In the last few weeks the U.S. Forest Service has brought on ten additional air tankers on a temporary basis. This includes CL-415 water-scoopers, CV-580’s, and Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130’s. Two of the aircraft were acquired through Call When Needed (CWN) agreements; four via agreements with Alaska and Canada; two MAFFS through an agreement with the Department of Defense; and two water scoopers through other contracts.
The U.S. Forest Service expects to have two HC-130H aircraft at McClellan Air Field in September. These are part of the seven aircraft fleet of HC-130H’s that the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard.
Last year one of the HC-130H’s worked out of McClellan using a MAFFS, a slip-in 3,000-gallon pressurized retardant system that pumps the liquid out the left side troop door. That was aircraft #1721 designated as Tanker 118, still painted in military colors. T-118 is now undergoing scheduled depot-level maintenance and should be replaced in September of this year by #1708 designated as Tanker 116. It will also use a slip-in MAFFS unit, one of the eight owned by the USFS, but should be sporting a new USFS air tanker paint job. After T-118 left, another former Coast Guard aircraft took its place, #1706. It is being used for training the contracted pilots and will not serve as an air tanker.
Eventually the USFS hopes to have all seven converted to air tankers with removable retardant tanks. A contract for the installation of the retardant delivery systems was awarded to the Coulson Group in May. There is also much other work that has to be completed on the aircraft including programmed depot maintenance, painting, and wing box replacement on most of them. The work is being done or coordinated by the U.S. Air Force. They were directed by Congressional legislation to use their own funds, up to $130 million, so it is no surprise that the schedule keeps slipping as delays continue to occur in awarding contracts and scheduling the maintenance.
The USFS has two water-scooping CL-415 air tankers on exclusive use contract. As noted above they recently temporarily brought on two more on a call when needed basis. All four are operated by AeroFlite and as seen in the photo above were together at Cody last week.
There was some discussion in the comment section of another article on Fire Aviation about the status of the BAe-146 aircraft being converted to air tankers by Air Spray. The company has five of the 146’s; two are out of the country and the other three are at the company’s Chico, California facility. Ravi Saip, their Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told Fire Aviation that they expect to begin flight testing one of them in air tanker mode around the first of the year. After they receive a supplemental type certificate from the FAA, work on the second one would shift into high gear. Then conversion of the other three would begin.
Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 single engine air tankers that they have purchased since 2014. Five of them have received the amphibious conversion by adding floats, and the other three are stock, restricted to wheels.
Air Spray’s Tanker 498, an L-188 Electra, is currently in Sacramento being inspected and carded by CAL FIRE so that it can be used in a Call When Needed capacity.
Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, told us that the FAA has awarded a supplemental type certificate for their reborn 747 SuperTanker — a major and sometimes very difficult barrier to overcome. Within the next two weeks they expect to receive the airworthiness certificate.
Beginning next week representatives from the USFS will observe some additional static tests and then there will be an airborne descent test, a new test added in 2013, releasing retardant in a downhill drop. That test was not required when Version 1.0 of the 747 was certified. It may have been added after it was discovered that the first BAe-146’s that were converted and issued contracts still retained hundreds of gallons of retardant after downhill runs.
These steps should take less than two weeks, Mr. Wheeler said, after which they will submit the results to the Interagency AirTanker Board.
Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told Fire Aviation that the company was offered an opportunity to submit a proposal for a call when needed contract solicitation in 2015, along with numerous other companies, but declined to do so. Their next opportunity to obtain a contract will be when another general solicitation is issued in 2017, or perhaps sooner, Ms. Jones said. The agency issued a Request for Information a few weeks ago, which is usually followed some months later with an actual solicitation.
Judging from the list of CWN air tankers with contracts, apparently it is possible to submit a proposal and receive a USFS CWN contract even if the aircraft exists mostly on paper and could be years away from being FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board certified.
In the meantime Mr. Wheeler realizes that the USFS is not the only organization that hires air tankers and has been talking with a number of other agencies in various states and countries as well as companies involved in marine firefighting.
Global SuperTanker is in the process of finishing repairs on the 747 in Arizona after some of the composite flight control surfaces (flaps, spoilers, elevators) and engine cowlings were damaged by golf ball sized hail at Colorado Springs several weeks ago. There was no windscreen or fuselage damage.
Mr. Wheeler said that was the first severe hailstorm within the last seven years at the Colorado Springs airport. But, after the aircraft left to be repaired in Arizona a second hailstorm struck the airport that some have said was a 100-year event and did much more damage than the first one.
Since then no decisions have been made. Ms. Jones told Fire Aviation:
The U.S. Forest Service continues to cooperate with the Department of Defense to identify potential federal facilities, which must be considered first.
It is unlikely that more than one or two of the seven HC-130H’s would be at the new base at at any one time, except during the winter when they would not have to be dispersed around the country to be available for firefighting. While the base might not be a huge expansion of the aerial firefighting capabilities in an area, the stationing of the flight crews, maintenance, and administrative personnel would be a boost to the economy of a small or medium-sized city.
The amphibious air tankers will be based at Van Nuys Airport.
Above: file photo of a CL-415 “Super Scooper”. This one photographed at McClellan Air Field is operated by AeroFlite, rather than the province of Quebec like the two aircraft that will be in Los Angeles County.
