Air tanker en route to Australia turns back due to radio problem

A DC-10 has been activated to assist with bushfires in Australia

Air Tanker 911 returned San Bernardino
Air Tanker 911 returned to San Bernardino after discovering a problem with a radio.

Late Wednesday night Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, was over the Pacific Ocean on the way to Australia when it had to return to its base in Albuquerque due to a problem with a radio. About 50 minutes after departing from San Bernardino the pilots discovered that the High Frequency radio used on long range international flights was not working, even though it appeared to have passed earlier tests on the ground. There had been no need for the HF radio on T-911 since its last international assignment approximately seven years ago.

The Very Large Air Tanker, which can carry up to 9,400 gallons of water or retardant, has been ordered by Australia’s National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) on an Enhanced Call When Needed (EWCN) contract to assist firefighters in the country who are dealing with large numbers of devastating bushfires which have destroyed over 100 homes.

After the flight crew turned the huge aircraft around they landed in San Bernardino and then flew to 10 Tanker’s base in Albuquerque. John Gould, President of 10 Tanker, said technicians found the coaxial cable that connects the radio to the antenna on the tail was not attached. It was just laying by the radio. After connecting it the radio worked fine.  Mr. Gould said that even if an antenna is not connected to a radio, if testing equipment is close enough it can receive a signal from the radio.

Mr. Gould said that after resting, the crew will depart again from Albuquerque, with planned stops in Santa Maria (Calif.), Honolulu, Pago Pago, and should arrive at RAAF Richmond, New South Wales (map) Saturday morning Australia time.

Normally the DC-10 operates with a three-person crew, two pilots and a flight engineer. On this flight they will carry a total of five, with an additional pilot and flight engineer to allow resting and crew changes while en route.

Two additional air tankers added to Australia’s firefighting fleet

Australia is experiencing an unusually high level of bushfire activity

Tanker 911 on the Corner Creek Fire i
Tanker 911 on the Corner Creek Fire in Central Oregon, June 30, 2015. Photo by Todd McKinley.

Due to an unusually high level of bushfire activity Australia has contracted for two additional air tankers to assist firefighters on the ground. Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the aircraft were added using the NAFC’s system of Enhanced Call When Needed (EWCN) contracts.

On November 12, U.S. time, Tanker 911, a DC-10, was loading spare parts onto the aircraft and is expected to be fire-ready in Richmond, New South Wales on November 16. It is supplied by Agair/10 Tanker. The DC-10 is considered a Very Large Air Tanker and can carry up to 9,400 gallons (35,582 liters).

The other EWCN air tanker added to the fleet is a Coulson C-130Q with an enter on duty date of November 16, also at Richmond. It usually carries around 3,500 gallons (13,248 liters).

Australia's large and very large air tanker fleet
Australia’s fleet of large and very large air tankers, updated November 13, 2019. The dates are DD/MM. Information provided by NAFC.

There are also changes on the rotor wing side. One of the most significant additions is a ECWN contract for a Blackhawk with long line bucket based at Toowoomba in Queensland.  The helicopter is suppled through Kestrel Aviation (who are partnered with BHI2/Brainerd).

Recent additions bring the total number of firebombing aircraft in Australia to 63 fixed wing and 45 rotor wing. There are an additional 51 aircraft used for other fire-related missions.

S-2 air tanker used on wildfire in Kansas

It is believed to be the first time a large air tanker has been deployed on a non-federal wildfire in Kansas

Kansas S-2 air tanker
File photo of Bill Garrison’s S-2 air tanker. Screenshot from KWCH video July, 2019.

In what is believed to be the first time a large air tanker has been deployed on a non-federal wildfire in Kansas, a privately owned S-2 was used on a fire in Cheyenne County in the northwest corner of the state November 9.

The Kansas Forest Service said Air Tanker 95 and two aerial ag applicator aircraft helped firefighters on the ground by dropping water. The assistance to local agencies was made possible by state funding for fire suppression approved in the last legislative session.

Cheyenne County was under a Red Flag Warning Saturday for strong winds and low humidity.

