Tanker 131, now known as Bomber 390, arrives in Australia

Above: Tanker 131 reunites with its sister aircraft, Tanker 132, in Avalon, Victoria. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s Tanker 131 arrived safely in Avalon, Victoria (map) on Sunday U.S. time after an uneventful flight. Its sister ship, Tanker 132, happened to be at Avalon when it landed.

The planned route for the C-130Q to Australia was for 27 flight hours, more than 7,000 miles, and four stops en route for fuel. When its 85-day contract with Emergency Management Victoria begins on December 15 the aircraft will be known as Bomber 390.

Tanker 132, a C-130H, has been in Australia since September 6, 2016. It just had its contract extended for another month and will continue to be based at Richmond RAAF base in New South Wales until mid-January. But like in the United States, the tankers are moved around as needed and shared between states.

Tanker 131
Tanker 131 stopped at Norfolk Island to refuel. Coulson photo.
tanker 131 route
The route Tanker 131 took from Phoenix, AZ to Avalon, Victoria. Coulson image.

C-130Q en route to Australia

The air tanker will begin an 84-day contract in Victoria on December 15.

Above: Tanker 131’s route from Santa Maria, California to Hawaii.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a C-130Q, is en route to Australia to begin a firefighting contract for the state of Victoria. It departed from Phoenix on December 8 and is expected to arrive in Avalon, Victoria on December 12 after flying for a total of 27 hours. These dates and the ones below are U.S. time.

Tanker 131 itinerary
Tanker 131’s itinerary. From Coulson.

In Australia it is designated as Tanker 390 and is named “Hercules”. On the way to Avalon it scheduled stops at Santa Maria (California), Kahului (Hawaii), Pago Pago, and Norfolk Island. Britt Coulson said Friday night that it had just landed at Pago Pago (NSTU).

The 84-day contract for T-131 begins December 15th.

Tanker 131
Tanker 131 in Maui, Thursday December 8 US time. Coulson photo.
Tanker 131
Tanker 131 over Maui, Thursday December 8 US time. Coulson photo.

Tanker 131 concluded its 2016 fire season in the United States on November 30, accumulating 350 hours of flight time and 520 drops for a total of 1.77 million gallons delivered over wildfires — an average of 3,404 gallons per drop.

Tanker 131
Tanker 131 at Pago Pago Friday December 9 US time. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s other C-130 type air tanker, T-132, a C-130H, has been in New South Wales since September 6, 2016. Known as “Thor” down under, it just had its contract extended for another month and will continue to be based at Richmond RAAF base until mid-January.

Libyan air tanker back in service

Libya air tanker An-23P
An air tanker in Libya, based on an An-32P, is restored to service.

This photo and the information below is from the AeroHisto web site, indicating that a Libyan twin-engine turboprop air tanker, an AN-32P, was put back in service after being stored for a number of years.

Photos appeared on Libyan social media confirmed that a new Antonov An-32P was overhauled by technician and engineer at Misrata airbase. This “Cline” (serial ‘3507’, code ‘5A-DRE’) was built in 2005 and delivered to the Libyan Air Force on 1st September of the same year. it was previously used as firekiller and was seen during LAVEX airshow in october 2007. Since this period, it was stored at Mitiga airbase near Tripoli. This aircraft is the second An-32P in service with the ex-LDAF (Libya Dawn Air Force). The first one was seen operated on 28th August 2016 during the evacuation of wounded fighters in the battle of Sirte.

Impressive DC-10 drop in Australia

One of the comments says this was shot on a fire in New South Wales, Australia.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the air tanker ties onto and extends a previous retardant drop. I’d love to see an AFTER photo, when the fire hits the retardant.

Using the 747 Supertanker to drop on fires at night

Above: The 747 Supertanker at McClellan Air Field March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

While the 747 Supertanker was in Israel November 24 to 30, a Jordanian web site wrote that the aircraft was capable of dropping at night. This was a surprise to us, since no large fixed wing air tanker owned or operated by a government agency or private company has ever, to our knowledge, established or approved a policy of dropping water or retardant on a wildfire at night. As far as we can tell it has never been done, other than, perhaps, by a cowboy pilot who bent the rules.

