The last smokejumper DC-3 to retire this year

DC-3 smokejumper

Jump-42, a U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TP at its retirement ceremony at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012. USFS photo.

The last DC-3 smokejumper aircraft will retire this year, a few months after its 70th birthday. Jump-15 as it is known, came off the assembly line two months after the end of World War II but it will be making its farewell tour as it drops smokejumpers during its final fire season. The second to the last smokejumper DC-3 retired a couple of years ago.

The Missoulian has an article highlighting the history of Jump-15. Here is an excerpt from the article:

…Douglas Aircraft Co. started building the tail-dragging DC-3s in 1935. TWA director Charles Lindbergh reportedly made the requirement that it should always be able to fly with just one of its two engines. That’s a feature smokejumpers loved too.
The DC-3 was the first to be wide enough for side-by-side sleeper berths – a first-class requirement for the propeller-age jet set. It could fly across the United States in 15 hours with three refueling stops, the first commercial plane to make that trip entirely in daylight.

When America entered World War II in 1942, the civilian plane put on an Army uniform. The military redesignated it the C-47 Dakota and ordered more than 10,000 before 1945.

Dwight Eisenhower ranked it along with the Jeep, the half-ton truck and the bulldozer as the Allied Forces’ most effective tools in winning the war…

Other articles on Fire Aviation tagged “DC-3″.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick and Steve.


Very small people pose with very large air tanker

Tanker 912

This is the Kindergarten class from the Monzano School in Albuquerque. On February 20, 2015 they took a tour of Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, and got their picture taken with Amy and Anselm from the 10 Tanker Air Carrier maintenance crew. Photo by 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

I love this photo that was posted today on the 10 Tanker Air Carrier Facebook page.

Below is a photo we took of the rest of a DC-10, Tanker 910, in 2013.

Tanker 910, DC-10, photo by Bill Gabbert


Managing Australia’s aerial firefighting assets

Air Tanker 162

Air Tanker 162, known as Bomber 391 in Australia, is shown with a truckload of fire retardant transported to Western Australia by the Royal Australian Air Force. (still image from the video below)

The video below, produced by the Royal Australian Air Force, provides information about how the Australian Defence Force assisted residents and fire fighting efforts in Western Australia during the recent fire seige.

Victoria firefighting aircraft

Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning Victoria welcomes 46 firefighting aircraft. (still image from the video below.)

In the next video, produced by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in December, 2014, officials welcome 46 firefighting aircraft of all shapes and sizes to the 2014/2015 bushfire season, including two large air tankers from North America.

And one last video — this one showing Tanker 131, known as Bomber 390 in Australia, landing at Avalon in Victoria.


MAFFS pilot talks about landing without a nose wheel

MAFFS hard landing

The MAFFS 3 air tanker experienced a hard landing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Aug. 17, 2014 following an in flight emergency. There were no injuries and only minor damage to the aircraft. Photo supplied by Hill AFB, Utah. (click to enlarge)

More details are coming to light regarding the Modular Airborne FireFighting System C-130 that landed August 17 without the nose wheel fully extended.

Maj. Derik George, a C-130 pilot with the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing was part of the crew that recently received the Air Mobility Command Chief of Safety Aircrew of Distinction Award for their efforts following a landing gear malfunction while fighting fires in southern Utah.

The MAFFS C-130 crew was attempting to land at Hill Air Force Base, Utah after conducting aerial firefighting missions in southern Utah Aug. 17, 2014 when Maj. Jack Berquist, aircraft commander, and George, co-pilot, realized the nose landing gear was not functioning properly.

“As we were approaching to land, Maj. Berquist, who was flying, asked for the gear down. After lowering the landing gear we got an unsafe gear indication in the nose,” said George.

The crew stayed in the traffic pattern at Hill and started on their emergency procedures. There are three ways to get the nose landing gear down but none of them worked. They called a Lockheed Martin engineer and test pilot but neither call fixed the problem. The U.S. Forest Service sent a lead plane to see if that pilot could determine what was wrong from flying underneath the aircraft, but again, nothing helped. After more than three hours of circling the airfield, the crew determined they had no other choice but to attempt a landing.

“At that point we said, ‘well, we are out of options, we are just going to land with the nose gear up.’ We called the tower, and they were able to put foam on the runway, that way it would arrest any fire that might start. We ran our checklists again, making sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. Jack Berquist was flying, he did a fantastic job. I don’t think he could’ve done any better. He held the nose up as long as possible and was able to get the nose on the ground in the foam,” said George.

The aircraft came to a stop and the tower let the crew know a small fire started under the nose. The crew shut everything down and egressed to a safe area. The emergency crews on the ground quickly put the fire out.

