List of air tankers on USFS contracts

There are 13 exclusive use, and 8 call when needed. Three fewer than last year on CWN list.

The list of large and very large air tankers has changed since 2018. The number on the very coveted exclusive use (EU) contracts is the same, 13, but there are three fewer on call when needed contracts (CWN), 8. This could change later in the year but today there are a total of 21 air tankers on both types of contracts, down from 24 last year.

Aero Flite, Aero Air, and Neptune all swapped out some EU aircraft but each still has the same number of allocated slots.

On the CWN list, Aero Flite went from four to one aircraft and Coulson dropped their L-382G and substituted a B-737 which began working in North America for the first time last week. Neptune swapped some of their BAe-146s but 10 tanker did not make any changes on either list.

Air Tanker List
Air tankers under U.S. Forest Service Contract, August 12, 2019. Source: USFS.

Today when we asked Kaari Carpenter, a Public Affairs Specialist for the Forest Service, when the agency was going to offer air tanker contracts based on the call when needed solicitation issued May 30, 2018, she said, “We expect an award on this contract very soon.”

The 2019 wildfire season has been much slower than average so far this year, which is fortunate considering the small number of air tankers available on Forest Service contracts — from 44 in 2002 on EU contracts down to 13.

So far this year a total of 3.6M acres have burned in the U.S., compared with 4.6M for the average to date. It has been far busier than usual in Alaska accounting for 2.4M acres, two-thirds of the U.S. total. Only 1.2M acres have burned in the other 49 states — which I estimate is approximately one-third of the average.

Having a diverse air tanker fleet can reduce impact of grounding one model

P2V Redding
A P2V air tanker on final approach at Redding, California, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In 2012 the entire fleet of large air tankers in the United States was affected after a 24-inch crack was found by Neptune Aviation on a wing spar and skin on one of their 50+ year old P2Vs. The Federal Aviation Administration issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive requiring that all P2V airplanes be inspected within 24 hours of receiving the directive.

That applied to all of the large air tankers that were under a standard U.S. Forest Service exclusive use contract at the time, nine operated by Neptune and two by Minden.

The two companies did not find any similar cracks on the other aircraft during the inspections.

When your fleet is heavily weighted toward one model that can be affected by temporary or long term grounding, such as the current C-130 issue that has 123 Air Force aircraft grounded, or the 737-MAX problem, it can have a devastating effect on operations.

Currently there are only two C-130 air tankers under firefighting contracts in North America, T-131 and T-134. By Monday night both will have been inspected, looking for “atypical” cracking that was found in the lower center wing joint in some Air Force C-130s. T-131 was cleared over the weekend.

Today, instead of having the entire U.S. Forest Service fleet of air tankers comprised of just one model, there are six: RJ85, DC-10, MD-97, C-130Q, BAe-146, and B-737. The BAe-146 and RJ85 are essentially the same, but that still leaves a more diverse portfolio of aircraft than existed in 2012, a little insulated from shutting down one model.

There are 13 air tankers under exclusive use contracts with the U.S. Forest Service and 8 have call when needed contracts, for a total of 21. Of that total, 8 are BAe-146s and 4 are RJ85s, or 57 percent of the fleet — if those were shut down, it would be devastating, leaving only 9 total, with only 5 on exclusive use.. The Forest Service can also request activation of up to 8 military C-130 aircraft outfitted temporarily with Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) — unless they are unavailable due to the “atypical” cracking in the lower center wing joint.

BAe-146 drops on Devore Fire
BAe-146 drops on the Devore Fire, November 5, 2012. Photo by Rick McCLure.

In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts.

Today when we asked Kaari Carpenter, a Public Affairs Specialist for the Forest Service, when the agency was going to offer air tanker contracts based on the call when needed solicitation issued May 30, 2018, she said, “We expect an award on this contract very soon.”

Air Force removes 123 C-130s from service to inspect wing boxes

C-130 air tankers are being inspected

Tanker 131 Trailhead Fire
Tanker 131 on the Trailhead Fire. Photo July 1, 2016 by Matthew Rhodes.

The Air Force has removed from service 123 C-130s after “atypical” cracking was found in the lower center wing joint, or “rainbow fitting”, in some aircraft.  This affects C-130H and J-model aircraft that have not received the extended service life center wing box and that have greater than 15,000 equivalent flight hours.

The Air Force will inspect all 123 aircraft which takes about eight hours. Replacing the fitting, if necessary, will take 1 to 2 months after the work can be scheduled for depot level maintenance.

This issue does not affect the seven HC-130H aircraft the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection will be receiving from the Coast Guard since none of them have more than 15,000 equivalent flight hours, according to Dennis Brown CAL FIRE’s Chief of Flight Operations. Those seven aircraft, slated for conversion to air tankers since Congress passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act in December, 2013, are still the property of the Coast Guard and have not been officially transferred to CAL FIRE, in spite of the fact that at least one is sporting CAL FIRE livery. The HC-130Hs are waiting for the Air Force to have retardant delivery systems installed in addition to other maintenance requirements.

CAL FIRE T-118 HC-130H
Tanker 118 at Sacramento McClellan Airport July 12, 2019.

Over the weekend Coulson Aviation inspected the only C-130 type aircraft they have under U.S. Forest Service contract, Tanker 131, a C-130Q,  and no cracking was found, according to Kaari Carpenter, Public Affairs Specialist for the agency.

