Legislation introduced to transfer 7 C-130Hs to US Forest Service

The U.S. Coast Guard’s idea to give some C-130s to the U.S. Forest Service if the Coast Guard can get at least 14 of the Air Force’s C-27Js is gaining some traction.

Of the 507 amendments that have been introduced to modify the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (Senate Bill 1197), 8 of them are sponsored by Senator John McCain. All of the Senator’s lengthy amendments, covering many topics, have nearly identical language requiring the Department of Homeland Security, referring to the Coast Guard in this case, to transfer seven C-130H aircraft to the Air Force without reimbursement. Then the Air Force will be required to :

…perform center and outer wingbox replacement modifications, progressive fuselage structural inspections, and configuration modifications necessary to convert each HC-130H aircraft as large air tanker wildfire suppression aircraft.

The aircraft will then be transferred to the Forest Service to be used as air tankers, again without reimbursement.

If the bill passes and Senator McCain’s amendment remains intact, two big IFs, we assume that the USFS would use the C-130H air tankers as Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated assets, a new type of venture for the agency. CAL FIRE has been using this model for years with their fleet of 23 S-2T air tankers and it seems to work well for them.

(UPDATE 1-7-2014: The bill passed. Here is a link to the text.)

In addition, the McCain amendments require the Army to transfer, in FY 2014 without reimbursement, up to 15 Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft to the Forest Service to be used in fire management.

Apparently Senator McCain has given up on his previous proposal. In July of 2012, with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) he introduced legislation known as the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 (S. 3441) ”to help replenish the agency’s aging airtanker fleet”. It would have required the transfer of 14 C-27Js to the Forest Service. The bill died, and since then the USFS has said they want 7 of the aircraft.

The Coast Guard would like to have all 21 of the C-27Js that the Air Force is giving away, but since Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the October 28 decision to give seven of them to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that left the USFS and the Coast Guard to fight over the remaining 14. In an interview we posted November 13, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp said they wanted all 21, but  ”…we are going to press ahead and get as many of those [remaining 14] as we can.” Then he floated the idea of trading their old C-130Hs for the seven C-27Js that appeared to be heading to the USFS.

The upgraded C-130H with the wingbox replacement and an Aero Union RADS 3,500-gallon constant-flow GPS-regulated retardant tank could be an excellent air tanker for the USFS. This is basically what Coulson has done with their Tanker 131, a C-130Q which is nearly identical to the C-130H.

Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa
Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.

If they receive them, the USFS could use the Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft for smokejumping and for hauling cargo. In 1991 the agency acquired six Shorts 330 Sherpa’s and has used them as smokejumper platforms. The 330s are similar to the C-23B+ Sherpa but have smaller engines and a lower cruising speed.

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27 thoughts on “Legislation introduced to transfer 7 C-130Hs to US Forest Service”

  1. Interesting, I have a deal for you, perform outer wingbox replacements modifications, progressive fuselage ………………and so on. Although I have only been an A&P mechanic (IA six years) for forty years that doesn’t sound like a very good start for a possible air tanker. P2V’s B-17, DC 4, 6, 7’s I can’t remember starting a project of conversion with; wingbox replacement. Give me a VLAT operating loaded well below its “gross” any day. Note: IA FAA Inspection Authorization. Looking at other mechanics work.

  2. REALLY?

    Without reimbursement? How many USAF types and combatant commanders are going accept that liiiiiitle gem, Huh?

    Apparently McCain like many others do not see the true costs of aviation. The USAF “required” to perform center wing box replacements?

    How about donating his 174K wages to this deal for starters and how about all that WCF that the USFS has for facilities management to share in the hurt of those costs.

    Without reimbursement……now there is true gem of political stupidity.

