Interesting aircraft seen at McClellan Airfield

A DC-3 and a C-27J were parked in a hanger.

Last week during the Aerial Firefighting conference there were two interesting aircraft at McClellan Airfield parked in the hangar near the static display of the 747 Supertanker and other firefighting aircraft.

One of them was a DC-3 that appeared to be the recently retired smokejumper aircraft. Instead of the registration number previously on the jump ship, N115Z, the number was N115U.

The other aircraft in the same hangar was a Coast Guard C-27J Spartan. A few years ago the U.S. Forest Service attempted to acquire a bunch of the former military aircraft to use them as air tankers. But the Coast Guard intervened, and unloaded seven of their old C-130Hs to the USFS, so they could get the C-27Js.

More information about the C-17J from the Coast Guard, December 18, 2015:

Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento is preparing to become the first permanent home of C-27J Spartan medium range surveillance aircraft, with operations expected to start in 2016.

The HC-27J Asset Project Office will assist with the transition by providing a forward-deployable maintenance team and pilot, aircrew and maintenance technician instructors, said Cmdr. Peter Beavis, APO executive officer. An aircraft to be used for training was repositioned to the air station Dec. 2.

Four aircraft will be transferred to the air station in fiscal year 2016, said Lt. Robert Hovanec, C-27J platform manager with the Office of Aviation Forces. Sacramento will have six aircraft at full capacity, with the remaining two arriving in 2017.

C-27J coast guard
C-27J in a hangar at McClellan
DC-3 in a hangar at McClellan. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

U.S. Forest Service awards contract for two water scoopers

Aero-Flite will supply two CL-415 air tankers for one to five years.

Above: Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415, at McClellan Air Field, March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The daily availability rate for the two Aero-Flite CL-415 air tankers will be $42,285 with an hourly rate of $13,299. That daily rate is higher than all of the 21 large air tankers on contract. And only two large air tankers have a higher hourly rate — one of the DC-10s and the USFS/Coast Guard C-130.

The maximum five-year value of the contract is $142,524,440 for the two aircraft.

It is our understanding that the contract used last year expired. This new solicitation specified that the USFS would hire “up to two” aircraft for a period of time “not to exceed five years”. Obviously the agency made a decision and settled on two scoopers. We checked with Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, who told us that it is definitely a five-year contract.

One Aero-Flite CL-415 was on USFS contract in 2015, Tanker 260 (N389AC). The two this year are N386AC and N392AC. We don’t yet have their tanker numbers.

In past years the Bureau of Indian Affairs contracted for one or two twin engine water scoopers, CL-215s I believe, but no longer. This year they will have at least one amphibious water-scooping Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT), an Air Tractor 802F (N6159F) supplied by Aero Spray, and expect to add one more, Robyn Broyles, spokesperson for the BIA, told us earlier this month.

There will also be a large number of non-water-scooping SEATs, perhaps dozens, on exclusive use. The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for that contract and we hope to hear in April or May how that turned out.

We updated the 2016 tanker list originally published March 2, 2016

The twin engine CL-415 can carry up to 1,600 gallons of water, refilling the tank by skimming along the surface of a lake as water enters the scoop that is lowered from the belly of the aircraft.

tanker 260 scoop
The scoop on the bottom of Tanker 260 used to fill the tank as the aircraft skims along the surface of a lake. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Air Tankers at Dryden
Air Tankers, mostly water scoopers, at Dryden (Ontario) Regional Airport in June, 2015 before they were dispersed around the province of Ontario, Canada to deal with the rising number of wildfires. Photo by Chris Sherwin.

16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program

The aerial firefighting program in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has grown over a couple of decades into a highly respected, professionally managed organization. After spending some time at their aviation headquarters at McClellan Air Field on Thursday in Sacramento, I developed as list of 16 facts that you may not know about the program:

1. CAL FIRE has 22 S-2T fixed wing air tankers that can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. They are presently converting an aircraft to replace the one destroyed in the October 7, 2014 crash that killed Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. That process should be complete in 18 to 24 months.

S-2T air tanker
S-2T air tankers at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
2. They have 15 OV-10 Air Attack fixed wing aircraft.

A lineup of OV10 air attack ships at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
3. And 12 Super Huey helicopters.

super huey
Super Huey at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
4. All of the above aircraft were discarded by the military.

5. The S-2T air tankers were designed to be based on aircraft carriers, and therefore have wings that fold. They still retain this feature, which makes it possible to cram more aircraft into a hangar.

S-2T folded wings
An S-2T with the wings folded. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Continue reading “16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program”

A design concept for a C-130 with floats

Tigerfish Aviation has design sketches for a retractable float system that they say can be retrofitted for a variety of aircraft, including military transports. They have an illustration of a C-130J outfitted with floats. We’re not sure how serious Tigerfish is with this idea, but it’s interesting to picture a C-130 air tanker landing on a lake, or scooping water to refill the tank.