Coulson also has a C-130Q, T-134, under contract with CAL FIRE that is being used train the agency’s pilots for the transition from S-2Ts to HC-130Hs. Dennis Brown of CAL FIRE said the aircraft is under the 15,000-hour requirement but will be inspected tonight, regardless.

In 2018 Coulson had a civilian version of a C-130, an L-382G, under USFS Call When Needed Contract, but that air tanker has been replaced on the list with a B-737, Tanker 137, which was on contract in Australia during their summer. It was used on a fire in the United States last week, which may be the first time a 737 air tanker has dropped on a fire in North America.

Thanks and tips of the hat go out to Bean and Jim. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Lightning and helicopter activity in Oregon

Huey helicopter Oregon lightning
Shahaylie Smarr got this photo of lightning in the distance as a crew worked around a Huey.

With the abundant lightning in the Northwest United States over the last few days it’s a good bet that helicopters and their crews are going to be busy.

Todd McKinley sent us these photos taken Saturday, August 10, 2019 in Oregon. He said the AS350 B3 was at Ritter Butte in northern Grant County and at a nearby fire in the Ritter/Long Creek area. The Huey was at the Grant County Regional Airport Helibase in John Day.

Thanks Todd!

Airbus AS350 B3 landing zone
An Airbus AS350 B3 under contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry at an LZ. Apexheli Oregon Inc. photo.
Airbus AS350 B3 fire scene
An Airbus AS350 B3 under contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry at a fire scene with ODF firefighters. Apexheli Oregon Inc. photo.

Photos from the rededication of the memorial for the crew of Tanker 130

memorial crew C-130 crash Walker California
The new memorial for the crew of Air Tanker 130 at Walker, California, August 10, 2019. Photo by Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

The rededication of the memorial for the crew of Air Tanker 130 occurred as planned on August 10.

Steve Wass, Craig LaBare, and Mike Davis were killed June 17, 2002 when their C-130 crashed while battling the Cannon Fire at Walker, California.

The memorial honoring the crew near the accident site was showing its age after having been in place for a decade and a half. On Friday the new monument for the crew was unveiled on Highway 395 near the site where their air tanker crashed. (map)

These photos were provided by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest through their Twitter account (@HumboldtToiyabe) where they wrote:

Fire staff attended the rededication ceremony and unveiling of the new memorial today for the crew of Tanker 130 near Walker, Ca. Steve Wass, Craig LaBare, and Mike Davis lost their lives when the tanker crashed during suppression operations on the Cannon fire in June of 2002.

More details about the new memorial were posted yesterday.

memorial crew C-130 crash Walker California
The new memorial for the crew of Air Tanker 130 at Walker, California, August 10, 2019. Photo by Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
memorial crew C-130 crash Walker California
Scene from the rededication of the memorial for the crew of Air Tanker 130 at Walker, California, August 10, 2019. Photo by Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
memorial crew C-130 crash Walker California
Scene from the rededication of the memorial for the crew of Air Tanker 130 at Walker, California, August 10, 2019. Photo by Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Video of firefighting aircraft at Oshkosh 2019

MAFFS Oshkosh
MAFFS 5 at Oshkosh July 27, 2019. Screenshot from Airailimages video below.

Fred Johnson of Airailimages sent us information about this video that he shot July 17 at Oshkosh 2019. Here’s how he described it:

A sustained air tanker firefighting flying display featured a CL-215 scooper water bomber, a MAFFS C-130 tanker, and a vintage A-26 marked as Conair A-26 Tanker 21; the A-26 made passes but did not participate in the water drops. A Shrike Commander used as an air attack airborne command and control center for firefighting also flew during this interesting scenario. Then look at the mighty Yak-110 twin fuselage conversion in a powerful air show performance.

An interesting view of the helibase at the Corta Fire in Nevada

Tenaya Wood sent us this interesting photo taken August 8 of the helibase at the Corta Fire off Old Harrison Pass Road in Northeast Nevada. She described it as having been taken from the “ABRO Box” — as in, Air Base Radio Operator. On Friday there were five helicopters working out of the base.

She took the photo with an iPhone 7 Plus, and is way better at using the panorama function than I am.

Thanks Tenaya!

The Corta Fire, managed by Tyler Hecht’s Nevada Type 3 Team 1, has burned 16,533 acres southeast of Jiggs.

New memorial being unveiled today for the crew of Air Tanker 130

air tanker 130 crash walker california
A screenshot from the KOLO video of Air Tanker 130 breaking up near Walker, California in 2002.

The memorial in Walker, California honoring Steve Wass, Craig LaBare, and Mike Davis was showing its age after having been in place for a decade and a half. The three men were killed June 17, 2002 when their C-130 air tanker crashed while battling the Cannon Fire at Walker, California.

Today at 11:30 a.m. PDT, August 10, the new memorial for the crew will be unveiled along Highway 395 near the site where Tanker 130 crashed. (map)

(UPDATE August 11: photos of the new memorial)

More details are in the video below.

There is another memorial at the Greybull, Wyoming airport for the crews of the two air tankers that crashed in 2002. A month after the C-130 accident Ricky Schwartz and Milt Stollak passed away when their P4Y-2, Tanker 123, crashed in Colorado. May the five gentlemen rest in peace.

Greybull memorial air tanker 123 130
The memorial at the Greybull, Wyoming airport for the five crew members of Tankers 123 and 130. Photo by Bill Gabbert, July 14, 2012.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jansen. Typos or errors, report them HERE.