Air Force awards contract to install retardant systems on USFS HC-130H air tankers

HC-130H paint design
This is the US Forest Service approved paint design that will be used on the seven HC-130H air tankers acquired from the Coast Guard.

After a solicitation process that dragged on for almost two years, the U.S. Air Force has awarded the contract to build and install retardant delivery systems for up to seven of the seven HC-130H aircraft that are being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. 

The Coulson Group announced today that they received the contract. In one sense this is not unexpected because the company has installed and successfully operated two similar systems in C-130s — Tanker 131 and Tanker 132. In another sense, it is a surprise after the Government Accountability Office denied the company’s protest of the terms of the request for proposals in August of 2015.

C-130 retardant tank unload
Coulson’s retardant tank being removed or installed in one of their air tankers, T-131, in 2013. Coulson photo.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to work with the United States Air Force to provide them with state of the art retardant aerial delivery systems (RADS) for their fleet of C-130s,” says Wayne Coulson, CEO and President of Coulson Aviation.

The 3,800-gallon (3,500 gallons dispensable payload) retardant system will be gravity-based with retardant tanks that can be quickly removed, making it possible for the air tankers to also haul cargo or passengers.

One of the seven HC-130H aircraft began working out of McClellan Air Field near Sacramento last summer. Since it did not have a permanent retardant tank it borrowed one of the Forest Service’s eight Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that can be inserted into the cargo hold of a military C-130 to provide a surge capacity of air tankers during a time of heavy wildfire activity. The MAFFS pump the 3,000 gallons of retardant out of a pipe through the door using compressed air, rather than letting it drop out of the belly with the assistance of gravity as is done with conventional air tankers.

The Air Force is responsible for the retrofitting and performing the heavy maintenance that must be completed before the seven HC-130Hs are finally turned over to the USFS over the next three years. This contract is for the installation of one trial “kit”, one verification kit, and three production kits. There is an option for the installation of two additional production kits.

Coulson Aviation has 25 years of experience in aerial fire suppression and they operate both Type 1 helicopters and large fixed wing air tankers. Coulson is one of the few companies to hold multi-country aerial firefighting contracts, including Canada, the United States, and Australia.

Simplex receives STC for Chinook internal tank

Above: A Chinook with the Simplex Model 347 internal tank for firefighting. Simplex photo.

The following is a Simplex press release.

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Simplex Aerospace was recently granted a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) supplemental type certificate for a Fire Attack System (FAS) for the Columbia Helicopters CH-47D helicopter. The system is an internal/external system, comprised of a roll-on/roll-off internal tank system connected to an external plenum.

The Simplex Aerospace Model 347 FAS is the largest helicopter firefighting system in the world.

The Model 347 is comprised of a 3,050-gallon internal tank with a 2,800-gallon water reservoir, approximately 110 gallons of water through the hookwell and 140-gallon foam concentrate reservoir that can be loaded from the helicopter’s rear loading ramp. The system also includes a 12-foot-long, 10-inch diameter hover pump, capable of refilling the tank in less than one minute.

The system includes ground fill ports so the tank can be pre-filled and ready to go at a moment’s notice. The entire contents of the FAS can be dropped in less than four seconds.

The Simplex Model 347 has the capability for the pilot to select drop patterns ranging from a single drop to multiple drops depending on the demands of the mission. An automatic emergency water drop feature is included on all Simplex Fire Attack systems in the event of an aircraft power outage.

This new Simplex FAS can be installed on the helicopter using only four bolts. Only minor modifications are required to provision for FAS installation.

The gravity-fed Fire Attack tank is installed in the aircraft cabin; then connected to a sleeve, which extends through the aircraft hookwell, joining an external plenum in the belly. Vne (never exceed speed) for the Simplex 347 FAS is 140 knots, with or without the hover pump installed.

Water drops can be made at up to 100 knots. Newly developed pilot control and display allow for U.S. Forest Service Type-one compliance. The pilot controls can be configured to show water volume, and ground refilling volume displaying gallons (or weight) on both the flight deck and ground fill input location.

“This new and innovative CH-47D FAS for Columbia Helicopters is the largest helicopter FAS in the world today,” said Mark Zimmerman, Simplex president and CEO. “With total water evacuation in under four seconds, it is the most cost-effective FAS available to operators around the world.”

Zimmerman went on to say, “the system was developed for installation with very minimal aircraft provisioning required, making installation fast and cost effective.”

