North American air tankers return from Australia

Four large air tankers have completed their assignments

Above: The crew from 10 Tanker makes final preparations to depart at the end of their assignment in Australia. Photo credit: RK Smithley.

Originally published at 8:59 a.m. MDT March 23, 2018.

As the bushfire season winds down in New South Wales and Victoria the large air tankers have all returned to their  bases in North America or will be departing soon. The four aircraft were an RJ85 from Aero Flite, a DC-10 from 10 Tanker, and two C-130’s from Coulson.

Below, RK Smithley documents the preparation of the DC-10, the cargo, and their flight from Richmond RAAF Base in New South Wales, Australia back to Albuquerque.

CAL FIRE considering acquiring larger air tankers

The agency is looking at a range of alternatives, including the C-130, but no decisions have been made

Above: C-130’s in the aircraft boneyard at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Google Earth.

(Originally published at 10:19 a.m. MST January 20, 2018)

After hearing rumors that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, is considering acquiring C-130’s to use as air tankers, we talked with Dennis Brown, the agency’s Chief of Flight Operations. He confirmed that they are exploring the idea of obtaining some larger air tankers and said the C-130 is on the list of aircraft they are looking at, but emphasized that no decisions have been made. The source of the C-130’s, if that is the direction they choose to go, would be the same as their S-2’s, military surplus, such as the 70+ seen in the photo above in mothballs at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

CAL FIRE has successfully used S-2 air tankers for about 40 years. The aircraft have served the agency well, but since they started acquiring them from the Department of Defense through the U.S. Forest Service in the 1970s the air tanker state of the art has advanced significantly in spite of converting the S-2A and S-2E/G aircraft to modern turboprop engines.

S-2T air tanker CAL FIRE
CAL FIRE S-2T air tankers at Sacramento McClellan Airport, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Last year the 1,200-gallon tankers, now known as S-2T’s, worked alongside the 19,000-gallon 747 which holds 15 times more retardant, about the same as three-quarters of CAL FIRE’s entire fleet of 23 S-2t’s.

The agency also had on CWN contract in 2017 a C-130 from Coulson (T-133) and an MD-87 (T-105) from Erickson AeroTanker. A Neptune BAe-146 from Neptune (T-12), was on an exclusive use contract. Those three tankers each have a capacity of at least 3,000 gallons.

Perhaps looking at an S-2T parked on the same ramp as the 747 at Sacramento McClellan Airport last year got people thinking.

Since the reborn 747, which came back in a slightly different configuration after a several-year hiatus, is relatively new to the air tanker world, we asked Mr. Brown how it performed while under a Call When Needed contract with the agency in 2017. He said that in the environments where it was assigned it did very well. Like many aircraft, especially new versions, he said they noticed a few things that needed to be worked on.

For the last several years CAL FIRE has been refurbishing and converting an S-2 into an air tanker to replace Tanker 81 that crashed near Yosemite National Park in 2014, killing pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. The work is nearly complete on what will become Tanker 79 and they expect to begin flight tests in the next week or two. This will bring the number of S-2T’s in the CAL FIRE fleet back up to their traditional number, 23. The Neptune BAe-146 on contract has temporarily replaced T-81 for the last couple of years.

New CAL FIRE helicopters

As we reported in December, CAL FIRE’s intended contract  to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR), survived the protest. An administrative law judge ruled against a protest filed by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (AWPC, part of Leonardo Helicopters) clearing the way for the acquisition.

We asked Mr. Brown how many CAL FIRE intends to purchase, and he said at least one. In a perfect world they would like to buy one a year for 12 years (or possibly more quickly than that) but it is dependant on the helicopters being available at the right times, and more importantly, the state funds.

Los Angeles County Fire Department is acquiring similar helicopters.

firehawk helicopter LA County FD CAL FIRE
A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter demonstrates water suppression during a 2013 airshow. Photo credit: Trent Bell.

Video of multiple air tankers working the Liberty Fire near Murrieta, CA

Above: The Liberty Fire east of Murrieta, California, December 7, 2017. Screengrab from the KTLA video.

