborne Fire-Fighting Systems are van-sized tanks that are loaded onto C-130 cargo planes to spread fire retardant from low altitudes.

Two C-130s from the base are equipped with the MAFFS gear, and a third carries support personnel. In all, about 30 members of the N.C. Air Guard unit will be on the mission, Lt. Col. Rose Dunlap of the N.C. Air National Guard said Wednesday.

 

Thanks go out to John

CL-415 encounters problem on Newfoundland lake

(Originally published at 1:12 pm MDT, July 4, 2013)

Reports are preliminary and a little vague at this point, but a CL-415 air tanker had a problem during or shortly after it was scooping water on a lake in western Newfoundland Wednesday. Both pilots are OK but were being checked out in a hospital as a precaution. The Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Transportation and Works confirmed that they were notified about the incident at about 3:30 p.m. that the aircraft had a problem while scooping water at Moosehead Lake near the town of Wabush.

The CBC reported that the Bombardier CL-415 lost power shortly after picking up the water and the pilot and co-pilot managed to turn the aircraft around and land safely on the lake. They got out and stood on the wing until they were rescued.

CTV News quotes Bruce Mullen of the Transportation Safety Board’s Atlantic region office as saying, “When the aircraft was riding along the surface of the water, picking up water, it appears that something went amiss and the aircraft had an incident and impacted the water.” He didn’t know the extent of the damage to the plane but it was still floating on the surface of the lake, he said.

****

(UPDATE at 10 a.m. MDT, July 7, 2013)

From the Telegram, July 5:

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation and Works said it was working on a plan to retrieve the Bombardier 415 water bomber from Moosehead Lake. He said it is not known how long that process might take.

From Twitter:

U.S. borrows CV-580s from Canada

Tanker 42, a CV-580
Tanker 42, a CV-580, at JEFFCO in Colorado in 2012. Photo by Shane Harvey.

The United States Government has again borrowed two CV-580 air tankers from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Jennifer Jones, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said they will be in Boise today, Wednesday. They may be stationed there for a while or be deployed to another location.

In June of 2012 there were a total of five CV-580s temporarily in the lower 48 states; one borrowed from the state of Alaska and four from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

The CV-580s, produced between 1947 and 1954, have a maximum retardant capacity of about 2,100 gallons. The piston engines on the ones used in Canada have been replaced by turboprops.

Both DC-10s at Pueblo

Here is a rare photo of the two DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers on a fire assignment at the same place at the same time — Pueblo, Colorado. They were not as busy Wednesday as they have been recently, which could be a result of the milder, more humid weather which led to less intense fire behavior for the last day or two.

Both DC-10s at Pueblo
Both DC-10s at Pueblo June 26, 2013. Pike & San Isabel NF Photo.

Video of MAFFS 4 dropping on the Papoose Fire


The video shows MAFFS 4, a C-130 from from Channel Islands Air National Guard, dropping on the Papoose Fire, part of the West Fork Complex of fires in Colorado, June 24, 2013.

The next video has a surreal view of the shadow of MAFFS 4 dropping. A screen capture of that scene is below, followed by the video.

MAFFS 4 drops on Papoose Fire, June 25, 2013
MAFFS 4 drops on its own shadow, on the Papoose Fire, June 25, 2013

 

 

 

Thanks go out to Tristan

Update on Coulson’s C-130 air tanker

Coulson C-130
Artist’s conception of Coulson’s C-130, Tanker 131. Courtesy of Coulson. (click to enlarge)

The image above depicts what Coulson’s C-130Q, Air Tanker 131, should look like when it first appears over a wildfire, which is scheduled to happen in early August. The inspections and maintenance are nearing completion, the engines and props have been reinstalled, the tank is installed, most of the painting is complete, and the wrap shown above will be applied in the middle or end of July. Britt Coulson told us today that they expect to start doing run-ups the first week of July. He said they expect to be ready for their contract-specified Mandatory Availability Period which begins August 1.

HERE is what the aircraft looked like in early May.