DC-10 activated for California

DC-10 air tanker
Tanker 910, a DC-10 air tanker, at Rapid City April 23, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert

(UPDATE May 5, 2013)

The DC-10, Tanker 910, was one of the aircraft used May 4 on the Gorgonio Fire in Riverside County, California. The spread of the fire was stopped after it burned 650 acres.

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(Originally published at 3:41 p.m. MT, May 3, 2013.)

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has activated one of the DC-10 air tankers on a call-when-needed contract.

Rick Hatton, President of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, the company that operates the two DC-10 air tankers, confirmed for us today that it will come on duty tomorrow, May 4. He said most likely the one they will use will be Tanker 910, the aircraft that visited four cities last week on the way back from scheduled maintenance in Michigan.

Neither CAL FIRE nor the U.S. Forest Service have exclusive use contracts for the DC-10s, so they operate on a call-when-needed basis, which results in a slower activation, higher per day costs, and less assurance that they will be available.

The USFS call-when-needed and exclusive use contracts for Very Large and Large air tankers all expired on December 31, 2012, but some were extended for a few months. Several weeks ago the agency awarded eight new exclusive use contracts for large “legacy” air tankers, with seven of them being Korean War vintage P2Vs, but it has been 520 days since they first began an attempt to contract for large “next generation” air tankers, with no results yet.

MAFFS annual training

MAFFS 2 training
A C-130 Hercules from the 302nd Airlift Wing drops a load of water April 22, 2013 near Fairplay, Colo during training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathan Federico) Click to enlarge.

Two of the four military units that provide military C-130 aircraft configured to serve as air tankers are conducting their annual training, certification, and recertification. Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs had their’s April 19-23 and Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne has chosen the week of May 5. The military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) can help fill a need for a surge capacity when all of the privately owned contract air tankers are committed.

The 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson is the only Air Force Reserve organization that has an aerial fire fighting mission. The wing’s MAFFS program added one pilot, two navigators, two flight engineers and four loadmasters to the aerial fire fighting roster this year. Reserve aircrew members who support the MAFFS mission are volunteers, with each working to incorporate aerial fire fighting training into their required airdrop and tactical flying skill sets.

Video of Tanker 910 at Missoula

The video above was produced by the Missoulian when Tanker 910, a DC-10, visited Missoula on April 24. It features Captain Jack Maxey describing the features of the huge air tanker which carries 11,600 gallons of retardant.

The aircraft also stopped by Brainerd, MN, Rapid City, SD, and Billings, MT, taking the scenic route while ferrying back home to southern California following a C-check in Michigan.

Photos of the Tanker taken during the Rapid City visit are over at Wildfire Today.

Thanks go out to Dick

Senators urge USFS to convert C-27Js into air tankers

The three-person congressional delegation from South Dakota sent a letter to the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service on April 16 encouraging Chief Tidwell to acquire military surplus C-27J aircraft to be converted into air tankers. The Defense Department may be getting rid of all of their C-27Js, and legislation has given the Secretary of Agriculture the first right of refusal if that occurs.

C-27J Spartan
C-27J Spartan

At least three other Senators have been pushing for this since last July. This newest letter was signed by Senator John Thune, Senator Tim Johnson, and Representative Kristi Noem. In spite of the fact that their letter shows a lack of understanding of how air tankers are managed in the federal government, they offered some advice, suggesting that “one or two” of the C-27Js be stationed at Ellsworth Air Force base in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The Senators and the Congresswoman failed in their letter to indicate that they would introduce legislation to appropriate dollars to maintain and operate the aircraft or supply funding to convert them into air tankers, which would require many millions of dollars. Talk and letter writing is very easy to do. Using their powers as elected officials representing taxpayers to actually facilitate change on this matter is something that they have not done, and can’t delegate to the intern that may have written the letter.

