Photos of five air tankers at McClellan, August 5, 2017

Above: Tanker 105 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. It is a good view of the external tank, or pod, that was fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowered the release point by 46 inches. The intent was to keep the flow of the retardant away from the engines. Photo by John Vogel.

(Originally published at 6:04 p.m. MDT August 5, 2017)

John Vogel shot these excellent photos on August 5 of air tankers at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento.

Thanks John!

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Tanker 911 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
Air tanker mcclellan
Tanker 62 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
Air tanker mcclellan
Tanker 133, Coulson’s most recent air tanker conversion, at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
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Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. On August 4 the company moved the aircraft out of Colorado Springs to avoid a hailstorm. They hope to get it carded by CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by John Vogel.

Aerial firefighting footage, including an air tanker’s first fire drop

This video footage that streamed live on KTVU July 11 starts with a fire at an industrial facility near Doolittle and Eden in San Leandro, California. Then the helicopter flies over to a vegetation fire in the San Jose foothills that was threatening homes at Claitor Way and Lariat Lane. It appears the fire started near structures and continued to spread through the rolling hills. The video captures many helicopter water drops, and also the first retardant drop on a real fire by Coulson’s newest air tanker, Tanker 133, an L-382G, which is a civilian variant of the C-130. (Articles tagged T-133 on Fire Aviation are here.)

Air tanker 133 fire
Air tanker 133’s first drop on a real fire.

You probably don’t have the patience to sit through an hour and a half of video, so here’s a tip. T-133 first appears at about 1:07:30. It makes two passes then drops the third time.  After that there’s many water drops from CAL FIRE and other helicopters. There are also several S-2T drops; I was able to see one number, T-83. I skipped around quite a bit looking for interesting activity.

Many of the helicopter drops after the 1:09 mark were an attempt to stop a portion of the fire that was burning in a steep canyon that had heavy fuels. Dozers were following behind the water and retardant drops, putting in fireline.

All of these images are screengrabs from the KTVU video.

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A CAL FIRE helicopter makes a precision water drop, July 11, 2017.
Air tanker 133 fire
Air tanker 133’s first drop on a real fire.

I want to congratulate the KTVU camera operator. Like many of his or her brethren in California who have probably covered many, many wildfires, they zoomed in on the air tankers as they were maneuvering, but as they dropped retardant the camera operator zoomed out so you could see the entire drop and where the retardant landed. Sometimes in this video they would linger on that spot for a while so you could see the effect on the fire. I have noticed that video shot from helicopters in other parts of the country often maintain the close shot of the aircraft as it drops and flies out of the area, and you often can’t see where the retardant landed. An example is in this article; check out the video at 2:44:00 (yes, that’s 2 hours and 44 minutes).

Picture day for Coulson’s C-130’s

While Coulson’s three C-130-type air tankers were all together in Reno last month for carding by the U.S. Forest Service and pilot training the company took the opportunity to grab some photos of the aircraft while they were flying in formation.

They are all variants of Lockheed’s C-130 platform — Tanker 131 is a C-130Q while Tankers 132 and 133 are L-382G’s. Tanker 133, the newest addition to the fleet, just became operational a couple of weeks ago.

Scroll down to see how Dan Megna got the photos.

Coulson C-130 air tankers

Coulson C-130 air tankers

Coulson C-130 air tankers

Coulson C-130 air tanker

To take the photos Coulson rented an OV-10 that conveniently has a small compartment in the rear. Professional photographer Dan Megna sat in that tiny space to get the shots.

Coulson’s three C-130’s reporting for duty

Coulson Aviation distributed this photo today of their three C-130-type air tankers lined up at Reno for “USFS carding”. As we reported on April 10, they introduced their third tanker this month, another L-382G. They also have a C-130Q. The tanker numbers when used in the USA are 131, 132, and 133.

At the end of this month the company will be conducting their annual pilot training.

And, on another subject, can you find the two air tankers in the photo below that was taken by the RAAF at the Avalon Air Show in Australia around March 4?

Avalon Air Show
Avalon Air Show. RAAF photo.

Air Spray and Coulson to roll out additional air tankers

Both companies expect to introduce new air tankers in the next few months.

Coulson's "new" Tanker 133
Coulson’s “new” Tanker 133 just after the decorative wrap was applied. Coulson photo.


Britt Coulson told us today that their most recently converted air tanker, Tanker 133 will be complete by the end of this week (see above photo). It will be the third in the C-130 series that the company has converted and is their second L-382G, which is a civilian version of the C-130. Their first L-382G, Tanker 132, was first grid tested in 2015 and in recent months was on contract in Australia. T-133 should be complete before the company begins pilot training at the end of this month.

Coulson is also working on a fourth air tanker. The “new” Tanker 134 is the second C-130Q that they have acquired and should be ready to go about four years after their first C-130Q, Tanker 131 reported for duty. The aircraft needs heavy maintenance, and to get it done they will remove the tail and wings and truck it down the highway from Tucson to another facility in Mesa. Britt Coulson said they expect to have it complete by the end of this summer.

Coulson's L-130Q
Coulson’s C-130Q which will become Tanker 134 later this year. Coulson photo.

The C-130Q’s began as strategic communications links for the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine force and as a backup communications link for the U. S. Air Force manned strategic bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces. They are similar to the C-130H, but the 12 “Q” models that were made were outfitted with complex electronics systems, including a six-mile long trailing wire antenna, for communicating with submarines and bombers. Tanker 131 still has the remains of a vent for cooling the winch that was used to reel in the long antenna.

Privately owned C-130’s are extremely hard to find, and it is likely that very few more, if any, will be converted to air tankers in the near future.

Air Spray

Meanwhile Air Spray expects to roll their first converted BAe-146 out of the hangar in a week or so to begin static tests of the retardant system while the aircraft is parked on the ground. After that is complete they will start flight tests and work towards the grid test, dropping retardant into a matrix of cups on the ground at Fox Field. Ravi Saip, the company’s Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told us today that he expects the tanker will be ready to fight fire sometime this summer.  They are also working on a second BAe-146, which, so far, has the interior stripped out. Air Spray has been working on the first one since at least 2013, when the estimated completion date was fire season 2014.

Air Spray's BAe-146
Air Spray’s BAe-146s as seen in a 2013 Air Spray photo. Ravi Saip said when they roll the nearly completed aircraft out of the hangar he will send us a better picture.

Mr. Saip told us that the recent contracts for federal air tankers require that instead of being certified in the “restricted” category, they must comply with the requirements of a “standard” aircraft. The Forest Service, and especially the FAA, have been pushing for this change for jet-powered air tankers for a while.While it complicates the conversion and approval process, it also opens the  possibility of air tankers being allowed to carry passengers if the Forest Service wanted to plug that into the contracts.

Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) — three on wheels, and five on floats. They are on contract with Alaska, Oregon, the Forest Service, and one is on Call When Needed.

Mr. Saip said the one with the Forest Service at John Day, Oregon is the only SEAT the agency has on contract and is instrumented with strain gauges like the large air tankers.

The Bureau of Land Management usually does all of the contracting for the federal SEATs. Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the BLM, told us in March that the number of SEATs on exclusive use contracts was expected to be the same as in 2016 — 33 aircraft.