Update on the USFS C-23B

C-23B Forest Service

C-23B. USFS photo.

It has been almost six months since we provided an update on the 15 Sherpa C-23B aircraft that were scheduled to be transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Forest Service. The expectation was that they would be used by smokejumpers and for transporting cargo, paracargo, and possibly firefighters.

We asked Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, for the current status of the transfer and transition. Below is her response:

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“As of 9/11/14, a total of 10 C-23B+/SD3-60s have been transferred from the DoD to the U.S. Forest Service and the remainder are scheduled to be transferred within the next few weeks.

Three of the aircraft are in Redmond, Oregon and one of the aircraft is in Ogden, Utah. The remainder of the aircraft are at, or are in transit to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the  “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona where they will be stored until the U.S. Forest Service fields them.

The U.S. Forest Service will locate one aircraft in Ogden, Utah to serve as the prototype aircraft for FAA Civil Certification as an SD3-60 Sherpa and will then conform the rest of the C-23B+ aircraft to that standard. One of the three aircraft located in Redmond, Oregon will be used to complete the Smokejumper Aircraft Screening and Evaluation Board (SASEB) approval process and to develop pilot familiarity and training. The other aircraft will be progressively certified, configured for wildfire suppression missions, and brought into service.

The U.S. Forest Service expects to begin bringing the aircraft into service incrementally (two to four aircraft per year) beginning in 2016 due to the time that it will take to complete aircraft modifications; to equip the aircraft for smokejumper, cargo, and other wildfire suppression missions (for example, by installing radios, Aircraft Flight Following [AFF], and other wildfire mission specific equipment); and to contract with private industry for operation, pilot, and maintenance services.

While final decisions have not been made yet, initial indications are ten of the C-23B+/SD3-60s will be used to replace U.S. Forest Service owned and contracted aircraft used for smokejumping. The U.S. Forest Service is pursuing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) civil certification of the non-certificated C-23B+ aircraft as Short Brothers SD3-60 Sherpa aircraft. This would enable the agency to [use] these aircraft to perform several aerial firefighting missions in addition to delivering smokejumpers and cargo. These missions include transporting fire crews, incident management teams, and other overhead and support personnel to airfields and airports that larger transport planes could not use; transporting cargo and communications equipment; and supporting all-hazards incidents.”

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When will the last USFS DC-3 TP retire?

USFS DC-3 retires

J-42, a U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TP at its retirement ceremony at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012. USFS photo.

Since one of the two U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TPs retired in 2012 and was sold in 2013, there has been speculation about how many years the last USFS DC-3 TP would continue to haul smokejumpers.

It has been 23 years since the two aircraft had their radial piston engines replaced with turbines in 1991 by Basler.

The remaining DC-3 TP is 71 years old. USFS spokesperson Jennifer Jones said, “Economic, operational and risk analyses have shown that the DC-3 TP has fulfilled its useful life as a smokejumper platform.”

When we asked if the rumors are true that the last DC-3 TP will retire in 2015, Mrs. Jones said it will be replaced by one of the 15 C-23Bs that the USFS recently acquired from the Army, “but no precise date has been set for that yet.”

The C-23B, due to begin transitioning into the USFS fleet in 2016, has issues with high density altitude, and some pilots have questioned how useful it will be at high altitude smokejumper bases such as West Yellowstone and Silver City. We asked Mrs. Jones about this, and she said the USFS owns two De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters and contracts for two others. After the transition to the C-23B the agency will retain the two Twin Otters they own, “to ensure the capability to perform short field/backcountry airstrip and high density altitude missions.”

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Status of C-23B Sherpas transferred to USFS from the Army

C-23B

C-23B. Department of Defense photo.

There is not a great deal of new information to report about the 15 Sherpa C-23B aircraft that were transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Forest Service. The expectation is that they will be used by smokejumpers and for transporting cargo, paracargo, and possibly firefighters. The aircraft are still at Fort Sill, Oklahoma after being transferred in February, but some of them will be moved to Tucson in the next month or two where they will be evaluated and tested by the Smokejumper Aircraft Screening and Evaluation Board (SASEB), an organization much like the Interagency AirTanker Board. The SASEB is the “focal point for all interagency smokejumper/paracargo aircraft and related aircraft accessories, initiatives, proposals and issues. SASEB will provide guidance for standardization, when evaluating new interagency smokejumper/paracargo aircraft and related aircraft accessories.”

Smokejumpers have used Army surplus C-23A Sherpas for years, but one of the main differences between the older C-23A and the newer C-23B is that while both have a rear cargo ramp, like a C-130, the ramp on the C-23A will not open in flight. The SASEB will evaluate and test the use of the rear ramp for paracargo and jumpers while in flght. Typically they will begin by tossing out small cargo items, moving up to human-sized dummies, and ultimately live human smokejumpers.

