(UPDATED at 1:47 p.m. PDT, September 20, 2012)
Tanker 131 was dispatched to its first fire today, September 20, near Santa Maria, California.
(Originally published September 13, 2013)
Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a converted C-130Q, has been fully certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service. The 3,500-gallon aircraft was carded on Tuesday and the pilot check rides occurred Wednesday. Its first assignment was to report to the San Bernardino airport, which ironically is where it spent the last several months while going through the conversion process.
Wayne Coulson, President and CEO of Coulson Aviation USA Inc., said, “This C-130Q has been outfitted with a Coulson RADS-XL Constant Flow tank and a state-of-the-art drop controller system that will enhance the accuracy of retardant drops by using GPS speed and other inputs.”
T-131 becomes the second air tanker to be certified and activated, of the original seven that were awarded “next generation” contracts.
As you may know, the USFS announced on May 6 that contracts were going to be awarded for seven next generation air tankers. The contracts were for exclusive use and for five years, with options for the USFS to extend them for an additional five years. Another option allows the addition of more air tankers from the vendors. The activation of the contracts was held up by two rounds of protests in 2012 and 2013 from Neptune Aviation, 10 Tanker, and Coulson, but the awards, after over 500 days of dithering, finally went to:
- Minden Air Corporation; Minden, Nev., for 1 BAe-146
- Aero Air, LLC (Erickson Aero Tanker); Hillsboro, Ore., for 2 MD87s
- Aero Flite, Inc. (Conair); Kingman, Ariz., for 2 Avro RJ85s
- Coulson Aviation USA Inc.; Portland, Ore., for 1 C130Q
- 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC; Adelanto, Calif., for 1 DC-10
Only one of the five companies had their air tanker fully certified and ready to go when the awards were announced — 10 Tanker Air Carrier and their DC-10. They put Tanker 910 to work around June 1. In fact, their second DC-10, Tanker 911, was activated on a Call When Needed (CWN) contract June 14 (later changed to a 90-day exclusive use contract) and both of them have been flying fires since then. The two DC-10s, which always carry 11,600 gallons, dropped approximately 698,000 gallons of retardant in the month of June.
The mandatory availability period for the six next generation air tankers was supposed to begin in the first part of August, 2013. Other than the DC-10, none of them made that date. Minden, Aero Air, and Aero Flite are still working on their conversion projects.