Chinese pilots to train in Canada to fly new amphibious air tanker

AG600 TA-600

AG600/TA-600 under construction. DFNS photo.

Chinese pilots will be training in Canada to fly the new TA-600 amphibious aircraft now being built in China by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China.

Britton Coulson of The Coulson Group said their company will be training 14 test pilots during two weeks in late July who will be the first to fly the TA-600. The training will include ground, water taxi, flight, and scooping and dropping water. The pilots from China will go through classroom and hands on training using Coulson’s Hawaii Martin Mars aircraft, actually taxiing and flying the huge flying boat.

The new Chinese aircraft will have a 3,000-gallon water capacity, four turboprop engines, can handle a wave height of two meters, and will have a maximum speed of 354 mph (570 kph, 308 knots). The base model for the aircraft is the AVIC TA-600 which is designed to be used for transport, water rescue, or to carry up to 50 passengers. The air tanker version appears to have the AG-600 model name. Both aircraft are similar to what was then known as the JL-600 when we wrote about it in 2010 at Wildfire Today. The maiden flight is expected to take place in the first half of 2016.

Hawaii and Philippine Mars

Hawaii (foreground) and Philippine Mars in 2008. Photo by RuthAS.

Coulson owns two huge water scooping flying boat Martin Mars air tankers, with a capacity of 7,200 gallons of water which can be mixed on board with foam concentrate. However, the two planes, the Philippine and Hawaii Mars built in 1945 and now based at Port Alberni, BC, Canada, have not been used as air tankers in recent years. The Philippine Mars, which retired several years ago, is expected to be traded to the Pensacola Naval Museum in Florida in exchange for some aircraft the museum has in their inventory. British Columbia did not renew their firefighting contract for the Hawaii Mars for 2014.

Mr. Coulson said, “By the end of July both Mars will be serviceable and most likely we will have the Philippine in the water as well getting ready to fly to Pensacola”.

Philippine Mars

Philippine Mars after being repainted in its original colors, July 17, 2014. (Screen grab from a Coulson video.)

Related articles on Fire Aviation and Wildfire Today:

China manufacturing large amphibious air tanker
Wayne Coulson, on the Martin Mars and their C-130
Coulson loses B.C. contract for Martin Mars
Martin Mars finishes fire contract in Mexico, next stop Discovery Channel
Video of Martin Mars’ drop in Vancouver today
Video of Martin Mars dropping on Mt. Wilson
Martin Mars drops 64,000 gallons on two fires


Coulson’s L-382G at the grid test

Coulson T-132 grid test

Last week Coulson’s Tanker 132, a Lockheed L-382G, went through the grid testing procedure, which involves dropping loads of retardant into a grid of hundreds of cups placed on stakes. Then the amount of retardant in each cup is measured to determine if the pattern across the grid meets the standards of the Interagency AirTanker Board.

An L-382G, also known as an L-100-30,  is a civilian version of a Lockheed C-130, which has been stretched about 15 feet compared to the L-100.

The aircraft will eventually receive a “wrap” that will look like a fancy paint job, similar to the one on T-131.

Coulson T-132 grid test

Coulson T-132 grid test

Coulson T-132 grid test


Coulson’s L-382G going through static and grid testing

air tanker L-382G tank rolling in

The retardant tank rolling into Coulson’s L-382G. Coulson photo.

The L-382G that Coulson is converting into an air tanker will be at McClellan on April 27 for static testing of the tank system and in Lancaster, California on May 4 for grid tests.

The L-382G is the civilian version of Lockheed’s C-130H-30, which is the stretched H model.

The tank has a capacity of 36,000 pounds. There is not much agreement about the exact weight of retardant, but Britton Coulson said they expect to carry about 4,250 USG.

“Even with a full tank and 3 to 4 hours of fuel”, Mr. Coulson said, “we are still almost 20,000 pounds under our max gross weight so we are still no where near maxing out the airplane.”

L-382G ready for tank

The interior of the L-382G showing the lower hopper installation. This was a structural superior version where none of the Lockheed structure was cut, other than the skin. Coulson photo.

L-382G cargo

The interior of the L-382G with the floorboard down, configured to haul cargo. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s C-130Q air tanker began their fire season this year on April 1, the start of their Mandatory Availability Period.


Australia gearing up air assets for bushfire season

T162 arriving Avalon

Tanker 162, an RJ-85, arrives at Avalon, Victoria, Australia December 7, 2014. Photo by Mike Austin.

