Lead plane pilots evaluate the DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker

With the national media reporting on the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) and the Interagency Airtanker Board’s refusal to issue a meaningful interim certification or Exclusive Use or Call When Needed contracts to the 747 Supertanker, which can hold 19,200 gallons of fire retardant, we looked back on some of the history of Very Large Air Tankers, a category that includes the DC-10 and 747.

While CAL FIRE embraced the DC-10 and used it extensively until the state ran out of money, the USFS was very skeptical, to say the least. The agency is extremely slow in making any changes to their aerial firefighting program. They appear to have a bias against Very Large Air Tankers, like the DC-10 and 747, and water-scooping air tankers, even though they have all been used very successfully by other agencies. Finally after it had proven itself over a few years, a DC-10 received a Call When Needed contract, and later an Exclusive Use Contract, and Incident Commanders and Air Operations personnel were often very happy to see it in the air over their fires.

A lot of people, including some who leave comments on this site, have viewpoints about the effectiveness and performance of specific models of air tankers. Some of them are based on indisputable facts, and others are opinions developed from…. something else. So, like reading political news, be careful when consuming information.

On July 24, 2012 we wrote an article on Wildfire Today with quotes from evaluations of a DC-10 that were written by lead plane pilots hours after they had directed it on fires. The DC-10 almost always carries at least 11,600 gallons of retardant, rarely having to reduce the load because of density altitude issues.

Here’s the article:

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Evaluations of Tanker 911, one of the DC-10 very large air tankers

Tanker 911 dropping Poco Fire
Tanker 911 dropping on the Poco Fire in Arizona, 2012. Photo by Ian James.

We have seen the written evaluations of Tanker 911, one of the DC-10 very large air tankers, for some of the retardant drops the aircraft completed on fires in Arizona and Utah in June and July. The forms were signed by individuals identifying themselves as lead plane pilots.

The evaluation form consists of two parts; a narrative section, and assigning a grade for specific aspects of performance: Reload Turn Times, Maneuverability, Steep Terrain Operations, Drop Patterns, and Uniformity of Coverage. All of the grades were “Above Average” or “Exceeded Expectation”.

Here are the details that were hand written in the narrative section on the forms:

Poco Fire, Phoenix, Arizona; Gallons Delivered 11,700 x 6; June 16-19, 2012

  • Six loads
  • All drop patterns were good and uniform. Flat and steep terrain – excellent performance in all profiles.
  • CL [Coverage level] 6 utilized in timber and mixed brush.
  • Quantity and mass of load delivered allowed for higher than standard drop altitudes to minimize exposure in challenging terrain and still achieve good pattern on the ground.
  • Quantity delivered also means 1 pass, 1 exposure instead of 7 from a legacy platform carrying 2,000 gallons!
  • Very uniform and consistent pattern on the ground. Very accurate starts. Performed some split loads as needed.

Fox Fire, Tucson, Arizona; Gallons Delivered 11,700 x 2; 2 loads; 3 drops; June 18, 2012

  • 1 – CL 6 – Split Load – Started and stopped to tie in a road in front of structures. Very accurate start and stop. Last 2,000 gal reinforced first drop.
  • 2 – CL 4 – One drop. Excellent coverage! It would have taken 6 or 7 loads from a legacy platform to get same length of line.
  • Quick effective line production.

Six Shooter Fire, Globe, Arizona; Gallons Delivered 11,700; 1 load; 8 drops; June 17, 2012

  • This was an initial attack fire. The location of this 5-acre fire, 1,500 to 2,000 ft below a ridge line, necessitated a substantial decent profile to get over the target on speed and altitude. The DC-10 was very capable and provided excellent coverage on and around the entire fire. The fire was successfully stopped at the same perimeter when the tanker dropped!
  • Excellent drops and performance.

Shingle Fire, Cedar City, Utah; Gallons Delivered 11,700 x 4; 4 loads; July 2-3, 2012

  • CL 6
  • Good coverage and line production. Excellent pattern on the ground and saved lots of time vs utilizing smaller aircraft. We would not have been able to get the line needed done without this tool.
  • Long turn arounds loading at [illegible; looked like “IVA”, “IWA”, or “IUA”]. 2 hour flights but dollars/gal still comperable considering speed and gallons!

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And here is an excerpt from another article we wrote in 2012 about the DC-10:

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DC-10 air tanker delivers 373,600 gallons of retardant

One of DC-10 gallons retardant deliveredthe DC-10 air tankers has dropped about 373,600 gallons of retardant during 33 sorties on seven wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico over the last 10 days. The fires were: Little Bear fire, 257 fire, Grand fire, Poco fire, Six Shooter fire, Fox fire, and 177 fire.  They were all in Arizona except the Little Bear which was in New Mexico.

Eight of the nine air tankers currently on exclusive use contracts with the U.S. Forest Service are 50+ year old P2Vs designed for maritime patrol. Their average retardant load is 1,948 gallons according to a 2007-2009 air tanker study. If all of those 373,600 gallons the DC-10 dropped in those 10 days had been delivered by a P2V it would have taken about 192 round trips to the fires.

Man arrested and charged with flying drone at the Goodwin Fire

This article first appeared on Wildfire Today.

Gene Alan Carpenter
Gene Alan Carpenter

A man was arrested in Prescott, Arizona for flying a drone into the airspace near the Goodwin Fire that as of Friday had burned over 25,000 acres southeast of the city.

