A new study looks at four possible air tankers for Colorado

Colorado Air tanker study cover

In case the 11 air tanker studies since 1995 are not enough, there is now a twelfth. As you can see on the cover above, it is named Analysis of Aircraft for the Fire Fighting Mission in Colorado. It compares four different aircraft, two of which have received certification from the Interagency AirTanker Board, and two that have never been converted into air tankers:

  1. BAe-146
  2. C-130H/Q
  3. C-27J
  4. S-3B

The study is Colorado-specific in that it looks at the retardant capacities if the aircraft were to fly out of four air tanker bases in the state: Denver, Durango, Grand Junction, and Pueblo, with elevations ranging from 4,726 to 6,685 feet, and runway lengths from 9,000 to 10,502 feet.

The study primarily considered four characteristics of the aircraft:

  • Retardant tank volume (certificated or estimated)
  • Mission payload capability from USFS air tanker bases in Colorado
  • Sustainability and after sales product support
  • Mission effectiveness expressed as gallons transported per hour and per day

The C-130J/Q led the field in all four categories.

Assuming the data compiled by Conklin & de Decker Aviation Information is correct, the retardant capacities at the Colorado air tanker bases “during typical summer temperatures (ISA + 30 degrees C)” for the C-27J and S-3B are stunningly low, averaging 184 and 181 gallons, respectively. The BAe-146 would have to download from the maximum of 3,000 gallons to 1,884, while the C-130Q/H would always, according to the report, carry their maximum load of 3,500 gallons.

The tables below are from the study on page 33.

Colorado Retardant delivery by four types of aircraftWe are curious to know who paid for the study, which was “prepared for [Colorado state] Senator Steve King”. A phone call to Conklin & de Decker Aviation Information was not immediately returned. Senator King has been very interested and vocal about the possible acquisition of firefighting aircraft for his state.

Earlier this year legislation passed in Colorado that allowed for the creation of a “Colorado Firefighting Air Corps”, but it did not authorize any funding for the agency. The bill was introduced by Senators Steve King and Cheri Jahn


20 thoughts on “A new study looks at four possible air tankers for Colorado”

  1. Who paid for the study? Good Question

    Maybe CSU
    Maybe some concerned citizens passing the plate?
    Maybe someone’s grant(s) for mitigation?
    Maybe some Senators?
    Maybe Tony Kern?

    Lotta maybes here, huh

    But folks sure luuuuuuuuv that C27J and now the S3 appears again….kinda like the A10 from 20 years ago…….some LMA retiree from the the 1995 studies must be bending someone’s ear again for the S3

    Hell, let’s just stick with a C130 and the BAe 146…….CO cannot wait for the C27J decision or the venerable S3 to show up unless the gots the likes of DynCorp or L3, or Lockheed already sewed up for GOCO work…..that without an RFI, RFP, surely won’t be a factor this year, IF at all.

    But like everything else…….another study…….in AVIATION…….better address more of those issues with heavy dose of dinero…..

    See how many studies got airtankers off the ground the last twenty years????

    Conklin and deDecker are pretty reliable……but like the USFS….when the stuff gets written like the RAND report…..peeps will not like to read or put into practice what someone else suggests……so I would imagine without a heavy infusion of cash immediately after the study lands on someone’s desk……

    It’s gonna be like every other study…………..wait for it………NATO.

    No Action Talk Only

  2. Interesting study, two airplanes that haven’t been converted or proven and two that are in very limited supply C130 and BAe146. I wonder if the law enforcement agencies (sheriff) that will control these air tankers really cares to be burden with additional resources to fight fires? The fire problems in Colorado are much deeper than lets get some of those “slurry bombers.”

  3. The state and BLM have spent years developing SEAT reload bases all over Colorado. The state only contracts two SEATS (sometimes a third in busy years). What if the state had 4 or 6 on contract ( or owned and operated ) all season and actually practiced initial attack on fires? These reload bases are well dispersed throughout the state making turn times on the fires feasible.