Contracted aerial firefighting assets are arriving in Victoria for the Australian bushfire season. Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ-85, arrived on December 7. Coulson’s C-130Q is expected to be there by Monday night local time, December 8. They will be based at the Avalon Airport in Victoria.

As usual, two of Coulson’s S61 helicopters will be on contract, beginning December 17 this year. One of them was in storage over the winter at Essendon Airport. The other was seen December 8 being trucked from Port Melbourne to Essendon.

Two Erickson Air-Crane helicopters are being contracted through Kestrel Aviation in Victoria for service in the state.

New South Wales had two Air-Cranes delivered by an Antonov cargo aircraft on October 4. Those two helicopters are “Gypsy Lady” and “Ichabod”; their contract started on October 6.

(UPDATED at 8 p.m. MST December 7, to provide more detailed information about the helicopters, and the ETA of the C-130Q.)

More details about the aviation assets to be available for the 2014/2015 bushfire season in Victoria.


In-flight videos shot from Tanker 131

These videos were shot with a GoPro camera attached to Tanker 131, a C-130Q, while it was dropping on the King Fire between Placerville and Lake Tahoe, California. That was the fire where 12 firefighters deployed their fire shelters in front of advancing flames and were led to safety by a pilot in a helicopter.

Thanks go out to Britt Coulson for making these available.

We wish other air tanker operators would invest a couple of hundred dollars in a camera they could attach to their aircraft.

I’d love to see a split screen video of an air tanker dropping. On one side we would see the ground and the drop itself, and the other side would be shot from the cockpit and would include the audio of the crew — like this video shot from MAFFS 3 in July. It would take a little bit of advanced video editing, but I imagine if the raw footage was available we could find a volunteer who could put it together.

The photo below of Coulson’s Tanker 131 was shot while it was on final for landing at Redding, California, August 7, 2014.

T-131 landing at Redding, California 8-7-2014

T-131 landing at Redding, California August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Victoria to contract for two large airtankers

Tanker 131 C-130Q

Coulson’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, at McClellan, March 31, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

For the first time, two 3,000-gallon Type 1 air tankers will be put to regular use in Australia during their upcoming 2014/2015 summer bushfire season. Other than a brief trial of a DC-10 several years ago, Australia has rarely used large air tankers but instead has relied on single engine air tankers and helicopters for aerial support of firefighters on the ground. In 2010 they had the use of two 2,000-gallon Convair 580s, a Type 2 air tanker.

Britt Coulson said that their company, Coulson, will be be providing one of the large air tankers, their 4,000-gallon C-130Q known as Tanker 131. The other will be a 3,000-gallon RJ-85. The only company that currently operates RJ-85 air tankers is Aero Flite. Their two RJ-85s, Tankers 160 and 161, were first certified this summer. However, Judy Ziomek, the Vice President of the company, said Thursday that she was unaware that of one of their aircraft was destined to be used in Australia. Calls to Convair, the company that converted the RJ-85s into air tankers, were not returned. (Check out this unusual photo of Tanker 160.)

Kim Payne of Emergency Management Victoria, said the air tankers will be based at Avalon Airport in the south part of the state beginning in mid-December.

Victoria is also contracting for two Erickson Aircrane helicopters from the United States, and Coulson will, as usual, send two of their Sikorski S61s down under.

The state has appropriated $7.15 million in additional funding this year to bolster the state’s aerial firefighting fleet and increase the number of aircraft for the upcoming fire season.

Minister for Bushfire Response Kim Wells said this fire season, 46 specialist aircraft will help to support firefighters, which is four more aircraft than the previous fire season.

“Targeted aviation resources based in the Latrobe Valley will ensure rapid response to incidents across the whole Gippsland region and increase community safety,” Mr Wells said.

“In addition, Victoria will be the first Australian state to use the two large air tankers, which are some of the biggest firefighting aircraft available, and were most recently used to support firefighters in California.

The aircraft fleet will include:

  • 2 large fixed wing airtankers;
  • 1 firebombing helicopter to be based in the Latrobe Valley;
  • 2 Erickson Aircranes capable of dropping 7,500 litres (1,980 gallons) of water;
  • 2 large Sikorsky helicopters capable of dropping 3,500 litres (924 gallons) of water or transporting up to 17 firefighters;
  • 5 medium sized firebombing helicopters;
  • 15 light helicopters;
  • 12 single engine airtankers;
  • 2 infrared line-scanning fixed wing aircraft;
  • 4 fixed wing firespotting aircraft; and
  • 1 fixed wing aircraft to support the large air tankers.

