The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has taken one visible step toward incorporating the seven HC-130H aircraft into their air tanker fleet. One of them, Tanker 118, showed up at Sacramento McClellan Airport today sporting new livery. And it’s clearly identifiable as a CAL FIRE aircraft, with CAL FIRE in bold letters behind the cockpit, and below the wing is the state flag. The paint design is similar to that on their S-2T air tankers.
In 2013 the U.S. Forest Service was given seven former U.S. Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft and Congress appropriated up to $130 million for maintenance and to convert them into air tankers. But after millions were spent the FS lost interest and in August of 2018 they were transferred to the State of California to be used eventually as air tankers.
The aircraft was operated off an on for a couple of years by the FS using a slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) retardant system. It was borrowed from the program of using military C-130s during busy portions of fire seasons when a surge capacity was needed. All seven HC-130H aircraft were supposed to receive retardant tanks, but the U.S. Air Force, responsible to see that it was done, dithered on that program for years and it never happened.
T-118 will be getting the rudder painted soon, and one day may receive a conventional internal gravity-powered retardant delivery system.
Chief of CAL FIRE Thom Porter said he expects it to be ready to fight fire in 2021.
If you ever need to kill some time, you can read through the 40 or so articles on Fire Aviation about the troubled U.S. Forest Service HC-130H program. The are all tagged HC-130H.