Only one USFS C-130H to be operational this year

Coast Guard C-130H Number 1709
Coast Guard C-130H Number 1709, one of the aircraft to be transferred to the USFS. Photo October, 2008 by Bob Garrard.

The U.S. Forest Service has changed their plans about how many C-130H aircraft that are in the process of being retrofitted and transferred from the Coast Guard, will be operational this year as air tankers. On February 4 their intent was to have two of the C-130Hs this summer, both outfitted temporarily with the MAFFS pressurized internal retardant tanks, rather than a conventional gravity-based retardant tank. One would be used on fires within 500 nautical miles (575 statute miles) of McClellan, California, and the other aircraft would have been used as a training platform until it departed for programmed depot-level maintenance in the Fall of CY 2015.

Their revised plan is to have only one C-130H operational this summer and it would still be used only on fires within 500 nautical miles of McClellan. Aircraft 1721 is scheduled for delivery to Warner Robins Air Force Base for “MAFFS panel installation” around March 13, and should arrive at McClellan by mid-May. There appear to be no other changes to the schedule. The last of the seven C-130Hs are expected to be delivered, with internal gravity-based retardant tanks, in FY 2019. The details are in our February 9 article.

A related issue is the crews to fly and maintain the C-130H this summer. After issuing a Request for Information in January, asking if anyone was interested in supplying crews to fly the aircraft, the USFS still has not published a final solicitation for the aircrews or for a company to maintain the C-130Hs. A document that we obtained that was distributed in early March, said, “Contract Solicitations for Pilot Services and Maintenance Providers continue to be reviewed and edited.”

After having over a year of lead time to nail down the management and operation of this air tanker project that is new to the USFS, it would be a shame to see the aircraft sit, collecting dust, at McClellan after it arrives in mid-May.