    1. State Senate Bill 13-245: “By April 1, 2014, the DFPC must submit to the General Assembly a report concerning the feasibility of CFAC and strategies to address state firefighting activities. This report includes budget requests for CFAC and aerial firefighting if recommended by the DFPC.”
      CFAC: Colorado firefighting air corps
      DFPC: Division of fire prevention and control

      Where the report goes from there is the big question. Hopefully the submission deadline is not prophetic.

  4. All fine and dandy to prefer the C130, but where are they going to come from? There is one, repeat ONE, flying right now. The others are caught up in some governmental garbage with the C27 swap talk. And the USFS would probably end up with those. Great they won’t have to download, but if the aircraft aren’t available, it does not matter.

    There are several BAE’s ready to go, sitting at Neptune. Not sure on the status of the updated tanks. But, at this point and probably for the forseeable future, they are probably the best and READILY AVAILABLE option.

    Maximizing use of SEATs would also make sense.

  5. SEATs are,like the TBMs of yore, are flexible, can operate
    from smaller fields, and are excellent Initial Attack tools .
    I say more, not less….

  6. Don’t bring to much common sense to the table, Eric.

    It is too simple to see what is available at the present time and the contract process and requirements for a “safe” Airtanker program, will make sure common sense is rarely recognized and continued gyrations of the process will keep WO FAM in business for along time to come.

    Governmental garbage? Say it isn’t so. With the C27 and C130 issue, one is dealing with 2 PROFESSIONAL flying organizations that have a 24/7/365 presence in the airlift world. The USFS, for lack of better terms, is a part time operator of a small fleet of aircraft and a manager of a seasonal aerial fire program with contractors that are working to keep what is available eac h season……

    Governmental garbage……eleven studies over twenty years with reputable folks like RAND writing and evaluating……I wonder truly……what the real governmental garbage really is?

    The fine Senators pushing the issue of which they really have no working knowledge of either the C27 or C130 and the possibility of the USFS with potential ownership of either without a real plan is the the real fine and dandy thing to watch and look out for…..

  7. Air Attack ships, More SEATS for local IA and few LAT’s would make sense.

    LAT’s: C-130’s RADS have my preference. The C130 is a tactical airplane..and aerial fire fighting is tactical…. “we” need to find more Hercs and that’s not easy.

  8. About the study … the requirement to meet standard climb out restrictions with the loss of one engine with NO JETTISON ensures that twin engine aircraft do not meet requirements. Using the same restriction, the S-2T and P-2 tankers would not be acceptable and the CL-415 would also fail.

    I realize this discussion is about LATs but in my opinion Jerome is on the mark. I think that at a local level in Colorado, what we really need is better IA to keep small fires small. That may mean state owned or contracted type 2’s, SEATS, and Helos.

    Given their task, the USFS should have the LATs and VLAT’s.

    From my past government experience, the pursuit of a better solution usually hindered the adoption of an acceptable solution. The problem with too many studies is that they were either skewed toward a solution or done in search of the best solution.

    “Better is the enemy of good enough”

  9. What percentage of fires start in high winds or other conditions that prevent IA? LATs can be used for IA as well as their main role. Witness the DC-10 last year. Rather than SEATs at lots of bases, larger, faster planes could save money.

  10. as my friend Walt Darran used to say.. “All it takes is money!”

    What’s the budget?
    Should Colorado buy their own fleet and operate them? Contract them?
    Just contract everything?

    CalFire model works good. The philosophy is Based on Initial Attack.
    But instead of GOCO Aerial means (Tool Box)could be contracted and run by the State Agency… Or Colorado could own part of the aircraft (Air Attack ships) and contract the rest… Multiple options.

    High density altitude requires good performance aircraft though.

  11. Does Colorado really have enough of a fire season (6 month?) to travel down the air tanker road? I wonder if there is enough support from tax payers to fund an air program. As a manufacture of fire protection equipment and devices for home owners my biggest enemy is apathy, “it won’t happen to me” I don’t see enough concern for fire in Colorado to invest in an effective air program. Let the insurance companies handle the losses.

