During the Northern Hemisphere summer the Avro RJ85 and the C-130 work on fires in North America, but migrate to Victoria, Australia under contract with the Country Fire Authority during the down under summer. In the video Wayne Rigg, working in a position that in the U.S. we would call Air Tactical Group Supervisor, explains how he coordinates aircraft to assist the firefighters on the ground.
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.
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 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.
Earlier this month in Charlotte the 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard finalized the transfer of their Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) mission to the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing. On September 7 the equipment was loaded into a C-130 from Nevada Air National Guard and arrived at Reno the next day.
The previous week the Nevada Airlift Wing had completed its first training activation operating the U.S. Forest Service’s MAFFS. The other MAFFS units are at Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, and Channel Islands in California.
The USFS has 8 MAFFS units that can be slipped into a C-130 in just a few hours, converting it to a 3,000-gallon air tanker. Usually two of the units are at each of the four bases, but one is now being temporarily used in an HC-130H that was transferred from the Coast Guard to the USFS.
Above: Air Tanker 132 makes a practice drop in New South Wales. Photo by Sgt. Brett Sherriff, Royal Australian Air Force.
Coulson’s Air Tanker 132 started its contract with New South Wales on September 6, helping to provide air support for wildland firefighters in Australia. This is the second year in a row that the L-382G, a variant of the C-130 platform, has worked down under during their summer bushfire season.
The aircraft will be based at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base at Richmond (map) . Known as “Thor” in Australia, the 4,000-gallon air tanker will be operated under contract to the NSW Government. In November it will be joined at Richmond by a very large air tanker, with the two aircraft being part of a two-year trial by the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Last year one of 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s DC-10 very large air tankers worked in NSW alongside Thor. Rick Hatton, President and CEO of the company said they will again have a DC-10 in Richmond to start their contract on November 1. The end date is flexible depending the bushfire conditions, but he expects to have it there through February, 2017.
On launching from RAAF Base Richmond the tankers can reach any part of the state within an hour.
RAAF Base Richmond will provide aircraft parking and security, access to fuel and refuelling facilities, equipment storage, use of resources including water, aircrew office space, meals, and accommodation for up to 20 people.
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.
Above: Tanker 118, an HC-130H, at McClellan Airfield. Photo by Jon Wright, July 25, 2015.
The induction, modification, and maintenance program for the seven Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft into the U.S. Forest Service’s government-owned air tanker fleet is requiring some shuffling of the planes. In 2015 Tanker 118 (Coast Guard #1721) operated as an air tanker out of McClellan Airfield. It did not have a conventional gravity-based retardant tank installed yet so it was temporarily outfitted with one of the eight Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that are normally only used by military C-130s conscripted into an air tanker role during periods of high wildfire activity.
T-118 will be going through programmed depot maintenance (PDM) at the Coast Guard facility at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Replacing it during the 2016 fire season will be Tanker 116 (Coast Guard #1708) after its PDM is complete at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Like its predecessor, it will use a MAFFS unit, rather than a gravity tank, and will be based at McClellan Airfield at the facility the USFS likes to call “Forest Service Air Station McClellan”.
One of the obvious differences between T-118 last year and T-116 this year will be the freshly applied USFS approved livery. The HC-130Hs are being painted as they go through PDM.
The plan is for all seven of the HC-130Hs to have a gravity-based retardant delivery system. Most of the maintenance and retrofitting of the aircraft, including arranging for the installation of the retardant system, is being done by the Air Force on their own schedule. There is no indication, however, that their September 17, 2014 solicitation for the retardant tanks has been awarded, after 18 months.
Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told us the schedule calls for the programmed depot maintenance and the installation of the retardant systems to occur on the seven aircraft between 2016 and 2020. The delivery of the first HC-130H with a new retardant delivery system is expected in late 2017 or early 2018 with incremental delivery of the remaining aircraft through 2019.
As the bushfire season winds down in Australia the large and very large air tankers are beginning to migrate back north to North America to prepare for the fire season back home. The DC-10, Tanker 910, arrived at Albuquerque at 8 p.m. Friday night after flying over 8,500 miles from Melbourne, stopping in Pago Pago and Honolulu on the way.
Two of the DC-10s will be on exclusive use contracts with the U.S. Forest Service this summer; one starts in late April and another in early May.
Conair’s Tanker 162 (an RJ85) and Coulson’s two C-130s (T-131 and T-132) are expected to depart around March 1. Britt Coulson said their two S-61 helicopters (photos) have both been extended for another week and a half and may get extensions beyond that if it continues to be hot.
One of our readers alerted us to the photo below that was taken February 28 when Tanker 910 stopped in Hawaii on the way back from Melbourne.
Above: Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ85 at Avalon Airport, Victoria, Australia.
The Country Fire Authority currently has one very large and three large air tankers on contract during their summer bushfire season working out of Avalon Airport near Melbourne, Australia (map). The down under fire season will likely be winding down soon and the aircraft will migrate back to North America.
In recent weeks the air tankers were deployed across the Bass Strait to Tasmania. This may have been the first time large aerial firefighting assets were used in the state. The Fire Service felt it was necessary to warn the residents to “not be alarmed” when they saw the air tankers “flying a bit low over the coast”.
Photos provided by the Country Fire Authority, Victoria.