McClellan Air Field becomes Sacramento McClellan Airport

Above: Static Display March 23, 2016 at Sacramento McClellan Airport during the aerial firefighting conference.

(Originally published at 12:44 p.m. MST December 26, 2017.)

The former McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento has changed hands for the second time in the last 17 years and is now known as Sacramento McClellan Airport (KMCC). It was operated by the U.S Air Force from 1939 until 2000 when it was transferred to Sacramento County. In October of this year the 1,100-acre property was purchased by McClellan Business Park.

In addition to serving private plane owners and companies, the airport also functions as a main flight hub and home for many government agencies and emergency services operators, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, CAL FIRE, HeliMax, and the U.S. Forest Service C-130 air tanker program. According to the new owners of the airport, it has the largest aerial fire retardant reload base in the United States.

McClellan Jet Services will continue to provide fixed-base services.

Retardant from a helicopter’s internal tank

These days it is not uncommon on a large fire to see a helicopter dropping retardant or a Chinook with an internal tank, or… both at the same time.

This photo of a Columbia Helicopters ship supporting a very large firing operation on the Thomas Fire was in a tweet by the Los Padres National Forest.

In July we posted the KEYT video below which originally was streamed live on YouTube, showing and explaining the activities at a facility set up at the Whittier Fire northwest of Goleta, California for mixing retardant for helicopters that could draft to refill their tanks. The 11-minute video did not show any ships with buckets — just Type 1 helicopters with internal or external tanks.

The video below shows several helicopters including the same Columbia Helicopters aircraft and the 747, supporting the Thomas Fire on December 13, 2017.

Video from MAFFS cockpit

These in-cockpit videos by the Modular Airborne FireFighting System aircraft are great. If you look VERY closely you will see two puffs of smoke from the lead plane, marking the beginning and end of the drop.

TBT: 16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program

For ThrowBack Thursday we’re revisiting a piece we wrote in March, 2016.


The aerial firefighting program in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has grown over a couple of decades into a highly respected, professionally managed organization. After spending some time at their aviation headquarters at McClellan Air Field on Thursday  [March 24, 2016] in Sacramento, I developed as list of 16 facts that you may not know about the program:

1. CAL FIRE has 22 S-2T fixed wing air tankers that can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. They are presently converting an aircraft to replace the one destroyed in the October 7, 2014 crash that killed Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. That process should be complete in 18 to 24 months.

S-2T air tanker
S-2T air tankers at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

2. They have 15 OV-10 Air Attack fixed wing aircraft.

OV-10
A lineup of OV-10 air attack ships at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

3. And 12 Super Huey helicopters.

super huey
Super Huey at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

4. All of the above aircraft were discarded by the military.

5. The S-2T air tankers were designed to be based on aircraft carriers, and therefore have wings that fold. They still retain this feature, which makes it possible to cram more aircraft into a hangar.

S-2T folded wings
An S-2T with the wings folded. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Continue reading “TBT: 16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program”

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

Video: LA County helicopter drops on Skirball Fire

The Skirball Fire burned 475 acres early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles and forced the closure of the 405 freeway, one of the busiest highways in the nation.

Temporarily reconstituting the aerial firefighting fleets for Southern California wildfires

At least 16 air tankers of various types will be stationed in California Wednesday.

Above: S2 air tankers at CAL FIRE facilities at McClellan, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Typically in December the number of air tankers that are active on a daily basis declines to numbers much lower than what is seen during the busy part of the wildfire season. Tankers go off contract or beyond their mandatory availability period and many of them begin maintenance programs. The 66,000 acres burning in the Thomas, Rye, and Creek Fires in Southern California could test the ability of the fire management agencies to mobilize enough aviation assets to fill the requests from the firefighters in the field.

This afternoon we collected information about the fixed wing assets that are expected to be available beginning Wednesday.

CAL FIRE has 14 S-2 air tankers, 9 OV10’s, 1 DC-7, and multiple helicopters ready to go. A Neptune Aviation BAe-146, T-12, had completed its exclusive use period but is being reactivated on a Call When Needed contract. A DC-10 and a 747 will be based at San Bernardino and McClellan, respectively. Coulson will supply two C-130’s on a CAL FIRE contract. One of them, T-131,  was loaded with equipment and supplies in order to depart today for their contract in Australia, but with approval of the Australian fire authorities they unloaded the airplane and it will be ready to support CAL FIRE by 0700 on Wednesday. Coulson’s T-133 is having its internal retardant tank re-installed and will also be on site in California Wednesday.

Modular Airborne FireFighting System: Two California National Guard MAFFS C-130’s have been activated by the state’s Governor to assist with the wildfires in Southern California.

Los Angeles City and County: Between the two agencies they have 8 helicopters and two CL-415 scooping air tankers. The winds were too strong yesterday and today to use the fixed wing aircraft.

U.S. Forest Service: Two CL-415 scooping air tankers, two MD-87 air tankers, and two RJ85 air tankers will be on duty Wednesday.

Summary: 14 S-2’s, 2 Very Large Air Tankers, 8 large air tankers, two MAFFS C-130’s, and four scooping air tankers — plus we’re guessing 15 to 25 helicopters.

With the very strong Santa Ana winds currently blowing in Southern California it can be difficult to use fixed wing aircraft over the fires. Air tankers have to fly low and slow, and usually over rough terrain. Strong winds can make this unsafe and the retardant can also be blown far off the target. However on Tuesday, S-2’s, MD-87’s, scoopers and a BAe-146 were used on one or more of the fires.

This article was corrected to say that air tankers were used on one or more of the fires on Tuesday.

Two C-130 MAFFS air tankers and the 747 activated for Southern California wildfires

MAFFS
File photo of MAFFS 1, based at Cheyenne, but is seen landing at Fresno, August 5, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.

(Originally published at 11:53 a.m. PST December 5, 2017)

Two California National Guard C-130’s have been activated by the state’s Governor to assist with the wildfires in Southern California. Two large fires have burned a total of  49,000 acres since Monday afternoon — the Creek Fire at Ventura and the Thomas Fire near Sylmar.

A spokesperson for the 146th Airlift Wing said the aircraft have been activated, they are being prepared, and the Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) are being installed, but they have not yet received the launch orders.

The MAFFS, which can be installed in a C-130 in a few hours, holds up to 3,000 gallons of retardant.

With the very strong Santa Ana winds currently blowing in Southern California, it can be difficult to use fixed wing aircraft over the fires. Air tankers have to fly low and slow, and usually over rough terrain. Strong winds can make this unsafe and the retardant can also be blown far off the target. However on Tuesday, S-2’s, MD-87’s, a BAe-146, and scoopers were used on one or more of the fires.

Very few air tankers on U.S. Forest Service contracts are still active this time of the year. Last Friday there were only four, all in southern California; two CL-415 scoopers and two MD-87’s.

four CL-415 cody wy
File photo of four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

The 747 SuperTanker has also been activated on a CAL FIRE Call When Needed contract and will fly from Marana, Arizona to McClellan near Sacramento today, arriving at about 3 or 4 p.m.

747 Supertanker
747 Supertanker at McClellan Air Field March 22, 2016.

The scoopers are due to end their mandatory availability period on December 6, but it is possible they could be extended due to the current fire situation in southern California. In September the USFS cancelled the last four years of the 5-year contract for the scoopers. The cancellation was to take effect on December 6, 2017.

Beaver Fire, MD-87, T-103, South Dakota,
An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.