The C-27J is an interesting aircraft and appears to be a baby brother of the C-130J. It uses two of the same turbo-prop engines as the C-130, which has four of the 4,640 hp Rolls-Royce engines. If converted into an air tanker, at only five years old they would be by far the youngest large air tankers being used in the United States. The P2Vs that currently comprise most of the large air tanker fleet on exclusive use contracts are over 50 years old. Even Tanker 40 (N146FF), the recently acquired jet-powered BAe-146 operated by Neptune, is 27 years old.

The C-27J has a short but spotty history, with some reports of maintenance problems and difficulties in acquiring parts from the Italian suppliers. According to Wikipedia:

On 23 March 2012, the U.S. Air Force announced that it will cut the C-27J from its inventory in fiscal year 2013 after determining that its per-aircraft lifecycle costs are higher than those of C-130 aircraft performing the same combat resupply mission.

It is difficult to estimate how many gallons of retardant a C-27J could hold, but it could be between 1,800 and 2,300. This compares to an average of 1,948 for a P2V, a little less than 3,000 for a BAe-146, and 11,600 for a DC-10.

 

Thanks go out to Jim

Tanker 71 at Monrovia

Tanker 71 dropping on Madison Fire in Monrovia. Screen grab from ABC7 video.

The photo above, a screen grab from ABC7, shows Tanker 71, an S2T, dropping on the Madison Fire in Monrovia, California, east of Los Angeles, at 5:40 p.m. PT, April 20, 2013.

More information about the Madison Fire.

LA County helicopter dropping on Madison Fire
LA County helicopter drops on Madison Fire, April 20, 2013. LASD photo by Eric Fox

DC-10 air tanker to tour airports in Montana, South Dakota, and Minnesota

DC10 dropping
Tanker-911, a DC 10 airtanker, drops retardant on the Wallow fire above Greer, AZ, as the Del Rosa Hotshots wait in a safety zone, June 11, 2011. USFS photo by Kari Greer

Over at Wildfire Today there is an article about plans for one of the DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers to visit airports in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana next week.

Colorado continues to consider acquiring an air tanker fleet

After it was first proposed on March 15 by two Colorado state lawmakers, the state continues to pursue the goal of acquiring a fleet of air tankers. Senate Bill 245 introduced by Senators Steve King and Cheri Jahn passed the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday on a 5-0 vote, and the next step is in the Appropriations Committee. That seven-member committee will decide if they want to fund the concept.

The bill would create a “Colorado Firefighting Air Corps” which if approved and funded would:

Purchase, acquire, lease or contract for the provision of firefighting aircraft, facilities, equipment, and supplies for aerial firefighting, and retrofit, maintain, staff, and support the firefighting aircraft or contract for the provision of those services.

The Cortez Journal interviewed someone whose name will be familiar to those who have been involved in aerial firefighting for a while, Tony Kern, who formerly headed the U.S. Forest Service aviation program. Here is an excerpt from their article:

The federal government has been studying its air tanker problem for a decade, but it isn’t getting more planes in the air, Kern said. And the planes that are in service are old.

Kern thinks federal failures create an opportunity for Colorado to position itself as an international hub for aerial firefighting technology.

“We can fly a smart bomb through Kim Jong-Il’s window, but we’re still throwing slurry down from 1950s technology into the wind over fires when our own citizens are at risk,” he said.

If you have several hours to kill, you can peruse the seven air tanker studies the federal government has commissioned and paid for since 1995. And if those are not enough for you, an eighth one, the AVID study, was completed at the end of 2012. We are waiting with bated breath for it to be released by the USFS.

This air tanker has it backwards


In this commercial that alert reader Devin saw on NBC television today, the air tanker in the video appears to be dropping gasoline instead of fire retardant. A how-this-commercial-was-made blog post admits it was “simulated flammable liquid”, but it’s an interesting advertisement. The blog article is dated June, 2012.

Devin noticed that the C-130 looks similar to Coulson’s C-130H, but the aircraft in this video, N466TM, is described at Flightware as a C-130A registered to TBM Inc., at Tulare, California. It was last tracked at Dubois, PA on March 7, 2012. The blog article referenced above is dated June, 2012. The paint job is similar to Tanker 67, N531BA, a C-130A that is also registered to TBM.