    1. Leo – despite your obvious disdain for anything the USFS does, the “without reimbursement” clause is actually quite common in such bills. It simply clarifies that no one is billing for the transfer or the upgrades. Tens of thousands of vehicles,and many of the state-operate aircraft and parts are transferred to states and/or local VFD’s through the Federal Excess Personal Property program every year without reimbursement. Many other items of government property are transferred between agencies or between levels of gov’t without reimbursement. My local FD got some land for a station a few years back, transferred without reimbursement via a similar rider on a bill. The gov’t initially billed us for the paperwork to transfer ownership, then canceled the bill when they re-read the legislation that transferred it “without reimbursement”. It’s common.

      1. Eric, my agency has also benefitted from teh without reimbursement claause. I’m pretty sure Leo’s point isn’t how the transfer works, but the fact that a government official is asking the USAF to take 30 – 50 million dollars out of their budget to give to the Forest Service. While I admit, my numbers are a bit fuzzy I would be amazed if it were less than $5 million per plane to perform the wing box replacements. The numbers I saw for re-wings on the P-3s is $17 million per plane.

        Unfunded mandates are a huge legislative boondoggle, and here they go again…

        1. My issue is how are the airframes in
          general. The C-130s haven’t led a
          sheltered life- patrol and SAR. I’m a
          bit concerned about the condition of
          25-plus year old salt air exposed airframes.

  3. Call it disdain or whatever, Eric

    I used to work for the folks as an INT and TERM employee and a career seasonal with one of the USDOI agencies and for a state org doing fuels reduction grants, known as FIREWISE. So I hold no disdain for organizations that can stay in their own lane and monitor what Congress ASSIGNED them to do….forestry and fire suppression.

    The only thing is, Eric, and maybe I do not know all the details…….but the Congress types have never asked the USCG/USAF perform reforestation projects……without reimbursement. So now we ask an organization, whose primary mission is defense and airlift capability…..for lack of better terms…..donate “in kind” to an organization that after 9-11 studies over 20 (twenty) years, has not PERFORMED after spending many a dollar on “studies.”

    How is that disdain? There are folks who think the same way as I do , but are afraid and maybe even gutless to stand a program up.

    20 years, 40 years, 60 years….I ask every “professional aviation” type in the USFS…what gives. Why is CALFire so successful? The answer is pretty well known and quite possibly the reason why fire suppression in CA is pretty expensive and some “fees ” are often asked of the constituents.

    Aviation has always costed quite a bit more than standard forestry practices and some those are approaching aviation pricing…..

    In my mind for the ROI and cost/benefit that the USFS has “performed” as an aviation contracting service, surely not the operational flying service of both some SJ aircraft, lead plane, LAT, and VLAT aircraft………..leaves a lot to be desired.

    So in reality, disdain or not, asking the USCG/USAF for aircraft without assisting in the costs and expecting the Defense and DHS agencies to shoulder costs that the USFS is asking for is preposterous. How about recouping the costs of 9-11 studies to assist in the EVALUATION of those aircraft?

    Like TG McCoy says…….be wary of the aircraft coming from salt laden environments…….While I trust USCG NDT procedures…….

    Ask yourself, Eric, does disdain equal awareness of an industry that requires more than just forestry and fire suppression knowledge? OR are these contractors and aviation personnel less people than USFS folks who ask for 5-10 year contracts on the civilian side and the folks on the military / USCG side are just supposed to roll over to an organization that should have MORE aviation personnel other than helitack folks running the show.

    No disdain, Eric. Just a very jaundiced eye after serving in the military 22 years in AVIATION MAINTENANCE and flying on my own dime to know if someone asked me for airplanes and maintenance for no reimbursement…….I am afraid like some of the operators of the NEXT GEN airtanker series……….there would be great laughter.

    I expect the great laughter if the USCG and USAF are reading that bill from McCain and others…..

  4. Remember the old saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? That seems to apply here. I am no aviation expert bit it seems to me that the FS would be better off with the C-27s in a smokejumper/cargo/transport role in place of the Sherpas and Otters.

