(Originally published August 5, 2015; updated August 8, 2015)
Over the last year the U.S. Forest Service has awarded or solicited for at least five contracts for conversion and maintenance of the 15 C-23B aircraft that were authorized to be transferred from the U.S. Army to the USFS by legislation signed in December of 2013. The C-23B is the military version of the Shorts 360 (also known as a Sherpa and SD3-60). The USFS plans to use these aircraft to replace all of the USFS owned and contracted aircraft used for smokejumping except for two agency-owned DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otters that will be retained for backcountry operations.
Paint up to 15 of the aircraft. Awarded August 19, 2014 to Straube’s Aircraft Services.
Aviation maintenance services to support USFS fleet aircraft in Boise, Idaho. This also includes other aircraft: Aero Commander AC 500B, Beechcraft King Air Series, Bell 206BIII, Bell AH-1 Cobra, Cessna Citation 550 Bravo, Cessna C-185, Cessna TU206, DeHaviland DHC-2 Beaver, DeHaviland DHC-6 Twin Otter, Piper PA18-150, and Shorts C-23A Sherpa. Awarded December 15, 2014 to Turbo Air, Inc.
Avionics maintenance services to support for USFS fleet aircraft within a 150 nautical mile radius of Redmond, OR, Ogden, UT, and Missoula, MT. This also includes support for Aero Commander AC 500B, Beechcraft King Air Series, Bell 206BIII, Bell AH-1 Cobra, Cessna Citation 550 Bravo, Cessna C-185, Cessna TU206, DeHaviland DHC-2 Beaver, DeHaviland DHC-6 Twin Otter, Piper PA18-150, and Shorts C-23A Sherpa. There is no indication on fbo.gov that this has been awarded.
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Support Services to include subscriptions to technical publications, maintenance technical support, engineering data, engineering technical support, and maintenance support. On July 9, 2015 a sole source award was given to Shorts Brothers, doing business as Bombardier Aerospace.
Maintenance services Contractor Logistics Services (CLS) in support of smokejumper operations, primarily in Ogden, Utah. Awarded to Neptune Aviation, June 30, 2015.
The agency will use a Government Owned-Mixed Operations (GO/MO) model for the C-23B fleet. Some will be operated by Forest Service pilots and others will be operated by private industry under contract. The aircraft will also be maintained under a GO/MO model with contractor and agency maintenance
The information below is from the U.S. Forest Service, and addresses the use of the 15 C-23B aircraft that were authorized to be transferred from the U.S. Army to the USFS by legislation signed in December of 2013. Unsurprisingly, the agency still has not made “final decisions” on what exactly they will do with the aircraft a year and a half later. I think we’ll coin a new phrase: Paralysis by Lack of Analysis.
“Final decisions have not yet been made, but initial indications are that ten of the C-23B+/SD3-60s will be used to replace all of the Forest Service owned and contracted aircraft used for smokejumping except two agency-owned DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otters that will be retained for backcountry operations. Consequently, the future Forest Service smokejumper fleet will consist of two aircraft models – the C-23B+/SD3-60s and the De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters.
The Forest Service currently owns a total of 7 aircraft to transport smokejumpers, including 4 Short Brothers C-23As; 2 De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters; and 1 Douglas DC-3 TP turbine aircraft. The agency currently contracts for a total of 5 aircraft to transport smokejumpers, including 2 Dornier D0228s; 2 De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters; and 1 Casa 212 for smokejumper operations.
Decisions regarding exact placement of individual aircraft will be made by each Forest Service Region according to their operational needs. The current planning is to replace existing aircraft on a one-for-one basis except for DC-3’s which could possibly be replaced on 2 to 1 ratio for additional lift capability.
Operations and Maintenance
The Forest Service will own all of the Shorts C-23B+/SD3-60 Sherpa aircraft. The agency has chosen a Government Owned-Mixed Operations (GOMO) model for this fleet. This means that some will be operated by Forest Service pilots and others will be operated by private industry under contract. The aircraft will also be maintained under a GOMO model with contractor and agency maintenance. The GOMO model will enable the Forest Service to retain a qualified pool of experts in the smokejumper mission who can help ensure that contract pilots operate the government owned aircraft safely and effectively. The Forest Service is working to minimize the impacts of this transition on agency and contractor employed pilots as much as possible. Existing Forest Service pilots will be retained as active crewmembers in order to maintain a high level of mission standardization, oversight, and quality assurance for the program. Forest Service pilots will be blended with contractors in most missions. Agency and contract pilots will serve as second-in-command until they achieve agency captain rating for the C-23B+/SD3-60 aircraft.
The Forest Service will issue contract solicitations for operation and maintenance services sometime in Fiscal Year 2015, which began October 1, 2014, to be ready for operations in Fiscal Year 2016, which begins October 1, 2015.”
They argue that it is no longer a DC-3 and became a BT-67 when new engines were installed, but retired pilots Barry Hicks and Dick Hulla feel strongly that the last DC-3 the U.S. Forest Service still uses for transporting smokejumpers is not too old at the age of 70 and should not be retired. This is scheduled to be the last fire season for the last remaining DC-3 in the USFS fleet. In an article in the Missoulian, Mr. Hulla said, “It’s going to be flying for 50 years.”
Below is an excerpt from the article:
…Hulla and Hicks argue that while Jump 15 was built in 1945 and has been flying for 18,800 hours, its critical parts are just 5,800 hours old. That makes it younger than most of the other smokejumper aircraft currently in service.
And they add that its larger passenger capacity, stronger airframe and longer flying range make it a better choice than the more recently built Sherpa paratrooper planes the Forest Service plans to replace Jump 15 with.
The two Missoula men bring some extensive credentials to the table. Hulla retired in 2008 as the supervisory pilot for Forest Service Region 1 after a career jumping out of and then flying the BT-67.
Hicks retired in 2003 as regional aviation officer for the Forest Service, with a smokejumping career that goes back to the Ford Tri-motor…
The USFS intends to use some of the fifteen C-23B Sherpa aircraft they recently acquired from the Army to replace the DC-3 and the four C-23As they have had for a while. Compared to the C-23A, the C-23B has a rear cargo ramp that can be opened during flight, inward-opening paratroop doors, and stronger landing gear.
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:
“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.”
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.”
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, and removal of any unneeded military equipment, but since they will not be used as air tankers, retardant tank systems will not have to be installed.
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:
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.
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.
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.