A quick introduction to CAL FIRE’s OV-10 Bronco

CAL FIRE OV-10 Bronco
CAL FIRE OV-10 Bronco at Redding, California, August 7, 2014.


Air tanker base opens at Austin

Air Tankers 15 and 131 at Austin
Air Tankers 15 and 131 at Austin, August 18, 2019. Texas Forest Service photo.

Two large air tankers, T-131 and T-15, have been dispatched to the recently reopened Air Tanker Base at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to assist with increased wildfire activity across the state. The portable base was first established at Austin in 2017.

Significant fire activity has increased recently, particularly in northwest Texas, Central Texas and the Cross Timbers region where hot and dry conditions persist and fuel loading is high. Critical fuel dryness is expanding across South Texas, the Hill Country and Rolling Plains as rainfall deficits continue to build across large portions of the state.

During periods of high fire activity, aviation resources are used to support suppression efforts on the ground, aiding in the protection of structures and other valuable resources. “This year, we’ve utilized helicopters and single engine air tankers for wildfire response in areas with increased wildfire activity,” said Cynthia Foster, Texas A&M Forest Service Planning and Preparedness Department Head. “However, we could have a large, intense fire at any time so we want to be prepared and have additional aircraft ready to respond.”

Opening the airtanker base will allow for faster response times and greater cost efficiency when responding to wildfires across the state. “The airtanker’s speed is greater than that of a helicopter or single engine air tanker. These aircraft will be able to get anywhere in Texas in under one hour,” says George Martin, Air Operations Branch Director. “An airtanker can drop a line of retardant in front of a subdivision of homes, slowing the spread of the fire and allowing ground units time to respond.”

The base, equipped to handle all aircraft in the national airtanker fleet, will be staffed by trained and qualified Texas A&M Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Austin Fire Department firefighting personnel.

Texas A&M Forest Service does not own any aviation resources but instead uses federal aviation contracts through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for all firefighting aircraft.

The article was edited to replace a file photo of an air tanker with one taken at Austin August 18, 2019.

More details possibly emerge about air tanker’s hazardous exit out of drop area

BAe-146 air tanker hazardous retardant drop near miss
Screenshot from the video below of BAe-146 air tanker.

We posted a video on August 14 of a BAe-146 air tanker dropping retardant on a fire. While exiting the area the aircraft flew closely over a ridge stirring up dust on the ground. It generated many comments, with one person writing “it doesn’t appear to be a problem” while others considered it a good cautionary learning opportunity.

Yesterday one of our readers sent us information about a Safecom that may or may not be related to this incident. The report was filed August 1, 2019 by the crew of a BAe-146 about an incident that occurred July 1, 2019.

Here is the complete narrative:

While conducting retardant operations I descended below a ridge crossing altitude. This was NOT on purpose. I tunnel visioned the drop, and continued down. This was a little fill in spot and I was really focused on finishing the line. As I stated, this was NOT on purpose. We{crew} debriefed and talked about what happened, and of course, how to prevent this type of screw up. Thanks

The “Corrective Action” was presumably written later by someone in aviation management:

Crew will review SOP`s, CRM, etc. RASM: Glad to see the crew realized and admitted what occurred. Hope to see others follow suit as narratives like this remind us all to be diligent.

Cutting it close on a fire retardant drop

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

A shocking drop by a BAe-146

BAe-146 retardant drop
A BAe-146 exits the target area after making a retardant drop. Screenshot from the video below.

At the end of this video of a retardant drop by Neptune’s Tanker 01, a BAe-146, you will hear a four-letter word. After watching, you will fully understand why.

Did you notice the dust being kicked up as the aircraft skimmed over the ridge?

Tanker 01 is currently working for the U.S. Forest Service on an exclusive use contract.

Here is a great shot of a CL-215 or 415:

And another:

And, a Single Engine Air Tanker on the Paint Mine Fire three miles northwest of Nephi, Utah


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.

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.