Air tankers at Avalon, Victoria

Above: Bomber 391 at Avalon, Victoria. Photo by Avalon Airport.

Two air tankers from North America have recently started their contracts in Victoria during the Australian summer. Known as Tanker 131 when working in the United States, Coulson’s C-130Q is designated as Bomber 390 while working for Emergency Management Victoria. One of Conair’s RJ85s is known down under as Bomber 391.

The aircraft will be based at the Avalon Airport in southeast Australia, southwest of Melbourne.

Bomber 390
Bomber 390 at Avalon, Victoria, with Bomber 391 in the background. Photo by Avalon Airport.

Tanker 131, now known as Bomber 390, arrives in Australia

Above: Tanker 131 reunites with its sister aircraft, Tanker 132, in Avalon, Victoria. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s Tanker 131 arrived safely in Avalon, Victoria (map) on Sunday U.S. time after an uneventful flight. Its sister ship, Tanker 132, happened to be at Avalon when it landed.

The planned route for the C-130Q to Australia was for 27 flight hours, more than 7,000 miles, and four stops en route for fuel. When its 85-day contract with Emergency Management Victoria begins on December 15 the aircraft will be known as Bomber 390.

Tanker 132, a C-130H, has been in Australia since September 6, 2016. It just had its contract extended for another month and will continue to be based at Richmond RAAF base in New South Wales until mid-January. But like in the United States, the tankers are moved around as needed and shared between states.

Tanker 131
Tanker 131 stopped at Norfolk Island to refuel. Coulson photo.
tanker 131 route
The route Tanker 131 took from Phoenix, AZ to Avalon, Victoria. Coulson image.

C-130Q en route to Australia

The air tanker will begin an 84-day contract in Victoria on December 15.

Above: Tanker 131’s route from Santa Maria, California to Hawaii.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a C-130Q, is en route to Australia to begin a firefighting contract for the state of Victoria. It departed from Phoenix on December 8 and is expected to arrive in Avalon, Victoria on December 12 after flying for a total of 27 hours. These dates and the ones below are U.S. time.

Tanker 131 itinerary
Tanker 131’s itinerary. From Coulson.

In Australia it is designated as Tanker 390 and is named “Hercules”. On the way to Avalon it scheduled stops at Santa Maria (California), Kahului (Hawaii), Pago Pago, and Norfolk Island. Britt Coulson said Friday night that it had just landed at Pago Pago (NSTU).

The 84-day contract for T-131 begins December 15th.

Tanker 131
Tanker 131 in Maui, Thursday December 8 US time. Coulson photo.
Tanker 131
Tanker 131 over Maui, Thursday December 8 US time. Coulson photo.

Tanker 131 concluded its 2016 fire season in the United States on November 30, accumulating 350 hours of flight time and 520 drops for a total of 1.77 million gallons delivered over wildfires — an average of 3,404 gallons per drop.

Tanker 131
Tanker 131 at Pago Pago Friday December 9 US time. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s other C-130 type air tanker, T-132, a C-130H, has been in New South Wales since September 6, 2016. Known as “Thor” down under, it just had its contract extended for another month and will continue to be based at Richmond RAAF base until mid-January.

Update on Coulson’s C-130s

They have concluded their 2016 contracts in the United States, and will soon have a second air tanker in Australia.

air tanker 132 at Avalon
Air tanker 132 at Avalon, New South Wales during the 2015-2016 Australian fire season.

Coulson’s Tanker 131 concluded its 2016 fire season in the United States on November 30, racking up 350 hours of flight time and 520 drops for a total of 1.77 million gallons delivered over wildfires — an average of 3,404 gallons per drop.

Next on its schedule is a flight down under to Australia where it will join, at least within the same country if not the same state, its sister, Tanker 132 which has been there since September 6, 2016.

Air tankers on the Trailhead Fire

Above: Tanker 12 drops on the Trailhead Fire. A Cobra helicopter is in the background. Photo July 1, 2016 by Matthew Rhodes.

Matthew Rhodes sent us these photos he took July 1, 2016 on the Trailhead Fire on the El Dorado National Forest 11 miles east of Auburn, California. Thanks Matthew.

The 4,000-acre fire is causing evacuations in Placer and El Dorado counties.

Tanker 131 Trailhead Fire
Tanker 131 on the Trailhead Fire. Photo July 1, 2016 by Matthew Rhodes.

Victoria picks up Tanker 132 on contract

Above: Air tankers 131 and 132, both on contract in Victoria. Coulson photo.

Both of Coulson’s C-130 air tankers have been working in Australia during the 2015/2016 bushfire season; 131 has been with the state of New South Wales while 132 was in Victoria. When the NWS contract with 132 ended recently, Victoria hired it, affording a rare opportunity to photograph both of them together.

Tanker 131 fire crew
Tanker 131 and her crew on contract in Victoria. Coulson photo.
Tanker 132 fire crew
Tanker 132 and her crew on contract in Victoria. Coulson photo.

Both of the air tankers are variants of the C-130 platform. T-131 is a C-130Q which served as a strategic communications link for the U.S. Navy’s Ballistic Missile submarine force and as a backup communications link for the U. S. Air Force manned strategic bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces. It had the capability to deploy two trailing wire antennas with the longest being 17,000 to 20,000 feet depending on the VLF frequency being used. The aircraft still has remnants of the system —  a vent in front of the landing gear that brought in air to cool the wire spooling mechanism. (More information, a Word document, about the “TACAMO” communications system.)

T-132 is an L-382G, also known as an L-100-30, a civilian version of the C-130 that has been stretched about 15 feet compared to the L-100.

We like posting photos of firefighting aircraft with their crews. Too often we see dramatic photos of aircraft fighting fires, but the crews don’t always get the recognition they deserve.  If you have any recent or classic photos along these lines, let us know. A description with names, places, and dates would be helpful.

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.