Tanker 910 arrives in Australia

The DC-10 will be down under for the New South Wales bushfire season.

Above: Air Tanker 910 just after landing at RAAF Richmond in New South Wales, Australia, October 30, 2016 (U.S. time). Photo by Bernie Proctor.

Tanker 910, one of the three DC-10s operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, landed in Richmond, New South Wales, Australia (map) on Sunday (U.S. time) to begin a contract during their summer bushfire season. During this second year of its contract, the 11,600-gallon aircraft will again be based at the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Richmond, 40 miles west of Sydney.

Sunday was the last day of Tanker 911’s contract with the U.S. Forest Service. It had been on standby in San Bernardino for the last two weeks. Tanker 912 continues with its CAL FIRE contract based at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento.

Coulson’s Tanker 132, an L-382G, started its contract in New South Wales  on September 6, 2016.

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

A bagpiping tribute to the large air tankers at Avalon

It must have been a slow day at the air tanker base at the Avalon Airport (map) near Melbourne, New South Wales, Australia. Yes, in the screen grab above that is Phos-Chek loader Henry Ring playing a bagpipe while standing in the door of Conair’s RJ85.

Several large air tankers from North America have been on contract with the states of New South Wales and Victoria during their 2015/2016 summer bushfire season and have been staged at Avalon recently. In the video, uploaded to YouTube by Steve Forbes, you’ll see the inside and outside of the RJ85, one of 10 Tanker’s DC-10s, and at least one of the two Coulson C-130s, plus some bird dogs or lead planes.

The RJ-85 has a unique way of waving at the camera.

Mr. Forbes described the video:

In 2015/16 many air and ground personnel including aviation industry professionals, fire agency staff & volunteers and contract ground crews worked hard everyday of the Australian summer making sure the Large (and very large) Air tankers could be at the ready to protect the Australian communities. This is a tribute to these crews.

I hope you like the sound of a bagpipe.

New South Wales may be using DC-10 air tanker in a somewhat uncommon manner

Photo: DC-10 practice drop October 1, 2015.  NSW RFS.

There is a report that New South Wales, which has a DC-10 under contract during their down under summer, is using the aircraft in a manner that is not typically seen. Neil Bibby writes in Asia Pacific Fire Magazine that fire managers are splitting loads more often and into smaller increments — fewer gallons per drop. The aircraft almost always carries 11,600 gallons, three to four times more than a conventional “next generation” air tanker in the United States. It can be dropped all at once or it can make multiple passes dispensing a fraction of it’s capacity each time.

Below is an excerpt from the AFP magazine:

…Todays Next Generation Airtankers carry between 3000 and 11,600 US gallons, but curiously the number of splits on the average mission has remained relatively static. In fact it is safe to say that the majority of airtanker runs made today are either single drop or two drop loads. To be sure it is not uncommon to see a load split into three drops, but anything more is relatively rare.

Now enter a week-long period in late 2015 when 18 DC-10 loads of retardant were dropped on fires in NSW, and those 18 loads were split into more than 60 separate drops. While that average is only 3.3 drops per load, the reality is that many of those loads were split into six, or even seven, drops. Since then, reports indicate the practice continued as the NSW season progressed.

So why the difference, and what does it matter? The difference, I believe, is both cultural and tactical. Culturally, firefighters in Australia have developed tactics that work well with repeated Sky Crane drops of 2000 gallons, and obviously six drops from a DC-10 fits into those tactics quite well. Tactically, Australian firefighters “build” less indirect line with retardant, and rely instead on tactical application of the suppressant directly on, or close to, the fire line. This tactic usually means shorter runs to follow an uneven line.

The reason this matters comes back to the basic questions of cost efficiency and operational effectiveness. The DC-10, and the amount of retardant it carries, has become regarded as a good example of the benefits of economy of scale. The more suppressant you can carry to the fire line in a single load, the cheaper it becomes…

Helicopter extraction in New South Wales

Flying into a challenging helispot.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service described this video: “Extracting out of the Bills Lake Fire near Cradle Mountain.”

Videos of a DC-10 fighting bushfires in Australia

Known in the United States as Tanker 910, the aircraft is one of four large air tankers from North America currently under contract in Australia for their 2015/2016 bushfire season. Down under they call it the Southern Belle.

If I’m interpreting correctly the data at the top-right in this first video by the NSW RFS, the tanker is about 15 to 20 km from the camera. Shot at the Buddah Creek Fire near Hawkesbury, it was uploaded to YouTube on December 10.

The next video shows the DC 10 dropping on the Maddens Plain Fire December 11,  2015. NSW RFS video by Kallie Rayner.

More information about the bushfires in New South Wales is at Wildfire Today.

Tanker 131 en route to Australia

T-131 C-130Q
Tanker 131, a C-130Q. Photo November 23 in Edmonton by Matt Ralph.

Air Tanker 131 (N130FF), Coulson’s C-130Q, arrived in Hawaii on Thursday after completing the first leg of its trip to Victoria, Australia. It is under contract with Emergency Management Victoria for their summer bushfire season, along with Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ85, (N355AC).

Two other air tankers are already down under working for New South Wales, T-910 (N612AX) a DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, and Coulson’s Tanker 132, an L-382G (N405LC) which is a civilian stretched version of a C-130.

Tanker 131 just received a new retardant tank and a redesigned “Next Gen Smart Controller” to operate the retardant delivery system.

air tanker 131 retardant tank
The new retardant tank for Tanker 131 is on the right. The original tank is on the left. Photo by Matt Ralph.

The newer tank holds about 500 gallons more than the original tank and should enable an average retardant load of 4,200 USG and a maximum capacity of about 4,500 USG, according to Britt Counson. Tanker 132, an L-382G, also has the new version of the tank system.

Tanker 132 arrives in Indonesia

T-132 on Indonesia runway

Coulson’s Tanker 132, known in Australia as “Thor”, has arrived in Palembang, Indonesia with a lead plane (in smoky conditions) to assist with the numerous large fires in the area. Local crews are preparing it for water dropping missions northeast of Palembang.

The photos were supplied by Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, which has the air tanker under contract during the Australian summer but has loaned it to Indonesia for a week or so.

T-132 on Indonesia ramp

T-132 and lead plane in Indonesia