Here is an excerpt from the company’s website:

Drag reduction has been one of the key development aims in the design of transport aircraft. Seaplanes are inheritably of high drag due to their boat-like shape and exposed floats

Tigerfish has sought to reduce the drag of floatplanes by retracting and morphing the floats into a streamline shape below the fuselage. This reduces the drag by

  • Concealing the boat-like shapes from the airstream.
  • Reducing the surface area exposed to the airstream.
retractable floats
From Tigerfish Aviation
retractable floats
From Tigerfish Aviation

This is not the first time floats on a C-130 has been proposed. FoxTrotAlpha had an article in July of 2015.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Leo.

Jim Cook receives Walt Darren Award

Jim Cook was honored for helping to develop the Fire Traffic Area.

Above: Jim Cook (right) receives the Walt Darren International Aerial Firefighting Award from David Wardall. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Jim Cook received the Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award March 22 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California. The honor is given annually to recognize a significant contribution to aerial firefighting by an individual or organization.

Mr. Cook was recognized for his part in developing the concept of the Fire Traffic Area, a system of air traffic control for firefighting aircraft over an incident. The need for organizing aircraft into a pattern became painfully evident when two S2 air tankers collided over the Bus Fire August 27, 2001 in Mendocino County in northern California. The two pilots, Larry Groff of Santa Rosa and Lars Stratte of Chico, were killed.

The Fire Traffic Area procedure requires that aircraft approaching a fire make initial radio contact 12 nautical miles out, and should not approach any closer than 7 miles if radio contact is not successful.

Fire Traffic Area
Fire Traffic Area. Graphic from Associated Aerial Firefighters.
Fire Traffic Area
Fire Traffic Area, from the Interagency Aerial Supervision Guide.

The Walt Darren award was first presented in 2014 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California, USA. Mr. Darran was a highly experienced airtanker pilot from California and a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in aerial firefighting industry.

George Petterson received the award the first time it was presented in 2014. The next year it was given to Philippe Bodino.

Interview with Wayne Coulson: gel vs. retardant, and their plans for more C-130 air tankers

This is a video interview with Wayne Coulson, CEO of the Coulson Group. The company operates two C-130 firefighting air tankers. Mr. Coulson talked about the use of gel for direct attack on fires, and how in some cases the local fire managers in Australia prefer that rather than indirect attack with long term fire retardant. He also discussed their plans for the company to add more aircraft to their fleet.

CAL FIRE expects to buy up to 12 new helicopters

Above: One of the few CAL FIRE helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail. The photo was taken March 24, 2016 at the CAL FIRE facilities at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento, California by Bill Gabbert.

It’s not often that we see a federal or state agency with wildland fire responsibilities purchase a fleet of brand new aircraft. More typically they are forced to dig through the boneyard of discarded war birds in the Arizona desert hoping to cobble something together that won’t kill their pilots and firefighters.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, better known as CAL FIRE, hopes to create a new paradigm with a fleet of helicopters right off the assembly line. The agency issued a solicitation to buy nine helicopters — about three a year for three years, with an option to spring for an even dozen.

CAL FIRE helicopter
A DynCorp employee works on a CAL FIRE helicopter at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

For decades CAL FIRE has been using Huey helicopters they salvaged from the military scrap heap. The 12 they have today have been meticulously cared for by skilled professionals and upgraded in many ways, morphing into “Super Hueys”. We heard one pilot say he loves flying them. Many people will tell you that just because an aircraft has a couple of wars and a handful of decades on its Hobbs meter, that does not necessarily disqualify it from being a very useful and safe piece of equipment. But after rebuilding, replacing, and rehabbing a large percentage of the machine, and finding that you sometimes have to make your own parts because they have not been manufactured for 20 to 50 years you can reach a point of diminishing returns.

When CAL FIRE received the bids on their helicopter solicitation, they found significant differences in how the potential vendors interpreted the contract language. One company was bidding on what they assumed were apples, while another was picturing oranges. So the solicitation and bids were all thrown out. It’s back to the drawing board where they hope to develop clear instructions and will be sure they are understood.

But they don’t have the luxury of time. The state’s Administration has set aside the money pending the Legislature’s approval but there is concern within CAL FIRE that if they don’t commit it very soon, it will disappear. Their plan is to rewrite the solicitation, advertise it, receive bids, and award a contract all within a period of weeks. In other words, they do not plan to dither for 555 days like the U.S. Forest Service did in 2012 and 2013 when they went through the excruciating process of contracting to lease seven “next-generation air tankers” v. 1.0. And that was for LEASING — not buying a fleet of new aircraft. After watching that painful USFS process for more than a year, we placed a timer in the side bar of our website, counting the number of days that had elapsed since the solicitation had been issued, but no contract awarded.

CAL FIRE’s Helicopter Program Manager and Chief Pilot, Barry C. Lloyd, is working with the state’s contracting specialists, the Department of General Services, to get this procurement done. It’s unknown how this task compares to his being shot down twice over Vietnam, but he will undoubtably be relieved when it is brought to a peaceful resolution.

Jim Wheeler introduces the 747 SuperTanker

An interview with Jim Wheeler about the 747 SuperTanker that can carry 19,600 gallons of fire retardant or water. Mr. Wheeler is the President and CEO of Global Supertanker Services LLC. The interview was filmed at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, California March 22, 2016 by Bill Gabbert for