The Aircrane helicopters and the large air tankers will be available for use in December, with the remaining fleet available later in October.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Cameron.


Wayne Coulson, on the Martin Mars and their C-130

Philippine Mars

Philippine Mars, July 17, 2014. (Screen grab from the Coulson video below.)

AirInsight recorded a very interesting audio interview today with Wayne Coulson, the CEO of Coulson Flying Tankers. Most of the interview covered the history of their two Martin Mars aircraft, the Philippine Mars and the Hawaii Mars, but he also discussed their C-130Q air tanker that carries 4,000 gallons of fire retardant. You can listen to it below.

The Martin Mars, built in 1945, were converted to water scooping air tankers and are not amphibious like the CL-215/415 — they always have to land on water. The huge aircraft can carry 7,200 gallons of water which can be mixed with gel concentrate to drop on fires.

The Hawaii Mars has been busy fighting fires off and on for quite some time, however it does not have a contract this year and is for sale, Mr. Coulson said. They have been talking to an interested buyer who wants to put it in a warbird collection in Hawaii, but nothing is finalized yet.

Below is an excerpt from the August, 2014 issue of a Coulson company newsletter in which Mr. Coulson describes some of the recent history of the aircraft:

We took the Hawaii Mars to the October, 2007 San Diego fire storm in Southern California. In 2008, we spent the summer at Lake Shasta in Northern California when the State declared a National Emergency after thousands of lightning strikes. 2009 led us to Southern California with the USFS, where we spent 160 days in the Los Angeles basin at Lake Elsinore. 2010 brought us back to BC which was a slow fire season. In 2011, we got out early and performed a 20-day contract in Mexico that was featured on a Discovery Channel show, Mighty Planes; we then ended up spending the rest of the fire season in Alberta. In 2012 and 2013, the Mars was back in BC.

The Philippine Mars has not seen firefighting action in years. In the May, 2014 newsletter Mr. Coulson wrote about the plans for the aircraft:

We continue to make progress on the transfer of the Philippine Mars to the Pensacola Naval Museum located in Florida.

This project has been three years in the making and I believe this summer we will be delivering the Mars to Pensacola as we continue to finalize the paperwork.

The trade will allow us to acquire two C-130 Hercules aircraft, currently located at the Museum, which will become a significant parts supply for our firefighting C-130. We will be sending a team to Pensacola to retrieve these aircraft and I will continue to provide updates as we move forward. Other aircraft that will be part of this trade will be a Grumman F6F Hellcat. For your information, the Grumman F6F Hellcat was one of the best aircraft carrier fighters in the Pacific theatre in 1943 and was superior to the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero.

The other aircraft of interest is the NK 1 Japanese Rex which was built in 1943 as a float plane fighter. This aircraft also operated in the Pacific theatre, and, once we receive these two colourful aircraft, we will provide the interesting history of each unique flying machine.

In the interview Mr. Coulson said he expects they will fly the Philippine Mars to Pensacola in October. With a 14-hour range, they could fly non-stop, however going over the Rocky Mountains without deicing capability would be problematic, so they are planning to land at Lake Elsinore in southern California to refuel, then fly direct to Pensacola from there.

The video below, recorded on July 18, 2014, shows the  Philippine Mars with all four engines running for their weekly start.


Coulson to convert a second air tanker

Lynden Air Cargo L-382

This Lynden Air Cargo L-382 photographed in Sydney, Australia is similar to the one procured by Coulson Aviation. Photo by Russavia.

Coulson Aviation (USA) Inc. of Oregon announced today that they have acquired a second aircraft which they will convert into an air tanker. Formerly operated for a number of years by Alaska-based Lynden Air Cargo, the Lockheed L-382G is the civilian version of a C-130E.

Wayne Coulson, the Chief Executive Officer of the company, said they will install a 4,800 USG Coulson RADS XXL tank into the aircraft beginning in November of this year.

Coulson Aviation has been operating Tanker 131, a C-130Q which is similar to a C-130H, since August of 2013. The tank in T-131 can hold almost 4,000 gallons; their average load this year has been 3,700 gallons.

Mr. Coulson said:

It is our understanding that the USFS will have a “Next Generation II” Air tanker bid opportunity in the fourth quarter of 2014, and we want to be ready to participate in the bid process. Our current C-130Q firefighting aircraft has been performing extremely well, and both the aircraft and the 4,000 USG RADS XL tanking system have exceeded expectations.