    1. I think that transfer the HC-130H to USFS is the best solution because: a) certified mod of C-130 with RADS already exists to develope a new tailored to c-27j should be expensive b) the volume&weight of retardant can be carried is what needed by FS c) demilitarize the c-27js will require additional costs d ) being the large number of C-130s available in US it should be easier to find spares, crews and even airframes to support the fleet

  5. Why is it so important that the F.S. own and operate it’s own fleet of air tankers? Hasn’t the private sector ALWAYS rose to the needs for fire retardant delivering aircraft? All the private sector needs is a request for type and number of air tankers (remember all those studies) with contracts that allow longevity and reasonable profits.

  6. If you are wondering how much time,effort, and $ it takes to get a C-130 overhauled and converted to a tanker, ask Mr. Coulson.

    If the NDAA bill passes, the USAF would carry out a congressionally directed program with money taken out of the USAF budget. The question is whether or not the comptroller can “find” the necessary funding. This kind of congressional tinkering with the defense budget happens all the time.

    If the bill passes as written, I expect the money will eventually be found with a great deal of foot dragging and delays and the USFS will eventually get their C-130H aircraft. Then the USFS will have to pay to convert them to tankers. A RADS conversion would be expensive and MAFFS would be much cheaper. MAFFS may end up being the default choice due to cost.

  7. “CAL FIRE has been using this model for years with their fleet of 23 S-2T airtankers”

    The state manages the S-2T fleet but technically does not own the aircraft.

  8. Can anyone name any instance where the Government did something that was cheaper than the Private Sector? They never have and never will.

    This is not about saving money. This is about another Government that no longer governs but has become a business entity in and of themselves. They want heir own fleet, and they will get it; no matter what the cost and no matter that there are private business ready and willing to offer the same services for cheaper. The Private Sector seems it is no longer a resource but a competitor.

    Rant over.

  9. I don’t think it is rant, CP

    I think it may happen but when the bills start coming in, and the NDT is saying what the USFS doesn’t like or the tough decisions need to be made about year aviation decisions and no some seasonal thoughts as portrayed the last 60 or more years, no matter what their 11 studies indicated the last 20 years….

    The USFS probably hasn’t truly figured out how to stand this one up without USAF or USCG help and probably hasn’t even figured out a maintenenca schedule or depreciation tables, or how maintain a stores stock for either the C130 series or the C27 series…..

    It’s going to get costly and each year after, IF they receive these aircraft, they WILL going back to Congress for mo money……….just watch……think robbing the different forestry funds for this past year suppression funds looked bad……….

    They will turn to contractor again or the USAF or USCG for support because even if they do get these aircraft……they are not even remotely ready to stand these aircraft up without someone else’s help.

    They might think so……but there will be a lot of factors, the USFS, the folks who were disliking the ideas of military C 130 and many other older warbirds are suddenly IN LOVE with yet, aircraft that are not purpose built specifically for fire, but yet ….dadgummit we need the “free aircraft,”

    I sure will be interesting……how this shakes out….

    Yep CP….. We will see if these brain trusts are still aware of the Economy Act of 1932. Folks running forestry and fire, yet may know little about written law….sort of like the 1990’s and the air tanker debacle. But will write policy to their liking…..can anyone imagine some of that?

  10. Government and business entity, oxymoron. This model of the Feds operating their own fleet of air tankers has been tried in the past,1960’s. The affordable health care act is an example; business and government colliding. Know one answered my question why or what is so important for government to become involved in less privatization of the air tanker industry?

  11. With that thought, Kelly……

    Then the USFS should have no more responsibility than managing a program….

    Like they do now……no need for them to saddle up a get operational..DynCorp, L3 and others…….like CALFire seem to do just fine.

    Seems to me, the program works reaaaal fine…..think the USFS would consider Lockheed Aircraft Services or other heavy contract operators like Neptune, Coulson, etc to do the real work?

    Remains to be seen……can not see the USFS in any role MX or operational flying in any capacity in regards to the C130 or C27.

