Senators urge USFS to convert C-27Js into air tankers

The three-person congressional delegation from South Dakota sent a letter to the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service on April 16 encouraging Chief Tidwell to acquire military surplus C-27J aircraft to be converted into air tankers. The Defense Department may be getting rid of all of their C-27Js, and legislation has given the Secretary of Agriculture the first right of refusal if that occurs.

C-27J Spartan
C-27J Spartan

At least three other Senators have been pushing for this since last July. This newest letter was signed by Senator John Thune, Senator Tim Johnson, and Representative Kristi Noem. In spite of the fact that their letter shows a lack of understanding of how air tankers are managed in the federal government, they offered some advice, suggesting that “one or two” of the C-27Js be stationed at Ellsworth Air Force base in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The Senators and the Congresswoman failed in their letter to indicate that they would introduce legislation to appropriate dollars to maintain and operate the aircraft or supply funding to convert them into air tankers, which would require many millions of dollars. Talk and letter writing is very easy to do. Using their powers as elected officials representing taxpayers to actually facilitate change on this matter is something that they have not done, and can’t delegate to the intern that may have written the letter.

The C-27J is an interesting aircraft and appears to be a baby brother of the C-130J. It uses two of the same turbo-prop engines as the C-130, which has four of the 4,640 hp Rolls-Royce engines. If converted into an air tanker, at only five years old they would be by far the youngest large air tankers being used in the United States. The P2Vs that currently comprise most of the large air tanker fleet on exclusive use contracts are over 50 years old. Even Tanker 40 (N146FF), the recently acquired jet-powered BAe-146 operated by Neptune, is 27 years old.

The C-27J has a short but spotty history, with some reports of maintenance problems and difficulties in acquiring parts from the Italian suppliers. According to Wikipedia:

On 23 March 2012, the U.S. Air Force announced that it will cut the C-27J from its inventory in fiscal year 2013 after determining that its per-aircraft lifecycle costs are higher than those of C-130 aircraft performing the same combat resupply mission.

It is difficult to estimate how many gallons of retardant a C-27J could hold, but it could be between 1,800 and 2,300. This compares to an average of 1,948 for a P2V, a little less than 3,000 for a BAe-146, and 11,600 for a DC-10.


Thanks go out to Jim

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3 thoughts on “Senators urge USFS to convert C-27Js into air tankers”

  1. Problem is neither the Senators pushing the agenda nor the USFS has sat down with Alenia nor the US Air Force to really see what they are up against otherwise we would have known about this long ago through Aviation Week and Space Technology or other reliable aviation sources.

    Nice to want, nice to suggest Ellsworth AFB, nice to encourage Mr Tidwell, and nice overall to dream.

    BUT since there isn’t a tank designed for this ship and I would imagine it would be over $1Mil for R&D to tank it from scratch……along with the normal operating costs of a newer turboprop that Rolls Royce has in its operating parameters through power by the hour programs like the airlines where there is a pretty hefty penalty if one does not take the engines for MX at their designated representative maintenance shops. Now there are good and great mechanics out there, BUT Rolls Royce may have another idea how their equipment gets maintained.

    This is like some helicopters like Eurocopter who supplies the Guard with UH72 Lakotas…..some of these ships are on a lease program and have two sets of maintenance procedures….One Army and One governed by the FAA standards…new ways for the world of aviation to adapt to.

    SOOOOOO when wants are in one hand and actuality is in another….this is where PROFESSIONAL aviation folks need to be consulted…..NOT LMA’s but USAF and Alenia

    You get your costs of operation from them and not just because John McCain and other say they are available for the LMA “right of first refusal.”

    Best study what you are getting into through requirements of maintenance and pilot training programs. Because if the civilian operators do pick these up, there ought to be some serious dinero coming from the LMA budgets to get this off the ground and then in turn be EXPECTING 5 and 10 year contract requests to offset those requirements.

    Just because the C27J is on the block for “rights of first refusal” does not mean any of this has been studied to any extent other than MAYBE the USCG/ DHS who may have stronger budget and aviation know how. Certainly, the Coast Guard has aviation program as well as CBP.

    Get ready for the proverbial goat rope for those who lack the intestinal fortitude in looking forward to “new” aircraft. They are hidden surprises for all those who do not investigate this fully.

    There MUST be a reason the USAF are shelving these aircraft….for you Senators, staffers, and LMA types wanting dibs on fancy “new” aircraft….

    I Strongly suggest you do your homework!!

    1. As usual, Leo speaks the truth. What about the USFS
      fleet of P-3s? What is happening is there is this “magic
      bullet.” syndrome going around. The C-27 does have its
      charms, but actually asking hard questions about it is
      not getting anywhere.
      If something spiffy new is parked there usually is a reason.
      parts and resources are in question here…Also if they do a tank, it would have to be pressurized…

  2. Apparently the CG does want these.

    The cuts have left each service looking to scavenge equipment that others are mothballing to save money, said Vice Adm. John Currier, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard.
    Currier noted that the Air Force was getting rid of its fleet of C27J transport planes and the Coast Guard is “quite willing to take all 21 aircraft if they become available.”

    From this article via “Chuck Hills CG Blog”;

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