(Originally published at 7 p.m. PST December 7, 2017)

KTLA shot some excellent stabilized video from a helicopter Thursday of the Liberty Fire that has burned about 300 acres northeast of Murrieta, California. This is a new fire that erupted this afternoon 17 miles north of another new fire, the Lilac Fire south of Temecula which was 3,000 acres at 7 p.m. PST.

The video, which is almost 2 hours long, has at least 8 shots of air tankers dropping. We skimmed through it quickly and noted where the drops occur, probably missing a few.

13:00 – DC-10
17:00 – BAe-146/C-130
35:30 – C-130
38:35 – BAe-146
49:15 –  S-2
1:05:00 – MAFFS
1:30:00 – 747
1:40:20 – MAFFS

Firefighting aircraft migrate south of the equator

Four large North American air tankers will be in Australia during their 2017-2018 summer.

Again for the Australian bushfire season four large air tankers are migrating from North America to assist the firefighters down under. During the 2017-2018 summer there will be one DC-10 from 10 Tanker Air Carrier, one RJ85 from Conair/Field Air, and two C-130’s from Coulson — plus a couple of Coulson S-61 Type 1 helicopters.

The contracts for the aircraft have different mandatory availability periods. One of the C-130’s has been there for a while.  For the last couple of Australian summers Conair and Field Air collaborated to bring an RJ85 from Canada to Australia, and they will have one there again. Jeff Berry of Conair said it will ferry there in late November for their contract that begins in mid-December. In 2014-2015 it worked until March, 2015.

The video below was not shot in Australia, however, it’s interesting seeing seeing an RJ85 airliner converted into an air tanker.

A C-130 air tanker appears over a fire

Earlier today we posted a video on Wildfire Today that seemingly shows flames appearing out of nowhere, almost like magic. Well, check out this video of a C-130 air tanker shot by Tim Boyd August 22, 2017 on the Range Fire in Alameda County, California.

And here’s a bonus video also shot by Tom Boyd — an Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87 extending the retardant line on the same fire.

Coulson signs agreement with Argentina for analysis of firefighting aircraft

Coulson C-130 air tankers
Coulson’s three C-130 air tankers.

(Updated at 3:05 p.m. MDT June 20, 2017)

Coulson Aviation has signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Argentina that will enable the country “to analyse and, eventually, develop as a whole, an air combat division” for suppressing wildfires.

The Secretary for Logistics and Military Coordination for Emergencies, Walter Ceballos, made the announcement on his Facebook page on June 15.

In the photos above, Wayne Coulson, the CEO and President of Coulson Aviation, is wearing a white shirt and a light blue tie. Mr. Ceballos is next to him in the brown suit.

Google’s automatic translation of the text in the above post:

I am grateful to the CANADA CCC programme which allowed the ministry of defence to be linked to Coulson Aviation, a specialized company and certified in air fire operations. We signed a memorandum of understanding to analyse and, eventually, develop as a whole, an air combat division, with the FAA’s hr and operational operations to serve the national plan to fight fire.

We checked with Britt Coulson, Vice President of Aviation, who explained that the company “is in the final stages of negotiations with Argentina to [provide] a turnkey fleet of command and control, fixed wing, and rotary wing assets” as well as a full training program. If the agreement is consummated, the aircraft would be on contract, owned and operated by Coulson.

Mr. Ceballos is also interested in the Russian-made amphibious Be-200 air tanker and has pinned the following at the top of his Twitter account:

Twitter’s automatic translation of the above text:

Visit to Beriev to evaluate B200 (Multiflight Amphibious Plane).

In addition to having three operational C-130-type air tankers and a fourth one on the way, Coulson has purchased six 737-300’s from Southwest Airlines and intends to convert at least some of them into air tankers. One has been painted and has started the conversion process.

Coulson 737 air tanker
One of Coulson’s 737’s — the first one to be painted and to start the air tanker conversion process.

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.