Air tanker 116 at Redding

The U.S. Forest Service distributed these photos Thursday of air tanker 116 at Redding, California. Normally the aircraft is based at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, but it ventured north for “aerial firefighter training”.

The agency did not specify if the lawn chairs in the shade are part of the regular equipment inventory on the aircraft.

This plane is one of seven HC-130H’s that are transitioning from the Coast Guard to the USFS. The program has experienced delays but is expected to be complete by the end of this decade.

tanker 116 HC-130H tanker 116 HC-130H

Picture day for Coulson’s C-130’s

While Coulson’s three C-130-type air tankers were all together in Reno last month for carding by the U.S. Forest Service and pilot training the company took the opportunity to grab some photos of the aircraft while they were flying in formation.

They are all variants of Lockheed’s C-130 platform — Tanker 131 is a C-130Q while Tankers 132 and 133 are L-382G’s. Tanker 133, the newest addition to the fleet, just became operational a couple of weeks ago.

Scroll down to see how Dan Megna got the photos.

Coulson C-130 air tankers

Coulson C-130 air tankers

Coulson C-130 air tankers

Coulson C-130 air tanker

To take the photos Coulson rented an OV-10 that conveniently has a small compartment in the rear. Professional photographer Dan Megna sat in that tiny space to get the shots.

Two Aero-Flite scoopers began contracts this week

Two of Aero-Flite’s CL-415 scoopers, Tankers 260 and 263, began the Mandatory Availability Period on their exclusive use contracts on Monday. The company is hoping their other CL-415’s, Tankers 261 and 262, will be awarded call when needed contracts on the scooper solicitation that closed in March.

four CL-415 cody wy
Four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

Aero-Flite also has two RJ85’s actively working on contracts and two others begin in the third week of May. They have one or two others available as call when needed depending on maintenance status.

Aero-Flite's Tanker 161
Aero-Flite’s Tanker 161, an RJ85, at McClellan, March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Portable retardant plant for the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire

Above: Equipment to set up a fire retardant plant arrives at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, June 25, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Don Branum.

While I was scrolling around the internet searching for something obscure I ran across these photos taken while the Waldo Canyon Fire was burning on the west side of Colorado Springs, Colorado in June, 2012. It appears that Phos-Chek was setting up a portable, or transportable, fire retardant plant at the Colorado Springs Airport, which is the home of Peterson Air Force base and the 302nd Airlift Wing.

Peterson is one of four military bases that can each supply two C-130’s outfitted with the slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) that converts the aircraft into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. Two MAFFS-equipped aircraft from the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard at Cheyenne joined the fight along with the Colorado aircraft.

C-130 MAFFS Colorado Springs Waldo Canyon fire
C-130’s being loaded with MAFFS units and configured to help firefighters on the ground suppress the Waldo Canyon Fire which can be seen in the distance, June 24, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Ann Skarban.

On June 25, 2012 the C-130s began flying air tanker missions out of Peterson Air Force Base and the permanent air tanker base at Pueblo Memorial Airport 50 miles to the south.

On June 23, 2012 the Waldo Canyon Fire started in the Pike National Forest southwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado. On June 26 it spread into the Mountain Shadows area of the city. Before the fire was out, it had killed two people and burned 18,000 acres and 347 homes. Reports later revealed a very timid, anemic, and confused initial attack on the fire and serious mismanagement issues during the first two to three days.

Two years later the Black Forest Fire on the other side of Colorado Springs killed two people and burned 489 houses and 14,280 acres, resulting in $420 million in insured losses.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Waldo Canyon Fire.

Unable to fill requests for air tankers increased in 2016

In 2016 there was an increase in the percentage of requests for large air tankers that went unfilled, increasing from 10 percent in 2015 which was the lowest since 2009, to 13.4 percent in 2016.

Counting the U.S. Forest Service HC-130H air tanker there was a maximum of 21 large and very large air tankers on exclusive use contracts in 2016. However, the two Erickson MD-87 aircraft were not available for most of the year due to problems with the retardant system. The company claims they have fixed the issue and they should be ready to go this summer. A few other call when needed (CWN) large and very large air tankers were activated for weeks at a time in 2016. Unless new contracts for CWN air tankers are issued that will be effective this year, the number of available air tankers in 2017 should be about the same. A new exclusive use contract is expected to be in effect in 2018.

Tanker 12 Trailhead Fire
Tanker 12 on the Trailhead Fire. A Cobra helicopter is in the background. Photo July 1, 2016 by Matthew Rhodes.

The number of acres burned in the lower 49 states (which excludes Alaska) was virtually the same in 2015 and 2016, with both being pretty close to average. There were also few extended fire sieges involving multiple large fires occurring at the same time that required a high number of air tankers. Having the fires spread out over time minimizes the number of air tanker requests that go unfilled.

wildfire acres per year
The number of acres burned in wildfires in the lower 49 states (excludes Alaska).

Here are some of the Unable to Fill numbers we computed from the data reported by the National Interagency Fire Center for 2016:

  • Type 1 and 2 large air tankers: 13.4%
  • Single Engine Air Tankers: 21.1%
  • Type 1 helicopters: 12.3%
  • Type 2 helicopters: 8.6%
  • Type 3 helicopters: 8.3%

There were only seven requests for MAFFS air tankers, and all were filled.

Interview with a Crew Chief on a C-130 MAFFS air tanker

On April 21, 2017 we interviewed Zach Havel an engine mechanic and former Crew Chief on C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System aircraft. The MAFFS converts the aircraft into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. We talked with him at Boise during the annual MAFFS training and recertification.

C-130 MAFFS air tanker Loadmaster Interview

Sgt. Poulsen, a MAFFS Loadmaster, was interviewed April 21 in Boise during training and recertification for MAFFS personnel.

An interview with Sgt. Phil Poulsen of the California Air National Guard about installing and operating the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) in a military C-130, turning it into an air tanker for fighting wildfires.

Coulson’s three C-130’s reporting for duty

Coulson Aviation distributed this photo today of their three C-130-type air tankers lined up at Reno for “USFS carding”. As we reported on April 10, they introduced their third tanker this month, another L-382G. They also have a C-130Q. The tanker numbers when used in the USA are 131, 132, and 133.

At the end of this month the company will be conducting their annual pilot training.

And, on another subject, can you find the two air tankers in the photo below that was taken by the RAAF at the Avalon Air Show in Australia around March 4?

Avalon Air Show
Avalon Air Show. RAAF photo.