Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service in Boise, was interviewed by KVPR about air tankers. It began with a discussion about the HC-130H, Tanker 118, a USFS owned/contractor operated air tanker that has been used for a few weeks working out of McClellan Airport. She was very well-spoken and knowledgeable, and generally did an outstanding job.
However, she said “…nobody manufactures off the line air tankers”, which illustrates the apparent bias of the USFS against the purpose-built “SuperScoopers”, the CL-215 and the CL-415 used by the dozens in other countries in North America and Europe. The USFS contracted for their first one last year.
The Air Tractor single engine air tankers could be considered purpose-built. They were first designed as crop sprayers in 1973, but the conversion from dropping pesticides to fire retardant in 1990 was not a huge leap and the mission profiles are similar.
And don’t forget the Russian-built Be-200. I consider it a hybrid, since it was designed as an amphibious scooping air tanker, but has provisions for carrying passengers when it’s not suppressing fires. This may have been a compromise during the design process, when a high-ranking politician could have said, “But what if it could also do this, and this….”. Much like the convoluted process of designing the Bradely Fighting Vehicle. So many additional functions were added that it could no longer efficiently and safely function in it’s intended role; transporting troops.
While we’re on the subject of purpose-built air tankers-
I am impressed by the design of some purpose-built aircraft that do not have a single wasted or unused cubic foot. Think about the K-MAX and the Sikorsky S-64 (Erickson Air-Crane) that are built to do one thing — lift heavy loads. No compromises there. Looks that only an aircraft engineer could love, but very efficient. The Air Tractor is another pretty good example.
An air tanker is not required to have a cavernous unused space inside like Tanker 910 below. Imagine how much the weight and air resistance could be reduced if an air tanker was not built around space to carry 380 passengers. This is not a criticism of the DC-10 air tankers. They selected one of the best air frames available at a reasonable cost and figured out a way to turn it into a very effective and useful firefighting tool.
I’d like to see the K-MAX engineering team design from scratch a fixed wing air tanker built around the following components, glue them together, and then configure them to be airworthy, capable of flying at least 350 mph, and able to take off from Ramona, California with a full load of retardant on a 90 degree day;
- 5,000 to 10,000-gallon tank,
- cockpit for two (no passengers; possibly a third seat for an inspector pilot or trainee),
- fuel, and