The annual migration of two water-scooping air tankers from Quebec to Los Angeles County has begun. Two CL-415’s were due to arrive in Los Angeles Saturday and will be operational on Monday out of Van Nuys Airport (map).
For the last 23 wildfire seasons Los Angeles County has leased at least two water-scoopers for a portion of the second half of the calendar year. The timing is based on the assumption that the most devastating wildfires occur during the last quarter or so of the year when strong Santa Ana winds are common. Usually they come on board around the first of September and depart in November or December, but the length of the assignment can be extended if necessary.
In July of this year the County Board of Supervisors awarded a five-year contract to Quebec’s government to lease at least two of the air tankers during the southern California fire season.
In 2015 the two CL-415’s were augmented by two additional scoopers on October 9 after the county Board of Supervisors decided they were necessary because of the ongoing drought. The four aircraft that year were not needed as much as they are in an average year.
Above: Air tanker 52, a CV-580, departs Medford, Oregon for the Bybee Creek Fire in Crater Lake National Park. Photo by Tim Crippin.
Tim Crippin took these photos of CL-415s and CV-580s at the Medford, Oregon Airport August 1 and 2. Some of them were working on the Bybee Creek Fire in Crater Lake National Park which has burned 720 acres since it started on July 28.
On Monday the right side main landing gear on a CL-415 air tanker failed while the aircraft was taxiing prior to taking off at the Ajaccio, Corsica airport. When the gear collapsed the right side wing dropped to the ground damaging the float and causing some fuel to spill from a damaged fuel tank.
There were no injuries to the crew of the air tanker but the airport was closed for several hours until the aircraft could be moved.
The entire fleet of twelve CL-415s in France are grounded until an inspection can determine the cause of the gear failure. Depending on the findings, inspections may be required on all of the aircraft.
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea belonging to France.
Below is a excerpt from a statement issued by Civil Security. It is roughly translated from French by Google:
The accident investigation office of Defense (CRDP), competent for state aircraft (…) triggered an investigation. Alongside technical survey is conducted in conjunction with the aircraft manufacturer, the Canadian company Bombardier.
Following these analyzes, which should take about 48 hours, Bombardier will determine whether it is necessary to carry out inspections on the landing gear of the Canadair fleet of civil security and in what protocol before allow the resumption of operations.
In addition to the CL-415 water scoopers, France also has access to S2-T and Dash 8 air tankers.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jerome and Jan.
Bombardier has agreed to sell their air tanker manufacturing business to Viking Air Ltd.
The transaction will see Viking acquire the Type Certificates (manufacturing rights) for all variants of Bombardier’s amphibious aircraft, and assume responsibility for product support, parts and service for the fleet of 170 air tankers in service with 21 operators in 11 countries around the world.
Below is an excerpt from an article at CTV News:
…Victoria-based Viking manufactures the Twin Otter as well as spare parts for several planes originally made by de Havilland. It also has manufacturing rights for all out-of-production de Havilland aircraft, including the DASH-7 regional airliner, a predecessor to Bombardier’s Q400 turboprop.
Viking employs just under 90 people in Calgary and more than 330 at its headquarters and facilities in Victoria. The company said it expects to add up to 40 people to its workforce in Victoria and Calgary with the new program.
Bombardier said Monday it plans to transfer 50 employees from the amphibious aircraft program based in North Bay, Ont., to other parts of its business.
The Montreal-based company hasn’t produced an amphibious plane since December 2015…
Canadair began manufacturing the amphibious CL-215 air tanker in 1967 and in 1986 sold the manufacturing rights for the aircraft to Bombardier. In 1993 Bombardier introduced the upgraded CL-415, replacing the piston engines with Pratt & Whitney Canada PW123AF turboprops as well as introducing an updated cockpit and aerodynamics enhancements.
Aero-Flite will supply two CL-415 air tankers for one to five years.
Above: Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415, at McClellan Air Field, March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
The daily availability rate for the two Aero-Flite CL-415 air tankers will be $42,285 with an hourly rate of $13,299. That daily rate is higher than all of the 21 large air tankers on contract. And only two large air tankers have a higher hourly rate — one of the DC-10s and the USFS/Coast Guard C-130.
The maximum five-year value of the contract is $142,524,440 for the two aircraft.
It is our understanding that the contract used last year expired. This new solicitation specified that the USFS would hire “up to two” aircraft for a period of time “not to exceed five years”. Obviously the agency made a decision and settled on two scoopers. We checked with Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, who told us that it is definitely a five-year contract.
One Aero-Flite CL-415 was on USFS contract in 2015, Tanker 260 (N389AC). The two this year are N386AC and N392AC. We don’t yet have their tanker numbers.
In past years the Bureau of Indian Affairs contracted for one or two twin engine water scoopers, CL-215s I believe, but no longer. This year they will have at least one amphibious water-scooping Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT), an Air Tractor 802F (N6159F) supplied by Aero Spray, and expect to add one more, Robyn Broyles, spokesperson for the BIA, told us earlier this month.
There will also be a large number of non-water-scooping SEATs, perhaps dozens, on exclusive use. The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for that contract and we hope to hear in April or May how that turned out.