We checked with Jim Wheeler, the President and CEO of Global Supertanker Services, who told us, “Under certain circumstances we will drop at night”. The final decision, he said, was up to the pilot in command.

He went on to say:

In Israel the conditions would be different than what you would find in the United States. The Israelis were looking at a potential for night flight in certain areas that they felt might need it. Fortunately none of those came up while we were over there.

The Supertanker flight crews do not have Night Vision Goggles (NVG), have not trained with the aircraft for night flights, and before they use NVG the lights in the cockpit would have to be modified to be compatible. Conventional panel lights are far too bright for NVG.

At the Night Aerial Firefighting Operations Summit held last January in Rifle, Colorado, Bill Moody and Cliff Hale of Global Supertanker put on a presentation about the use of the 747 for night drops. It was recorded and can still be seen HERE. Their presentation begins at 78:20 and they begin talking about night drops at 84:10.

One of their key points was the drops might have to be done at 400 to 800 feet above the ground, but that is still unknown. One feature of the Supertanker that would help to make higher altitude drops more feasible is the pressurized system that pumps the water or retardant straight down, reducing the side drift and the footprint.

They said in the presentation that there would be a requirement for an infrared equipped air attack aircraft, ATGS, to be at a higher altitude than the air tanker. This is the inverse of having a lead plane flying in front of the tanker. The ATGS would identify the targets and the start and end points for the drop, then relay those to the tanker where it would be displayed on a map.

When the U.S. Forest Service restored the night flying helicopter program on the Angeles National Forest in 2013, they had a similar requirement, a fixed wing air attack ship orbiting overhead in the darkness. In this case it was a Turbo Commander 690 equipped with technology to support ground and air firefighting operations at night, including an infrared camera and command and control avionics equipment.

The January presentation included this:

Can it be done safely? That’s what we need to evaluate. We think it can at the altitudes we would be operating at and with the drop system we have but this is something that would have to be further evaluated during an R&D project.

Below is a screenshot from their presentation, outlining the Research and Development project if they were going to consider dropping at night:

R&D proposal for night drops
Global Supertanker R&D proposal for night drops.

Mr. Wheeler said wildland fire personnel in Israel and Australia are very interested in using fixed wing air tankers at night.

“We’re not ready for night flight in the U.S., period”, he said. “And whether or not the Forest Service ever allows it is a monumental question. There are a lot of things that will happen offshore long before they ever happen over here.”

N.W.T. new scoopers to be operated by Buffalo Airways

Buffalo P3 Joe McBryan
File photo: Ronald Guy (left) of United Aeronautical congratulates Joe McBryan (right) of Buffalo Airways, March 19, 2014 at McClellan Air Force Base March 19, 2014. Buffalo Airways had just purchased Tanker 22. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Northwest Territories has awarded a contract to Buffalo Airways to operate their eight new Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers. The government of the NWT inherited six CL-215 piston-powered scooper air tankers. They are being replaced by the FireBoss scoopers at a cost of about $26 million. Buffalo Airways scored a five-year contract to operate the new turbine-powered SEATs.

This seems be a trend. In 2015 the state of Minnesota sold their two CL-215s and replaced them with four FireBoss SEATs.

Air Tractor 802-F FireBoss
Air Tractor 802F FireBoss. NWT photo.

The FireBoss is amphibious, able to take off from a runway and land or scoop water on a lake.

Buffalo Airways previously operated the CL-215s for NWT. In their own fleet the company has eight air tankers: a Lockheed Electra, three Douglas DC-4s, and four CL-215s. As far as we know they have not yet starting operating the P3 they bought in 2014 as an air tanker. The last we heard it was receiving some maintenance in Florida.