Last week during the Aerial Firefighting conference there were two interesting aircraft at McClellan Airfield parked in the hangar near the static display of the 747 Supertanker and other firefighting aircraft.
The other aircraft in the same hangar was a Coast Guard C-27J Spartan. A few years ago the U.S. Forest Service attempted to acquire a bunch of the former military aircraft to use them as air tankers. But the Coast Guard intervened, and unloaded seven of their old C-130Hs to the USFS, so they could get the C-27Js.
More information about the C-17J from the Coast Guard, December 18, 2015:
Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento is preparing to become the first permanent home of C-27J Spartan medium range surveillance aircraft, with operations expected to start in 2016.
The HC-27J Asset Project Office will assist with the transition by providing a forward-deployable maintenance team and pilot, aircrew and maintenance technician instructors, said Cmdr. Peter Beavis, APO executive officer. An aircraft to be used for training was repositioned to the air station Dec. 2.
Four aircraft will be transferred to the air station in fiscal year 2016, said Lt. Robert Hovanec, C-27J platform manager with the Office of Aviation Forces. Sacramento will have six aircraft at full capacity, with the remaining two arriving in 2017.
The last DC-3 operated by the U.S. Forest Service retired this week following a ceremony at the Missoula smokejumper base.
Known to the jumpers it hauled as Jump 15, it took off December 10 from Missoula and a flew to McClellan Airfield in Sacramento at 16,000 feet and 200 mph, unpressurized of course. There it will await an auction and a new owner.
The 71-year old aircraft, first operated by the Royal Air Force, was manufactured as World War II was winding down. The radial piston engines were replaced 24 years ago with turbines by Basler extending its life while providing more reliability and less maintenance. The aircraft’s sister, Jump-42, another DC-3, retired in November, 2012.
Approximately 607 DC-3s were built between 1936 and 1942. At that time their cost was $79,000. Most of them had 14-cylinder Pratt and Whitney radial engines.
With the two DC-3s now gone, the smokejumpers will be using some of the 15 C-23B Sherpa aircraft they received from the Army and two De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters. The Forest Service has been contracting for two additional Twin Otters but those will be phased out as the C-23Bs transition into the fleet after going through modifications, maintenance, and painting.
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.
The last DC-3 smokejumper aircraft will retire this year, a few months after its 70th birthday. Jump-15 as it is known, came off the assembly line two months after the end of World War II but it will be making its farewell tour as it drops smokejumpers during its final fire season. The second to the last smokejumper DC-3 retired a couple of years ago.
The Missoulian has an article highlighting the history of Jump-15. Here is an excerpt from the article:
…Douglas Aircraft Co. started building the tail-dragging DC-3s in 1935. TWA director Charles Lindbergh reportedly made the requirement that it should always be able to fly with just one of its two engines. That’s a feature smokejumpers loved too.
The DC-3 was the first to be wide enough for side-by-side sleeper berths – a first-class requirement for the propeller-age jet set. It could fly across the United States in 15 hours with three refueling stops, the first commercial plane to make that trip entirely in daylight.
When America entered World War II in 1942, the civilian plane put on an Army uniform. The military redesignated it the C-47 Dakota and ordered more than 10,000 before 1945.
Dwight Eisenhower ranked it along with the Jeep, the half-ton truck and the bulldozer as the Allied Forces’ most effective tools in winning the war…
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.”
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.