The Board will also evaluate the need for painting, avionics, removal of any unneeded military equipment, and will ensure conformance with the FAA Certificate, but since they will not be used as air tankers, retardant tank systems will not have to be installed.

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Paint design approved for USFS C-130H air tankers

C-130H paint design

C-130H paint design, by Scheme Designers

The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service has approved the paint design for the seven C-130H aircraft the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard. The National Defense Authorization Act required the transfer of the C-130Hs plus 15 Shorts C-23B Sherpas from the military. The C-130Hs are being converted by the Air Force into air tankers, while the Sherpas will be used to deliver smokejumpers and cargo and to perform other wildfire support missions. The C-130Hs will be owned by the USFS but will be operated and maintained by contractors. Some of the Sherpas will be flown by agency personnel and others by contractors. All of the Sherpas will all be maintained by private companies.

The paint for the C-130Hs was designed by a company in New Jersey, Scheme Designers. Craig Darnett, their founder and CEO, told Fire Aviation that they have also designed the paint for other USFS aircraft, including the DC-3 and some smokejumper planes. Other examples of their work can be found at Airliners.net. Scheme Designers will not actually paint the C-130Hs; most of their work is done on computers, however sometimes the aircraft owner will pay them to be on site and monitor the painting as it is done.

If someone is restoring an automobile that is at least 27 years old, as these C-130Hs are according to our research, paint is the very last step in the process. Five of the seven have to go through a 10-month wing box replacement, and then the rest of the conversion process can begin, including cutting a hole in the belly and installing a retardant tank system.

Initially bringing the 22 aircraft into the agency will be extremely complex and time-consuming, with FAA approvals, inspections, evaluating, painting, writing then awarding contracts for maintenance and pilots, deciding on a tanking system, contracts for installing tanking systems, avionics, etc. And, developing a comprehensive PLAN of how to manage the aviation assets now and in the future. The Air Force will do some of this, other than the planning, before the actual final transfer of the C-130s to the USFS (the Sherpas will not receive retardant tanks), but the Forest Service has to be involved in the decision making. Then, after the 22 aircraft are completely up and running, managing the programs on a continuing basis is not simply a part time job for one person.

Below are some other paint designs on USFS aircraft:

McCall DC-3 retirement

J-42, a US Forest Service DC-3, retires. USFS photo, taken at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012.

Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa

Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.

Smokejumper aircraft, N143Z

Smokejumper aircraft, N143Z. USFS photo.

USFS IR aircraft, Cessna Citation Bravo

One of the U.S. Forest Service’s Infrared aircraft, their Cessna Citation Bravo, N144Z

Lead planes at Cheyenne

Lead planes at Cheyenne, WY, May 7, 2013. These were not government owned, but were under contract to either the USFS or BLM. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Fire Watch helicopter

The U. S. Forest Service’s Fire Watch Cobra helicopter. July 28, 2011.

US Forest Service infrared aircraft N149Z

USFS infrared aircraft N149Z at Phoenix in 2013

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Leo

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Forest Service to enlist help of Coast Guard to manage C-130 airtankers

A Coast Guard C-130H, No. 1709

A Coast Guard C-130H, No. 1709, October, 2008. This is one of the seven C-130Hs being transferred to the USFS. Photo by Bob Garrard.

Until now the U.S. Forest Service has never had to manage a fleet of 22 medium and large transport aircraft. But in the coming months the agency that was created to grow trees will be reminded of the phrase, “be careful what you wish for”, as they become the owners of seven large four-engine C-130H transport planes and 15 smaller C-23B Sherpa transport planes “given” to them by the Coast Guard and the Army. The Forest Service is still going to grow trees and clean toilets in campgrounds, while taking on this air force of 22 very expensive aircraft.

Transfers to take place no later than February 11

The legislation requiring the transfer of the aircraft required that both the C-130Hs and C-23B Sherpas be transferred within 45 days after the bill was signed, which makes February 11, 2014 the last day for the transfer to take place. The C-130Hs will go first to the Air Force which will arrange for maintenance, upgrades of the air frame, and the installation of the retardant system. Then the Air Force will transfer them to the U.S. Forest Service. The Sherpas will be transferred directly from the Army to the USFS by February 11.

Last week a USFS employee with knowledge of how their aviation section is organized told Wildfire Today that up to that point the agency had not made any decisions about an organizational structure that would manage this air force within the agency. Individual short-term tasks were being handed out one at a time, while multiple functional areas were trying to get involved, lobbying for their piece of the pie.