  12. Johnny,

    I have absolutely no idea if the USFS can run an “air force”. But from where I live I can see the burn scars from the Buffalo Creek, Hayman, and Hi Meadow fires from the back of my house. The Snaking and Lower North Fork fires were within 5 miles of my house. We evacuated once this year.

    What we are doing with respect to firefighting here in Colorado is simply not working. Einstein said that insanity is repeating the same experiment expecting different results. Well, from my perspective, looking ahead to the 2014 fire season here in Colorado we must be insane.

    Maybe government owned, contractor operated and maintained isn’t the way to go and maybe the USFS can’t run an “air force” and it probably wouldn’t be my first choice either but at least its different and it does work for CALFIRE and we wouldn’t be repeating the same experiment over expecting different results. I’m willing to see if something different can work.

  13. Johnny

    Short answer to your question……

    Relevancy in the aviation world…..I am sure with everyone comparing the CALFire model out there…….the USFS is trying its best at relevancy and to outshine CALFire with bigger and badder……It is about the ego

    In the true aerospace world….they are but a blip……the folks who have done the true work beginning with Johnson Flying Service and EVERYONE contracting with the USFS are the pioneers in the Wildland aerial aviation world.

    The USFS has copied nearly every program to create their program. Where did all that safety program come from? The military and civilian industry.

    To be a pioneer in the aerospace world is to take some risks and this would be possibly the only “qualified risk” albeit riding on someone else’s dime……namely the USCG aircraft traded for some C27’s!!!

  14. One thing that bothers me, is that it seems the basic structure of fire fighting,ground and air,needs a good
    overhaul. For instance,the high board fence between
    regions, districts and agencies. Would the USFS fleet
    be available to the BLM? Relatively easily or the old
    hoarding of resources rears its ugly head. Sitting at Winslow with your RJ or C130 on contract, and watching
    a formation of USFS 130s heading for alberquerue, and
    work, could happen. Overflights are never good. Also
    a waste of resources.
    Just running. Things in my mind….

  15. In my mind, the primary reason for the USFS to own the planes is the inability to allow for contracts long enough to allow for the recovery of investment while having annualized costs be reasonable.

    Also, the history of transferring military planes to private companies should make any policymaker juuuuuust a little leary of where the ownership ends up. I guess if you had people involved that weren’t primarily interested in their own self-benefit, it could work out well.

  16. I’m not sure why so many are insisting that the C-27 be used as a smokejumper aircraft. Smokejumper aircraft need to often fly low and slow to drop cargo and turn around in tight canyons in order to conduct jump operations. An aircraft like the C-27 has far too high of a stall speed to fly the same profiles as say an Otter or Dornier. A C-27 stalls at 104 knots, about 4 knots over jump airspeed. Likewise, an Otter or Dornier’s stall speeds are 58 and 60ish knots respectively
    High cruise speed is nice, but what’s more effective is placement of aircraft in advance of predicted lightning/WX.
    Plus, what is the point of filling an aircraft with practically the whole smokejumper base worth of personnel for every request?
    Why take an aviation asset that essentially isn’t broken and drive the price up and effectiveness down?

  17. This is a crappy deal for taxpayers, and another boondogle for the USFS. While wildfires continue to burn out of control, the USFS, which continues to have disdain for VLATs, is getting ready to embark in yet another direction. I have heard reports of as much as $165,000,000 that will be expended over a two-year period, to get these worn out planes ready for service, lasting a maximum of ten years. Conversely, at this time, an offer is being made to the Western States and the WGA to purchase their own fleet of very low-time C-130 (H) models, freshly painted, new wings, and $5,000,000 in spare parts, for less than $70,000,000. They will be ready to fight fires by this Summer, not two years from now. Using the new Guardian system, the planes can drop 4,200 gallons each time, instead of the 2,500-3,000 of the ineffective MAAFS system. These C-130s have the lowest hours of any in the world, with three-fourths of their usable life remaining. When the Western states don’t need them they can be leased to other states or nations, thereby realizing a potential profit for the states, something the USFS has never imagined.

