Tanker 132 begins contract in Australia

Above: Air Tanker 132 makes a practice drop in New South Wales. Photo by Sgt. Brett Sherriff, Royal Australian Air Force.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 132 started its contract with New South Wales on September 6, helping to provide air support for wildland firefighters in Australia. This is the second year in a row that the L-382G, a variant of the C-130 platform, has worked down under during their summer bushfire season.

air tanker 132 c-130
Air Tanker 132 is reintroduced to the media in New South Wales, Australia.

The aircraft will be based at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base at Richmond (map) . Known as “Thor” in Australia, the 4,000-gallon air tanker will be operated under contract to the NSW Government. In November it will be joined at Richmond by a very large air tanker, with the two aircraft being part of a two-year trial by the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Last year one of 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s DC-10 very large air tankers worked in NSW alongside Thor. Rick Hatton, President and CEO of the company said they will again have a DC-10 in Richmond to start their contract on November 1. The end date is flexible depending the bushfire conditions, but he expects to have it there through February, 2017.

On launching from RAAF Base Richmond the tankers can reach any part of the state within an hour.

RAAF Base Richmond will provide aircraft parking and security, access to fuel and refuelling facilities, equipment storage, use of resources including water, aircrew office space, meals, and accommodation for up to 20 people. 

air tanker 132 c-130
Air Tanker 132 makes a practice drop in New South Wales. Photo by Sgt. Brett Sherriff, Royal Australian Air Force.

bushfire season outlook Australia 2016-2017

Large air tankers assisting with bushfires in Tasmania

DC-10 Tasmania fire
A DC-10 air tanker working a fire in Tasmania February 12, 2016. Tasmania Fire Service photo.

Bushfires that have been raging across northwest Tasmania for several weeks are still causing great concern in the island state south of Australia.

Three air tankers from North America that have been working in Australia during their summer bushfire season have been recently deployed to Tasmania, including a DC-10, Avro RJ85, and a C-130. This may be the first time large aerial firefighting assets have been used in the state. The Fire Service felt it was necessary to warn the residents to “not be alarmed” when they saw the air tankers “flying a bit low over the coast”.

In recent days some of the air tankers have departed from Avalon, near Melborne, and returned there after dropping retardant. Last month a portable retardant base was set up in northeast Tasmania at Launceston.

The video below shows the DC-10 dropping retardant out ahead of a fire in Tasmania. It is courtesy of Wayne Rigg of the Country Fire Authority.

c-130 air tanker Tasmania
A C-130 air tanker working a fire in Tasmania February 12, 2016. Tasmania Fire Service photo.
air tanker Tasmania
An air tanker working a fire in Tasmania February 12, 2016. Tasmania Fire Service photo.
large air tankers in Australia
The National Aerial Firefighting Centre created this poster illustrating the North American Air Tankers that are working in Australia during their 2015/2016 bushfire season.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 132, an L-382G, first began helping the Tasmanians January 26 and was reloading at the temporary fire retardant base installed in Launceston.

T-132 in Tasmania

More information about the bushfires in Tasmania is at Wildfire Today.

Air tankers discussed in Senate hearing

Richard Zerkel

(UPDATED November 19, 2015. Scroll down to see the updated information.)

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Air tankers was one of the topics discussed today in a Washington D.C. hearing convened by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Richard B. Zerkel, President of Lynden Air Cargo, was one of six witnesses who testified, two of whom brought up issues about firefighting aircraft.

One of Mr. Zerkel’s main points in his prepared testimony was the “double standard” used by the U.S. Forest Service in managing their government owned air tankers and privately owned air tankers. The USFS will not operate the seven HC-130H air tankers obtained from the Coast Guard according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations as Part 121 air carrier aircraft, but will instead fly them as public use aircraft. This allows them to make up their own standards, or, as they announced, use procedures created by the Coast Guard who will advise the USFS about maintenance of the aircraft. (Fire Aviation wrote about this issue in September, 2015.)

Mr. Zerkel, in referring to the first of the USFS HC-130Hs which began spraying retardant on fires this summer, described it as “equipped with the obsolete MAFFS II dispersant system and operated without appropriate FAA oversight.” The MAFFS system uses compressed air to force the retardant out of the 3,000-gallon tank. Spraying the liquid, rather than allowing gravity to let it fall from the tank, breaks up the retardant into small droplets which does not penetrate tree canopies as well as a conventional gravity-powered system. The plans are to eventually replace the MAFFS tanks with conventional gravity systems, but the Air Force, the agency converting the aircraft into air tankers, has been dithering about the contracts for the retardant system since July of 2014, without any result so far.

Mr. Zerkel argued that the federal fire aviation fleet should operate their aircraft under the same standards they require of their contractors, FAA Part 121. The Chair of the Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, the state in which Lynden Air Cargo is based, agreed, saying the current system “is absolutely unacceptable. You go with your highest standard.”

Lynden Air Cargo has skin in the game. The company took one of their seven L-382 cargo planes, a civilian version of the Hercules C-130, and spent $4.5 million, according to Mr. Zerkel, to retrofit it as an air tanker and train personnel to fly and maintain it. That aircraft is leased to Coulson who operates it as Air Tanker 132, currently on a firefighting contract in New South Wales, Australia. It was disqualified from competing for the USFS next-gen Version 2 air tanker contract earlier this year because part of the Supplemental Type Certificate had not been awarded from the Federal Aviation Administration by the USFS deadline, which was a couple of months before the contracts were awarded.