Initially bringing the 22 aircraft into the agency will be extremely complex and time-consuming, with FAA approvals, inspections, evaluating, painting, writing then awarding contracts for maintenance and pilots, deciding on a tanking system, contracts for installing tanking systems, avionics, etc. And, something the USFS has not done well, developing a comprehensive PLAN of how to manage the aviation assets now and in the future. The Air Force will do some of this, other than the planning, before the actual final transfer of the C-130s to the USFS (the Sherpas will not receive retardant tanks), but the Forest Service has to be involved in the decision making. Then, after the 22 aircraft are completely up and running, managing the programs on a continuing basis is not simply a part time job for one person.

Jennifer Jones, a Public Affairs Specialist for the Forest Service at the National Interagency Fire Center, told us today that the agency, at this point anyway, plans to use a Government Owned/Contractor Operated (GO/CO) model for the seven C-130H aircraft. The government will own them and the maintenance and operation will be handled by private contractors. The 15 Sherpas will be owned by the Forest Service — some will be flown by USFS pilots and others by contractors. All of the Sherpas will be maintained by private industry under contract, similar to how the existing four C-23A Sherpas are maintained. You could call this GO/CO-GO I suppose.

Coast Guard to assist with managing C-130Hs

We were surprised to hear from Mrs. Jones today that a joint U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Forest Service program office will provide logistics, operations, training, higher level maintenance, and support for the C-130H aircraft. The Coast Guard has been managing a fleet of C-130s since 1959, using them for long range search and rescue, drug interdiction, illegal migrant patrols, homeland security, and logistics. They have 24 older C-130Hs which are being upgraded with new center wing boxes and cockpit equipment with new multi-function displays. In 2008 they began replacing some of the C-130Hs with new C-130Js; they have six now with three more on order. All these numbers were valid before the Coast Guard agreed to send seven C-130Hs to the USFS if the Coast Guard could get the 14 almost new C-27J aircraft from the military that had been earmarked for the Forest Service.

Before we heard that there was going to be a USFS/Coast Guard collaboration, we asked a former fighter pilot for his opinion about how the C-130Hs should be managed. Gary “Bean” Barrett was a Navy Captain, the Commanding Officer of an adversary squadron and of a GO/CO squadron of heavy aircraft:

I would recommend standing up an organization like a composite group. One single individual in charge of the entire group [no rule by committee … it won't work]. Since there are mission differences between C-23’s and C-130’s the group commander should probably have two “squadrons” under him. One for C-23’s, one for C-130’s and perhaps one or two maintenance squadrons depending on how the USFS choses to organize themselves. I am familiar with both the USAF concept of independent maintenance squadrons and the Navy concept of an integrated operational squadron with its own maintenance department. Either can work with contract maintenance but either way, the group commander has to “own” the program budget and the maintenance and the operations programs and the COTAR has to work for the group commander. When maintenance is directly involved in producing sorties instead of off in another state independently “fixing airplanes” the entire process seems to work better. Heavy or Depot level maintenance should be a separate contract.

Modification of the C-130 is a big hurdle since there is no military equivalent modification but I would think that it would be far easier to incorporate the tanker mod into a mil based maintenance program than to be forced to operate C-130’s under the FAA FAR’s. and the FAA C-130Q type rating.

C-23B Sherpas

The Sherpas have been stored at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma for an extended period of time but have been under a maintenance contract and could be put into service fairly quickly. While at Fort Sill, on a regular basis they have been started, run up to 80 percent power for five minutes, systems have been cycled, and the aircraft have been taxied. No scheduled maintenance has been performed so they may be due for some routine work. The USFS will need to run the Sherpas through the Smokejumper Aircraft Screening and Evaluation Board (SASEB), which is the focal point for all interagency smokejumper/paracargo aircraft, much like the Interagency AirTanker Board evaluates air tankers. Other items on the to-do list include painting, avionics, removal of any unneeded military equipment, and ensure conformance with the FAA Certificate, but since they will not be used as air tankers, retardant tank systems will not have to be installed.

C-23B

C-23B. Department of Defense file photo.

Ms. Jones said the C-23B Sherpas will be used to deliver smokejumpers and cargo and to perform other wildfire support missions. They are capable of carrying up to 10 smokejumpers or 30 passengers and up to 7,000 pounds of cargo. The C-23B Sherpas will replace all four U.S. Forest Service owned C-23A Sherpas and the DC-3T currently used for smokejumper missions. The additional aircraft will eventually replace contracted smokejumper aircraft and support other fire missions. They expect to begin using two of the newer Sherpas in 2014 to drop cargo and will begin using it in 2015 to deliver smokejumpers.

