Legislation to transfer 7 Coast Guard HC-130H’s to CAL FIRE lands on President’s desk

Much work still needs to be performed on the aircraft by the U.S. Air Force before they become firefighting air tankers

Air Tanker 116 HC-130H retardant
File photo of Air Tanker 116, an HC-130H, spraying retardant on a fire near Phoenix, June 22, 2017. Fox 20 Phoenix.

The amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 to authorize the transfer of seven HC-130H aircraft to the state of California made it through the conference committee and was passed by both houses. It was given to the President on Friday and he is expected to sign it. The aircraft will be converted to firefighting air tankers capable of dropping at least 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.

The part of the bill regarding the aircraft formerly owned and operated by the Coast Guard is a relatively small portion of the legislation that covers $717 billion in spending for the Department of Defense. It directs the Air Force to complete the center and outer wing-box replacement modifications as needed, programmed depot-level maintenance, and procure and install a gravity powered retardant delivery system in each aircraft.

The bill increases the maximum spending limits that were specified in the original 2013 legislation. The amount that can be spent on the retardant systems increased from $5 million to $7.5 million per aircraft, and the total amount spent on the entire project went from $130 million to $150 million.

In 2013, legislation directed that the seven aircraft be modified into air tankers and transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. So far at least two have come close to completing the modifications, but none of them have had retardant delivery systems installed, due primarily to delays in Air Force contracting. Occasionally one at a time has been spotted, T-116 or T-118, dropping retardant, using a Modular Airborne FireFighting System taken from the eight MAFFS units that are usually assigned to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve squadrons. This fiscal year the administration decided, five years after the process began, that they are no longer interested in acquiring the HC-130H’s.

CAL FIRE has maintained a fleet of 23 S-2T air tankers for years that can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. These seven HC-130H’s would be a very significant addition to their aviation program.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to MrCAPT1409.
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12 thoughts on “Legislation to transfer 7 Coast Guard HC-130H’s to CAL FIRE lands on President’s desk”

  1. My Name Is Earl R Allen I am Looking to be involved in Your C130 Training Program ,I have over 12000 Hrs in the C-130 (L-382) All Civilian with a 121 Carrier I Have 2000 Hrs as a Flight Engineer 2000 as an F/O and over 8000 as a Captain ,Have Taught Ground School on the Herc. And done Check Rides I hold an ATP L382 and 747 Type Ratings a 121 Certified Check Captain and Check Airman in all seats and SIM Instructor B747 Flight Engineer Turbo Prop A&P IA I am Currently Flying for PJ Helicopters as a Fire Patrol Pilot Contracted By PG&E,,,,,,Love to Talk to you Thanks Earl Allen 530 3682064

    1. Bill may have already said something to you in email?.but since you are in the 530 area,go down to McClellan in Sac and speak to the guys there at the Cal Fire hanger,they should be able to tell you who to speak to. you could also head to http://airstrikefirefighters.com/ while at McClellan and talk to those folks ,they will be flying P-3s,but maybe with a bit of training?..i dunno,but wouldnt hurt to talk to them. Or even Coulsons,you can find them online.

  2. Crazy ! I hope president Trump reads this ! Why should the operators compete with government on fire fighting ??? Obsurd and this is was the President campaigned on ! These agencies have been riddled with corruption for over 50 years . Private enterprise should be operating these aircraft and not competing with government ! But instead the government puts these rules in place to make it almost impossible to bid contracts while in competition with private companies ! Drain the swamp !

    1. Dan-

      Please cite your sources: “These agencies have been riddled with corruption for over 50 years .”

      And also keep in mind our current president’s lack of understanding of facts:


      As wildfires continued to scorch California, President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a tweet that befuddled experts, wrongly blaming the state’s water diversions for making the blazes worse.