“The most rewarding thing of the whole day was how well the crew worked together,” said George, who has nearly 1,500 C-130 and more than 3,700 total flight hours. “The navigator was Active Duty, I was a Reservist. The other four crew members were Wyoming Air National Guard. It was very seamless. Everybody knew exactly what to do. MAFFS crews are some of the most highly experienced and best trained crews in the Air Force.”

The efforts by the MAFFS 3 crew resulted in the safe return of six airmen and only minor damage to a $37 million aircraft.

“Other than the fact that there was a mechanical malfunction, which is pretty rare, there was nothing that surprised me about this event. We look for top notch people, we train hard. They tried ‘A,’ they tried ‘B,’ they tried ‘C,’ and they ended up having to do ‘D,'” said Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd AW chief of aerial firefighting. “It all worked, just the way it should have.”

Besides Berquist, Goebel and George, the other crew members were flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Damian Hoffmann, and load masters, Master Sgts. Brandon York and Christian Reese.

Four C-130 wings perform the MAFFS mission, each providing two MAFFS-capable aircraft and the air and ground crews needed to operate them. They are the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard; 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, in Colorado.


Forest Service expects to have all 7 C-130s converted to air tankers by FY 2019

Coast Guard C-130H No 1719

A Coast Guard C-130H, No. 1719, one of the aircraft to be transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo taken October, 2008 by Rico Leffanta.

Fire Aviation has obtained a document produced by the U.S. Forest Service which indicates they expect to receive the seven former Coast Guard C-130H aircraft between Fiscal Years 2017 and 2019 after they have been converted into airtankers — two in 2017, three in 2018, and the last two in 2019. (The federal fiscal year begins in October.) This is a year later than information the Chief of the USFS, Tom Tidwell, provided to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July of 2014.

Last month the agency’s announced plan, until the seven aircraft have been fully converted to air tankers with conventional gravity-based retardant tanks, was to operate one C-130H in 2015 and 2016 with a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) installed “to provide an initial capability and to gain experience in operating the aircraft while wing and airframe modifications are being completed and gravity tanks are being developed and installed”, according to Jennifer Jones of the U.S. Forest Service in January, 2015.

The document we received, dated February 4, 2015, states the USFS will have two of the C-130Hs this summer, both outfitted with the MAFFS pressurized internal retardant tanks, rather than a conventional gravity-based retardant tank. One will be used on fires within 500 nautical miles (575 statute miles) of McClellan, California, and the other aircraft will be used as a training platform until it departs for programmed depot-level maintenance in the Fall of CY 2015.

Two weeks ago we asked the Forest Service when the converted C-130Hs would be delivered and were told by a spokesperson they would receive them “beginning in 2017, but we don’t have a specific schedule available yet”.

The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 passed in December of 2013 required that the seven aircraft be transferred from the Coast Guard to the Air Force where they will be updated with new wing boxes as needed, receive retardant tank systems, and any necessary programmed depot-level maintenance. After the conversions, they will be owned by the U.S. Forest Service, but operated and maintained under contract by private companies while being used to help suppress wildfires.

It is our understanding that two of the seven aircraft received new wing boxes before the transfer from the Coast Guard was initiated. Fire Aviation wrote a detailed article in January, 2014 about the wing box program and other work that must be done to the C-130Hs — at a cost not to exceed $130 million.

The total cost of a center wing box kit in 2011 was $6.7 million, including installation which takes about 10 months. The programmed depot-level maintenance takes 6 to 7 months. It would probably take several months to install a 3,500-gallon retardant tank in the C-130s. The Air Force has already issued a Request for Information for the tanks.

When the last of the C-130Hs are received in FY2019, we believe they will be from 42 to 46 years old. If they last 20 additional years, they will be 62 to 66 years old, about the same age as the dangerously old Korean War vintage P2Vs still being used today as air tankers that have an alarming crash history. One could debate about how high a priority it is to secure our homeland from wildfires.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is replacing their jettisoned planes with almost new C-27J aircraft.

We scoured the Forest Service document to sort out the details about the schedule for incorporating the C-130Hs into the Forest Service fleet, and put them in the table below. Click it to see a larger version.

Forest Service C-130H schedule

The numbers the Coast Guard assigned to the seven aircraft that are being transferred to the USFS are 1706, 1708, 1709, 1713, 1714, 1719, and 1721.


Air-Cranes for high-rise fires?

The video has an animated demonstration of how Erickson Air-Cranes might use a front-mounted water cannon and a personnel rescue basket on high-rise fires. The water cannon has been around for a while, as you can see in this 2011 video, but I have not heard of it being actually used on a structure fire. Does anyone have more information?