More air tankers en route to Chile

The extended drought and a siege of wildland fires has brought to light the fact that Chile does not have any large air tankers or an infrastructure for supporting the aircraft. However the bomberos (firefighters) have done an outstanding job creating a very elaborate temporary water system for refilling the 747 SuperTanker at Santiago. Now that the the aircraft has been in the country since January 25 and proven to be a valuable tool in the firefighters toolbox additional air tankers are reportedly enroute to assist those on the ground. Most of the following information is preliminary and subject to change.

Russian Ilyushin IL-76

IL-76TD air tanker
IL-76TD air tanker. Photo by Shahram Sharifi

There is no doubt at least one Russian IL-76 is en route but we have not confirmed the number. It appears there will be two of the planes with a slip-in 11,574-gallon tank (43,812 liters) with each aircraft bringing two helicopters in their cavernous cargo holds. Instead of working out of Santiago along with the 747 it may be based at La Araucanía International Airport, also known as Temuco Airport, in southern Chile.

On July 1, 2016 an IL-76 working on a fire in Russia was reported missing. Two days later the wreckage was found. Ten people died in the crash.

Brazilian MAFFS

maffs c-130
The first version of a MAFFS with retardant exiting out of the rear cargo ramp. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Koenig.

An aviation publication in Chile, TallyHo, is reporting that the Brazilian Air Force is sending a C-130 with a slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS). From the description, it must be a MAFFS Version 1.0 since it has multiple retardant tanks, no built-in air compressor, and the retardant exits through two tubes sticking out of the rear cargo ramp. Brazil is also bringing a second C-130 carrying a compressor and portable water tanks.

(UPDATE 1446 January 30, 2017: the Brazilian C-130’s arrived Sunday and are expected to move to Concepción today.)

Coulson’s Tanker 132

air tanker 132 at Avalon
Air tanker 132 at Avalon during the 2015-2016 Australian fire season.

Coulson’s Tanker 132, an L-382G commercial variant of the C-130 platform, has worked in New South Wales Australia during their last two summer bushfire seasons. Their current contract began September 6, 2016 and was extended for a month and since then has been extended week by week. Amid reports in Chile that T-132 was going to be working in the country, we checked with Britt Coulson who told us that their company has been contacted about sending one of their C-130 class air tankers to Chile but they are still under contract. He said “it’s really heating up in Australia” and it seems unlikely they will release them. The company’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, is also under contract in Australia, in Victoria.

Air-Cranes

There has also been talk about bringing in Air-Crane helicopters, but nothing is confirmed yet.

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.

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.

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

Photos of air tankers on the Goose Fire

Above: Air Tanker 66, a DC-7

These photos were taken by Bob Martinez, a Volunteer in Prevention Photographer with CAL FIRE. They were taken on the Goose Fire near Prather, California, about 18 miles northeast of Fresno. Thanks Bob!

The Goose Fire has burned 2,241 acres and 4 homes and is approaching containment.

air tanker 76
Air tanker 76, an S2-T
air tanker 132
Air tanker 132, an L-382G
air tanker 83
Air tanker 83, an S2-T
air tanker 40
Air tanker 40, a BAe-146

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.