Conversion of Coulson’s C-130 nearing completion

Coulson's C-130Q
Coulson’s C-130Q undergoing maintenance and tank installation in San Bernardino, CA. Coulson photo.

While it certainly is not ready to drop retardant over a fire today, the conversion of Coulson’s C-130Q into an air tanker is progressing very well.

The company was selected this week by the U.S. Forest Service to receive an exclusive use contract for the 32-year old aircraft that had been sitting in a Wisconsin museum for the last 10 years. Before that it was used by NASA for research, but it began it’s life as a strategic communications link aircraft 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.

A C-130Q is similar to a C-130H, but the “Q” model was outfitted with a complex antenna system for communications with submarines and bombers.

In addition to building and installing the retardant tank, the work going on at the San Bernardino airport includes inspections which required that some of the skin be removed from the wings and other surfaces. The inspection is almost done and the aircraft is being put back together.

bottom of Coulson tank
The lower portion of the retardant tank being installed in the C-130Q. Coulson photo.

Britt Coulson told Fire Aviation that the top portion of the retardant tank is finished and the bottom is nearing completion. They expect to conduct flights in June leading toward FAA approval for a restricted category type certificate. They will also need to go through a test for the Interagency AirTanker Board which involves dropping retardant into a grid of cups on the ground to determine consistency and quantity.

Coulson's C-130Q tank
The top portion of the tank for Coulson’s C-130Q. Coulson photo.
Coulson C-130Q
The engineering drawing of the RADS tank for Coulson C-130Q. Courtesy of Coulson.

In a Coulson company newsletter published on the internet in February, 2012, Jim Messer, Chief Operating Officer, described the process they went through in selecting the aircraft to be used as an air tanker:

…To get to this point we conducted an extensive review of various aircraft capabilities and performance, looking at over 30 aircraft before concluding that the C-130 is the best available.

In the process to acquire an aircraft specific for the airtanker role, Coulson focused on those airframes that were designed specifically for the mission profile of aerial fire fighting. Although many retired high time airlines designed for high altitude point to point flights were available at lower cost they were discounted for the mission required in the fire fighting role.

The C-130Q aircraft was designed to undertake aerial wildland fire operations. Its manoeuvrability, and performance, operating at low levels at low speed with, heavy loads in rugged terrain, immediate power response, and STOL capabilities makes the C-130 a natural fit as an Airtanker.

Thanks go out to Britt and Ryan

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15 thoughts on “Conversion of Coulson’s C-130 nearing completion”

  1. YES! I agree, this will be an awesome Tanker!

    As a former C130 Tanker pilot (T&G, TBM, inc), I can say that the mighty Herc’ is an incredible airplane; the most versatile in aviation ever!
    Pefectly suited for aerial fire fighting missions especially with Aerounion Rads 1 design for a tank system.

    Take a look at newsletters of Sep and Oct 2012. Article about C-130 airtankers.

    Well done Mr Coulson.


  2. AS far as I know NONE of the Aero Union Tanks ever passed IAB requirements. Especially the higher coverage level requirements. So………………..

    1. Well I hate to burst your bubble but last time I checked all air tanker tanks had to be IAB approved to ensure that the tank meets the standards for all coverage levels. Do you have information to back up your statement?

  3. Johnny; really??
    interesting comment…
    all these years the DC-4, 6, P-3’s and TBM’s C-130’s were “illegal”?

    I understand Neptune’s Bae 146 dropped with a “one year waiver” last year; will they get a waiver for the entire contract?
    the plot thickens…

  4. The other Johnny, As a full time employee of Aero Union (’70-80’s) I can’t remember any negative comments about Aero Unions tanks. Regardless if it was a B25, B26,TBM,AF, B-17, C-119 etc A.U delivery systems gave versatility and exceptional coverage level. Board or no board! (Exception MAFF’s)

    1. Gee, been around AU tanks too, DC-4,6,and 7 . 7’s in particular.
      Good system.
      J.Carwash where you get that infor?

  5. In addition to being raised in a crop dusting family, I have ventured out as a wildland fire fighter. F.S. for ten permanent years, Cal Fire 26 years. Been on the ground (helitack captain F.S. and Cal Fire.) Helitankers and the DC-10 are my favorites. However, first time on an I.A. fire (helitack captain Columbia) with the C-130 flown by the H&P boys, we stumbled (going to a fire in Yosemite) onto a new breaking fire near Mariposa (30 acres in brush) quick work, six drops, framed it in, end of story. C-130 YEP!

  6. Any updates on Coulson’s Aircraft, or any of the other planes that were awarded Next Gen contracts? According to the timeline above, they may be getting ready to fly? Seems like Minden’s should be ready for some news, too.

  7. Tanker 131 from Coulson is on contract with the USFS, does have an IAB approved tank, and is flying. Overhaul was completed last month.

      1. Bill,
        Do you know if Coulson intends to find another “late model” C-130 to convert? I believe they are eligible to add aircraft to thier contract?

  8. Structural fatigue testing by LM is the key to long term use of the C-130 as a tanker. Lockheed is planning to do fatigue tests on the newer wings to determine recommended wing life.

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