Mr. Zerkel said, “The commercial aerial firefighting industry is entirely capable of providing all of the Forest Service’s Large Air Tanker requirements at considerably less expense than the current planned use of C-130H aircraft.” And further, “The non-regulated, public aircraft format, proposed for the government owned large air tanker fleet is inherently less safe than the rigorous standards the commercial fleet must adhere to and has set an unfair double standard.

Chris MaischAnother witness from Alaska brought up the issue of inconsistent “carding”, or qualification of fire aviation assets. John “Chris” Maisch, the Alaska State Forester who was also representing the National Association of State Foresters, provided some examples of problems with “carding” individual pilots and aviation platforms.

  • Colorado sent its multi-mission fire detection and mapping aircraft, which was approved by the Forest Service in its Region 2, to Oregon where it had to be carded again by Forest Service Region 6.
  • A state of Alaska contract helicopter based out of California had been carded at the beginning of the fire season by the Forest Service and had to be re-carded by the Department of Interior’s Office of Aircraft Services when it reported to Alaska for work.

The video recording of the hearing can be viewed at the Committee’s web site.

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UPDATE: On November 19, 2015 we heard from Richard B. Zerkel, President of Lynden Air Cargo, who testified at the hearing. He wanted to make it clear that he does not recommend that the U.S. Forest Service operate their air tankers under CFR Part 121. But he would like to see them under CFR Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operations that covers aerial dispensing. Failing that, Mr. Zerkel thinks they should at least be required to obtain Supplemental Type Certificates for all modifications and document any maintenance and or operational training which should then be available to the general public.

North American air tankers to be under contract in NSW during Australia’s summer

T-132 Thor
T-132, or ‘Thor’, an L-382 Hercules contracted to the NSW Government to assist in fighting bushfires dispenses water during a demonstration over the Rickaby’s drop zone near RAAF Base Richmond. Australia Department of Defence photo by CPL David Said .

A year ago during Australia’s 2014-2015 summer two large air tankers from North America were under contract in Victoria, Australia, Coulson’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, and Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ-85. The two aircraft dropped more than a million liters of fire retardant across the state, completing 81 drops across Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Victoria will have two large air tankers under contract again this summer, beginning in November unless they are needed earlier.

Australia’s Minister of Defence, ABC News, and ASD News reported that this year the New South Wales Rural Fire Service is “trialling” two air tankers, a DC-10 and Coulson’s Tanker 132 (an L-382G which is a civilian stretched version of a C-130).

T-132 is already in Australia and earlier this week performed a practice or demonstration water drop near Richmond air base in northwest Sydney where it will be based until early December. The aircraft is under contract with the RFS for two fire seasons.

Coulson says the L-382 has their latest Coulson SMART 4,400-gallon retardant tank system. The DC-10 carries 11,600 gallons (44,000 liters).

ABC reports that the DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) will be under contract with the RFS beginning in October. The agency has not announced which company will supply the DC-10, however there is only one that operates DC-10 air tankers.

RAAF Base Richmond will be used to provide airfield support services to the air tankers in NWS from September 1 until January 20, 2016.

According to the Department of Defence:

Defence is providing a number of services including aircraft parking and security, access to fuel and refueling facilities, equipment storage, use of resources including water, aircrew office space, and meals and accommodation for up to 20 people, as required. Facilitating the aircraft at RAAF Base Richmond is intended to maximize aircraft utility and provide access to all areas of NSW in the event of a bushfire emergency.

Portions of Australia have the potential to face an above normal bushfire season.

Australia Bushfire Outlook

 

Below is an an outlook for the 2015-2016 bushfire season in Australia, from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and the AFAC:

“Large areas of southern Australia, especially along the east and west coasts extending inland, face above normal fire potential for the 2015-2016 fire season, despite many fires in some parts of the country over the last 12 months. The above normal forecast is mostly due to a strengthening El Nino over the Pacific Ocean, currently tracking as one of the strongest on record, but is made more complex this year by the influence of warmer sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean.

There have also been significantly below average rainfalls over the last decade across almost all of eastern Australia, the west coast and Tasmania. Such underlying dry conditions mean that any surface moisture from recent rains will quickly decline once temperatures begin to warm. 2014 was Australia’s third warmest year since records began and, when combined with such long term rainfall deficiencies, an early start to the bushfire season is likely in many areas.

The Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook is used by fire authorities to make strategic decisions on resource planning and prescribed fire management for the upcoming fire season.”

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

Coulson’s L-382G awarded contract in Australia

Coulson T-132 grid test
Coulson’s Tanker 132 during the grid tests in Lancaster, California during the week of May 4, 2015. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s L-382G, a civilian version of Lockheed’s C-130, has received an air tanker contract in New South Wales, Australia, according to a report on the company’s Facebook page. Tanker 132 is due to start there on September 1, so they are prepping it now for the overseas flight. They expect to have it in Sydney in the last week of August.

Coulson says the aircraft has their latest Coulson SMART 4,400-gallon retardant tank system.

air tanker L-382G tank rolling in
The retardant tank rolling into Coulson’s L-382G, Tanker 132. Coulson photo.

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.

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.