Gene Alan Carpenter, a 54-year-old from Prescott Valley, is accused of endangering 14 aircraft and ground personnel with a “substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury” by flying a drone near or over the fire. All firefighting aircraft had to be grounded for about an hour on Wednesday, June 28.

In 2016 Arizona passed a law making it illegal to fly a drone that interfered with emergency or law enforcement efforts. It is likely that a Temporary Flight Restriction was in effect over the fire at that time which would make it a violation of federal law for any aircraft to invade the space without permission.

If a drone collided with a firefighting helicopter or fixed wing aircraft it could cause great harm especially if it hit a windshield or engine. And if the aircraft crashes, killing the pilots, firefighters on the ground would also be in danger from the falling debris.

The safety of firefighters is compromised when all of the helicopters, lead planes, air attack, and air tankers are grounded, preventing the aircraft from slowing the fire so that firefighters can move in and construct fireline. When aircraft and ground personnel disengage, homes and private property could be destroyed that might otherwise have been saved with an aggressive firefighting attack. Some air tankers when grounded by an intruding aircraft can’t land with a full load of retardant, so they have to jettison it, wasting thousands of dollars worth of the product.

On June 24 multiple witnesses reported seeing a man operating a drone at the Goodwin Fire standing next to a white van.

Below is an excerpt from an article at 12news:

The sheriff’s office said based on witness information, drone descriptions and photos from Carpenter’s website showing drone views of the Goodwin Fire, deputies began searching for him.

Carpenter was arrested Friday afternoon after an off-duty deputy spotted his van on Willow Creek Road in Prescott. The drone was found in the van and seized.

Detectives are meeting with federal officials Monday to discuss additional charges based on the federal statutes regarding temporary flight restrictions.

Mr. Carter is in custody at Yavapai County facilities at Camp Verde, Arizona charged with 14 counts of endangerment, all felonies, and one misdemeanor.

Loading the DC-10’s at Phoenix

The video describes the process of reloading the DC-10’s with fire retardant at Phoenix Gateway-Mesa airport while they were fighting the Goodwin Fire 80 miles northwest of the airport. For a while this week all three DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers were working out of the tanker base and dropping on the Goodwin Fire.

Close Air Support from a DC-10

This is a very impressive video, probably shot a week or so ago, of the Very Large Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, making a drop close to the telescope facilities at the Mount Graham International Observatory during the Frye Fire in Arizona.

Tanker 116 sees action at Phoenix

Above: Air Tanker 116, an HC-130H, sprays retardant on a fire near Phoenix, June 22, 2017. Fox 20 Phoenix.

Tanker 116 saw some action today, dropping on a fire near Phoenix that closed Interstate 17. Fox 10 got a pretty fair shot of the drop, but unfortunately the camera operator, perhaps not experienced in covering air tankers, followed the aircraft very closely all the way through the drop so it was difficult to tell which of the two parallel retardant drops was made by T-116. Yes, there were two drops parallel to each other. One looked like it was very wide but the coverage on the ground was very thin. The other was much more narrow and and had better coverage.

The video below shows the drop, and I found it at 2:40:45, but when I first saw it, it was at a different time stamp. The video should begin a few seconds before that point, but it you don’t see it there, check a couple of minutes on each side.

The image below shows the two parallel drops. It is difficult to tell from the video which one was made by the HC-130H.

retardant drops
The two parallel drops can be seen at the lower-right. Screen grab from the Fox 10 video.
The news people in the audio have some problems with aircraft ID in that video and at another spot in the same video. At about 2:22:15, there is a second drop and you will hear the news people identifying a lead plane as a Single Engine Air Tanker and what is either an RJ85 or a BAe-146 as a DC-10.

About 2 to 3 minutes after that second drop, a third drop (at 2:25:45) is similar to the second one, and is possibly the same but from a different angle. I am fairly certain this third drop is an RJ85, since you can see the pregnant bulge on the belly.

The very lengthy video goes back to a fire near Los Angeles several times. The image below, a screenshot, show a retardant drop that affected several homes.

retardant drop houses Los Angeles
Retardant gets dropped on homes at fire near Los Angeles. Fox 20 Phoenix.
T-116 is using, not a conventional gravity retardant tank, but a pressurized Modular Airborne FireFighting System rig that is normally only used in military aircraft that have been temporarily drafted into an air tanker role by loading a MAFFS unit in the cargo hold. The compressed air that blows the retardant out of the 3,000-gallon tank sprays it out of a nozzle, breaking the thickened retardant into very small droplets. T-116 and six other HC-130H’s are in the process of being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. If the process is complete by the end of this decade as the agency expects, all seven will have conventional gravity-powered retardant delivery systems and will be operated and maintained by contractors, but owned by the USFS.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom and Brian.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

The future Tanker 134 on the move

These are photos of an air tanker that you don’t see every day. The C-130Q that Coulson recently acquired, was being moved from Tucson to another facility in Mesa, Arizona where it will be transformed into Coulson’s fourth C-130 air tanker, Tanker #134. Obviously it needs a little work.

It is the second C-130Q that they have acquired. The first was Tanker 131 that entered service about four years ago. The company also has two L-382G’s, which is the civilian version of the C-130.

Britt Coulson, who sent us these pictures, said they expect to have the conversion complete by the end of this summer.

air tanker 134 C-130Q

The photo below shows the aircraft before it was dismantled.

Coulson's L-130Q
Coulson’s C-130Q which will become Tanker 134 later this year.