    1. Johnny,

      We are our own worst enemy here in Colorado. Even though almost 70% of our forests are federal land, the remaining forested areas are mostly private land with too much of the apathy you mention. There is very little support from the state or the counties to address the problems.

      On the other hand, almost 70% of our fires start on public lands. No good answer there. Federal IA needs help.

      As for affordability of air tankers, if the State only spent half the money they spent on big fires in the last two years, a reasonable air tanker program could be funded. Its a question of affordability based on cost avoidance which is a hard sell.

  12. Canadian Convair 580s from Conair and the Government of Saskatchewan have been fighting wild fires in Colorado the past two years … and I’m sure they will be back fighting next summer. I find odd that they are not on the list …

  13. The C130 with a RADS tank is a very good tanker.

    However, this study is in gross error from several aspects. I have no idea where Conklin & de Decker are getting their 146 data from but their payload numbers are off by about 1000 gallons of retardant. When you take credit for jettison the 146 is unrestricted for all Colorado airports, when you discount jettison capability you get the following capability from the 146:

    BJC – 2795 gal
    PUB – 3092 gal
    GJT – 3100 gal
    DRO – 2590 gal

    These figures even go beyond the criteria set forth in the mentioned report because they’re computed using runway analysis which also meets the requirements of 121/135, which is significantly more restrictive.

    I suspect the numbers for the C27 and S3 are in error also. A couple errors in the performance information leads me to believe this report was issued in haste:

    1. The certification standard for second segment depends on engine number. The 2.4% figure mention only applies to two-engine aircraft. For the BAe-146 the requirement is 3.0%…this is applied to the figures above.
    2. There is no mention of the certification standard of each aircraft which dictates whether gross or net performance was used. The BAe-146 has inherit margin built into the performance because it is a Part 25 certified aircraft. The other aircraft may have similar margins but the fact there is no mention of it leads me to believe there’s a lack of diligence.

    I do realize that this report was issued for politicians and not pilots, so they’re trying to remove the “chaff.” However, the payload capability mentioned for the 146 is grossly understated…no matter who’s 146 tanker you’re analyzing.

  14. Wildfire Suppression Watchman, a company report. As Colorado ponders “what should we do” here is a free recommendation from my company and its aviation staff. Air Corp Consortium for private and state lands. Resource agencies of seven States (UTAH CO, N.M. AZ., MT.,S.D.,WY) would contract an exclusive use VLAT air tanker that would be available for initial attack for those contributing states. Equal cost sharing of availability, each incident charged for state of use. Limited federal short term use involving a federal fire. The fire must be threatening state or private lands. As mentioned by commenters IF there is a possibility of containment during the early stages of a fire let’s give it the maximum effort. All fire aviation resources are certainly part of the suppression role however TIME and GALLONAGE delivered is the key to success. Each contributing State would make available at least one VLAT reload base with trained on call personnel. The contract would be for seven day coverage.

  15. Using the basic Navy S-3B weight and performance data which is for a higher drag index airframe, unmodified brakes, non-uprated engines, and allowing jettison in the FAA designated runway protection zone, the S-3B figures would be in the neighborhood of 1000 gal more than shown in the study. I don’t have access to the C-27J “dash one” manual but I expect the results would show a significant payload increase if jettison was allowed and the C-27 had a rapid jettison capability.

  16. I’m glad you jumped on that, Tim, because I was going to jump on it if you didn’t. Way off on their performance data. I wonder, since the only “proven” 146 that’s been flying are the Neptune ones, they used their performance planning. Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t Neptune base their T/O performance on NOT jettisoning? It will be interesting to see how the game changes when there are a few more 146/Avro operators out there.

    1. I can’t comment on what another operator does but the performance I quoted for the four CO airport does NOT take credit for jettison. If Neptune doesn’t take credit for jettison, I would assume they’re figures would be close to these…the only variable difference could be Empty Weight and Basic Operating Weight.

  17. As the wheels of progress (lack of) are slowly grinding on “what is the best airtanker” fire season is five to seven months away. Don’t look now its too late again for fire season 2014. No one in charge, politics, no money available, a type three helicopter with bucket isn’t going to do it.

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