      1. Parents were pioneer fire bomber contractors . Tanked first DC-6 in 1969 . Worked very successfully in Alaska . Father test flew and conceptualized civilian airliner for fire fighting . These 121 airplanes worked great . Safe , fast and very well maintained . Could not get them on contract with Forest Service . My dad was pretty good at paying off government officials and could not get to right bearocrat to pay off . He commented several times on how corrupt fire fighting was in lower 48

        1. So in other words Dan you have nothing…

          Btw, You do know that Cal Fire’s operation is almost entirely contractors, right? Cal Fire (or the military/USFS, not sure exactly how that stupid program works) own the aircraft but they are maintained and flown by contractor.

  3. Im going to make a guess here,the Orange one most likely wont sign due to his comments from sunday?
    I can almost wrap my head around the “cut the wood” comment,ive said for years that there has been a forest miss-management situation for years,which i blame the sierra club partly on,an example would be the fire that began near Fallen Leaf lake several years ago,the Sierra club got rules/laws passed near Lake Tahoe that stopped home owners from cleaning forest duff,mainly the fallen pine needles,this was reported to be a direct cause to the loss of homes,the fire ran through the neighborhood like crazy they lost a bunch of homes,and the state fire inspectors said had that all been cleaned up it wouldnt have had the same effect,not sure i believe that,but the idea of not cleaning up the duff was to stop erosion into Tahoe.
    to the water thing?..WTH?…we give alot of our water to socal and there are plans to install the pipes in the delta,but how does he think stopping the natural flow of rivers into the pacific would help?..strange…bottomline,i doubt much that he will sign that bill to get these C130s.

  4. I have questions in order to accurately write my blog here in SW Pennsylvania. If I may inquire:

    1. Hourly operating cost I suppose would be the number one consideration yet when we have the reported worst ever fires in California.
    2. With the right motivation, how many proven large aircraft outfitted properly (some risk) would it take to get the current fires at least 50% under control?
    3. Forgive my ignorance but in theory would it be possible to outfit 12 747-400 flying maximum sorties and maybe get it under control?
    4. Anything can be done money no object but I remember Fukushima and AN 225 was used to send a crane from atlanta…see what I am saying



    Again I am just trying to see what could be possible..a stretch..but possible

    1. Mike,

      Today there is no answer to question 2. No one knows how effective air tankers are. The rest of your questions depend on an understanding of the effectiveness of air tankers so the rest of your questions are moot.

      The effectiveness of air tankers has been debated since the first air tanker flew. Read up on the latest USFS study effort to quantify the effectiveness of air tankers. https://www.fs.fed.us/managing-land/fire/aviation/afue

  5. Tankers dropping retardant don’t put out fires, they assist in slowing or stopping the advance in the right conditions. It’s the ground firefighters that do the grunt work putting out fires. retardant is effective in this regard. It’s easy to see on the ground where fire did not advance past well placed lines unless sparks jump the line.
    Those of you who say the President won’t sign it because of these seven air tankers clearly don’t know how this works. It was inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act by Sen D. Feinstein (D), otherwise known as the Defense bill. This is small potatoes compared to the rest of the Defense bill at more than 700 billion dollars, not even a speed bump. During this fire season, with all the current publicity, do you really think the Defense bill will be vetoed because of these 7 tankers? Not even close. This transfer is all but a done deal. CalFire will be much more efficient then the USFS in running the program. For the individual harping about unfair Gov’t programs competing with Private/commercial operators, CalFire’s current S-2 program has contractors for maintenance and operations now. The addition of LATs will be operated the same way. Regardless of who owns/operates these planes, it’s still paid for by the taxpayers.

    1. Well said Joe, your response exactly sums up my observations and perspective from where I am in the aerial firefighting business.

  6. I am wondering if all the haters of this program that did so much to sabotage it will do the same to CalFire. It would be a shame for them to win AGAIN and put a whole NEW group of good, hard working aerial firefighters and maintainers out of work. There is plenty of fire to go around, no need to hate on the gov’t tankers.

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