The C-23B Sherpa has a rear cargo ramp which can be opened during flight which could be used for paracargo or by smokejumpers, both of which would be new to the USFS. The C-23A Sherpa has a rear cargo ramp, but it does not open in flight.

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Report: two Coast Guard C-130s to be transferred to USFS will not need major maintenance

Coast Guard C-130H No 1719

A Coast Guard C-130H, No. 1719, one of the aircraft to be transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo taken October, 2008 by Rico Leffanta.

A reporter for Gannett newspapers in D.C. interviewed me yesterday for an article he later wrote about the transfer of the seven C-130Hs and up to 15 C-23B Sherpas from the Coast Guard and the military to the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting division. To the regular readers of Fire Aviation there is little new information in the piece. However, he told me that a spokesperson for Senator John McCain, who wrote the amendment that requires the transfer, said two of the seven C-130Hs will not require major maintenance and could be available as air tankers this year after they are converted to air tankers.

The reporter also interviewed Florida State Forester Jim Karels, who led the 54-person team that investigated the June 30 deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The article looks to be pretty factual, except that he misquoted me saying the C-130H maintenance at the Depot “may be placed ahead of the line”. I told him there was no indication, in spite of the fact that the maintenance is required to be promptly scheduled, that they would be placed at the head of the line. Scheduling the work and performing it are two different things. The reporter also said the Pfeiffer Fire continues to burn, however according to InciWeb 100 percent containment was expected on December 20, 2013.

More information about the transfer of Coast Guard and military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service.

Link to the legislation authorizing the transfer.

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Defense bill passes, clearing way for C-130H transfers to the USFS

Late Thursday night the Senate passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 84-15, which passed the House last week. President Obama has already said he will sign it which clears the way for the aircraft transfers we have written about previously. (UPDATE, December 27, 2013: the President signed the bill December 26, 2013.)

The bill contained provisions for the U.S. Forest Service to receive seven C-130H Coast Guard aircraft which will be converted to air tankers, in lieu of the C-27Js they had been expecting. It requires the Air Force to “promptly schedule” the “center and outer wing-box replacement modifications, programmed depot-level maintenance, and modifications necessary to procure and integrate a gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system in each such HC–130H aircraft”.

The Air Force will spend a maximum of $130 million of for all of the maintenance and modification work on the seven aircraft. The bill also specifies that no more than $5 million shall be spent on each HC–130H aircraft for the “gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system”. If the modifications exceed these limits, the additional funds will have to be provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service will also receive up to 15 C-23B+ S Sherpa aircraft which are expected to be used as smokejumper platforms. Earlier this week representatives from the USFS were in Oklahoma evaluating the Sherpas they were expecting to receive.

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If C-130s are transferred to the USFS, they will have gravity retardant tanks

We were able to find documentation that if the seven Coast Guard C-130H aircraft are transferred to the U.S. Forest Service as required in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA), they WILL have gravity assisted retardant tanks, rather than a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) pressurized tank like is used on the military MAFFS C-130s.

The NDAA passed in the House on December 12 with a vote of 350 to 69. Its next stop will be the Senate, which is expected to take up the bill this week before they adjourn on December 20.

We found the retardant tank requirement in the 1,106-page NDAA bill along with some other interesting details. There are time elements mentioned, such as allowing 45 days after the act passes to begin the transfer of the C-130Hs. And “at the first available opportunity, promptly schedule” the “center and outer wing- box replacement modifications, programmed depot-level maintenance, and modifications necessary to procure and integrate a gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system in each such HC–130H aircraft”.

A maximum cost of $130 million of Air Force funds was established for all of the maintenance and modification work on the seven aircraft. The bill also specifies that no more than $5 million shall be spent on each HC–130H aircraft for the “gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system”. If the modifications exceed these limits, the additional funds will have to be provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa

Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.

The transfer of “not more than” 15 C-23B+ S Sherpa aircraft” is required to begin within 45 days of the passage of the bill. If they receive them, the USFS could use the Sherpas for smokejumping and for hauling cargo. In 1991 the agency acquired six Shorts 330 Sherpas and has used them as smokejumper platforms. The 330s are similar to the C-23B+ Sherpas but have smaller engines and a lower cruising speed. The military C-23B+ S Sherpas also have a rear drop-down cargo door which could be used by smokejumpers. The transfer of the Sherpas would allow the USFS to stop contracting for jumper aircraft such as the Twin Otters and have an all-Sherpa jumper fleet that is Government-Owned/Contractor Operated, bringing some standardization to the jumper fleet. The acquisition of 15 Sherpas might even make the retirement of the DC-3 more palatable.

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