Zimmerman further stated that the system has an excellent drop pattern. He stated that the “new system is like the Kamov Ka-32, and the Firehawk systems, with an exceptional drop pattern.”

Helimax prepares for the 2016 fire season

Above: One of Helimax’s two CH-47D Chinook Type 1 helicopters they have on exclusive use contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

We stopped by the Helimax Aviation facilities at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento recently and talked with General Manager Josh Beckham and Director of Fire Operations Larry Kelly. Their mechanics were going over their fleet of helicopters preparing them for the upcoming fire season.

HelimaxTwo of their three CH-47D Chinooks are on a Type 1 exclusive use contract. One of them today became the company’s first helicopter to leave the nest this year, beginning work in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

Mr. Beckham told us that they expect to buy “probably two to start with” of the internal 2,800-gallon tanks being built by Jordan Aircraft Services. He said the first one is nearing completion and they hope to begin flight testing in the next couple of months. The water or retardant will be pushed out of the horizontally mounted cylindrical tanks by a 54-inch piston.

Chinook tank
Chinook tank under construction, left side looking forward. Photo provided by Tony Cabler, the Quality Director for Jordan Aircraft Services.

Mr. Beckham said Helimax also has six Type 2 helicopters on exclusive use contracts, five 205A1++’s and one 212HP.

external belly helicopter tank Helimax
An external belly tank for the S-61N.
S-61N Helimax
S-61N and a Chinook
Helimax
Workers in the Helimax hangar get helicopters ready for the 2016 fire season.

On injured reserve is a Super Puma which needs some work — it was hoisted out of the ocean when it became floating debris after the 2011 Tsunami in Japan.

This Super Puma was floating in the ocean after the Tsunami in Japan.
This Super Puma was floating in the ocean after the Tsunami in Japan.

Photos of Chinook tank under construction

As we told you on December 21, Jordan Aircraft Services is constructing internal tanks for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter. With the horizontal configuration of the tank, 54-inch pistons at each end will push the water toward the valve in the center in order to maintain adequate head pressure and a constant flow. The tanks, designed by Eric Foy of Perideo LLC, will hold up to 2,800 gallons.

Chinook tank
Chinook tank, left side looking forward.

Tony Cabler, the Quality Director for Jordan Aircraft Service, sent us these photos he took, explaining that the tanks are far from being ready to use.

Chinook tank piston assembly
Piston assembly.
Chinook tank
Chinook tank — inside looking forward.

The personnel at Jordan Aircraft Services have been involved in constructing tanks for a number of aircraft, including S-61 Sea King helicopter, 10 Tanker’s DC-10, Erickson’s Air-Cranes and MD-87s.

Internal tank being developed for Chinook

A company in Central Point Oregon is developing an internal tank for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Jordan Aircraft Services is constructing a tank engineered by Eric Foy of Perideo LLC in Rogue Valley Oregon that will hold up to 2,800 gallons.

CH-47 Chinook CHI Aviation
CH-47 Chinook operated by CHI Aviation working out of Medford, Oregon December 15. Photo by Tim Crippin.

It will employ an innovative method to help produce a constant flow of water or retardant, according to Ed Jordan, owner of Jordan Aircraft Services. Since the tank system is primarily horizontal in the aircraft, it could be difficult to maintain adequate head pressure at the bottom of the tank as it empties using gravity rather than a pressurized system. As the water is dispensed through a valve in the belly of the Chinook, horizontally mounted 54-inch pistons will push the liquid toward the center of the tank over the valve. This is intended to maintain an adequate head pressure ensuring that the desired flow rate is obtained.

(Photos of the tank on Fire Aviation.)

Mr. Jordan told us that the tank itself is completed, but they are still working on the valve system. The tank has been installed in a Chinook in Medford, Oregon operated by CHI Aviation, formerly known as Construction Helicopters. They expect to be able to begin testing by early Spring.

The personnel at Jordan Aircraft Services have been involved in constructing tanks for a number of aircraft, including S-61 Sea King helicopter, 10 Tanker’s  DC-10, Erickson’s Air-Cranes and their MD-87s.

On a related note, Billings Flying Service now has six Chinooks. The company began acquiring them from the military in 2014 when they purchased two which they flew back to Billings from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The ships were busy in 2015, Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, told Fire Aviation. He said they expect to have five of them available in 2016.

Mr. Blain said they are following the development of the internal tank closely, but so far they are having success with external buckets.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tim.