    1. Tom, please provide the source of your claim about:

      …a fleet of very low-time C-130 (H) models, freshly painted, new wings, and $5,000,000 in spare parts, for less than $70,000,000.

      The “Guardian” system to which you refer is the Caylym retardant-in-a-box concept that we filed under “lame-ass ideas” at WildfireToday.com before we started FireAviation.com. It was previously called “precision container aerial delivery system” (PCAD) and consists of boxes made of cardboard and plywood that hold 250 gallons of retardant which is supposed to be dispersed soon after the cargo exits the aircraft. The boxes weigh 100 pounds when empty and fall to the ground at or near the retardant target area. We are not aware of any test results that indicate this system could pass the standard air tanker grid test. If and when it passes, let us know. Otherwise, it appears to be a ridiculous idea for a number of reasons, including retardant coverage, safety of ground firefighters dodging the 100-pound boxes, impacts on structures and vehicles, and what to about the litter on the ground after each aircraft throws out 16 boxes per load.

      More information about these boxes.

  18. As a fire fighter, aviator and inventor I have tried to figure out where the ‘borate in the box” would fit in the scheme of things? The Rim Fire recently proved that retardant alone will not effect long term containment without fire fighters taking advantage of the drops. The missing link in wildland fire fighting is the application of foam/gel/retardant after the sun comes down.

  19. GMcT

    Isn’t the argument now nil about the C27J’s? Aren’t those going over to the USCG in trade for the 7 C130H’s the USFS won through the NDAA of 2014?

    Aren’t the SJ’s taking delivery of some 15 newer C23B Sherpa aircraft now being offered by the now infamous NDAA 2014?

    Either call me Ill informed or why are we worrying about C27’s at this point of the game?

  20. I’m learning a lot from you guys. Let me give you my thoughts.

    The FS will not give the C-130s to the contractors like they did in the late eighties and nineties. They screwed the pouch on that deal as the contractors sold and parted those C-130A’s out. What a fiasco that was! So, I understand why the FS wants to own them. If the FS is going to do this they have to have a new center wings.

    The center wing replacement will give the H’s a clean slate and zero out the equivalent baseline hours (EBH). If the FS is going to use these H’s for aerial FF then I agree that has to be done. But, that doesn’t make the refurbished airplane designed to fight fires. There has to be load sensors installed in the CW and OW to intelligently gather data and a third-party engineering outfit must monitor the loads and set inspection criteria from baselines.

    The taxpayer will pay whether it is the FS, CG or AF that does it. It’ll be interesting to see the ROI on these airplanes and actually I believe they’ll fly a long time (20 years or more, depending also on the outer wing hours too – but hopefully the AF isn’t scrapping the TCTO 1039 series II outer wings at DM).

    The FS must provide competent in-house experienced QA to act as the ‘customer rep’ that will live at the contractor’s hangar. That’s right. I think an in-house FS QA rep should sign-off on all the inspections. It’s like a Part 145 MRO doing work on a customer’s airplane. The customer is there daily discussing issues with the guys, watching the type of maintenance that’s going on and approving work. It’ll be a change for the contractors that have flown for the FS in the past. But, there has to be a tighter rein on quality not just an inspection and logbook audit before ‘fire season’ and carding the airplane.

    The Aero Union/RADS is a good system. Better than MAFFS. I don’t know what Coulson has done with it but the GPS idea sounds interesting. I wonder what Coulson is asking for their system?

    Spares. The contractor should source parts through normal suppliers and should be given AR parts from DM that could be tested and returned to service. The AF inventory could be available to the FS at a cost. In fact let the AF repair/overall these parts and charge the FS.

    The AF (Warner-Robbins) is the expert for the C-130 so let them source and pay for the CW replacement. As a taxpayer, I don’t care which department pays for it. Because in the end, I’m the one that actually pays for it. Hey, why don’t they all share in the cost.


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