KSN reports that the aircraft is stationed at Hutchinson Airport northwest of Wichita, becoming the state’s first permanent base for an air tanker.

Bill Garrison, owner of Ag Air Service out of Nikerson, Kansas, acquired the aircraft formerly operated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection from an aviation museum. CAL FIRE operated it as Tanker 81 and 93 with registration number N477DF. Later in its career the tanker number changed to 95, still used today, and was owned by Yesterday’s Flyers and then Cactus Air Force, both in Nevada. The current registration number is N508JR under the ownership of Mr. Garrison with a certificate issue date of February 14, 2019.

The aircraft can carry up to 800 gallons and still has the radial engines unlike the S-2s operated by CAL FIRE today that have been converted to turbine engines.

Mr. Garrison said he used one of the company’s aerial ag applicator planes in 2017 to drop 20,000 gallons of water on the Highlands Fire in Reno County, chipping in to help when the Kansas National Guard Blackhawk helicopter pilots ran out of duty time.

S-2 air tanker N477DF
CAL FIRE Air Tanker N477DF at Hemet, CA October 23, 2003. JD Davis Photos.

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

Three DC-10s and other air tankers assisted firefighters on the Maria Fire east of Ventura, Calif.

DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914
Left to right, DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914 at Santa Maria, CA Nov. 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

These photos and the text below are from RK SMithley who was the Captain on Air Tanker 911 while the DC-10 (and many other aircraft) were assisting firefighters on the 9,412-acre Maria Fire east of Ventura, California by dropping 9,400 gallons of retardant on each sortie. He starts off by describing the photo above.

“Sunset comes to the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base 11/01/19, after a fairly busy day of fire operations on the Maria Fire at Santa Paula, CA. At right in the loading pit is our T914, which concluded its duty and is released by the USFS off contract with T911 at left, which continues active service. Both ships, along with T910 worked the Maria this date and 910 recovered to Santa Maria where she continues active duty. T914 will be flying the SBD Fest airshow at San Bernardino with two demonstration water drops both Saturday (about 2:30) and Sunday (about 11:00) so come on out and see her perform. T912 has concluded service with Cal Fire and will reposition back home from the Cal Fire Air Tanker Reload Base at Sacramento-McClellan Airport to ABQ this morning. Incidentally, that’s Erickson T107,
a Douglas MD-87, on the right. Their T105 also operated from SBD on the Maria Fire with us as well as Aeroflite T167 and a whole host of other large tankers from other bases in SoCal. The Maria Fire was pretty much out after being pounded by all the air tankers and helicopters today, with fixed-wing air ops starting shortly after daybreak.”

Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.
Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

(The tweets below of DC-10s working the Maria Fire are obviously not from Mr. Smithley)

And, from our archives:

DC-10 air tankers
File photo of three of the four DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers at Albuquerque, NM May 3, 2019,– Tankers 910, 911, and 914. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Roundup of fire aviation tweets

external retractable tank Blackhawk
Composite Approach external retractable tank for Blackhawk.

A retractable external water tank for a Blackhawk:

Helicopters working on the Saddleridge Fire:

A helicopter water drop in the Los Angeles area:

Erickson signs a contract in Greece:

It’s not exactly a “new” water bomber:

New hangar in Saskatchewan for firefighting aircraft

Nigeria to deploy 18 drones

An interesting photo of a helicopter water drop:

This appears to be a full load, 19,200-gallon drop by the 747:

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

Numerous firefighting aircraft are working the Maria Fire in southern California

aircraft over the Maria Fire
Map showing aircraft over the Maria Fire at 10:44 a.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019. Tanker 910, a DC-10, is working closely with a lead plane, N556MC, a Hawker Beechcraft B200GT owned by Tenax Aerospace. N722HT has a fixed wing icon, but it is a helicopter, an Air-Crane owned by Helicopter Transport Services.

Since the Maria Fire started on South Mountain at 6:15 p.m. October 31 it has burned over 8,000 acres 4 miles east of Ventura, California.

Today firefighters are attacking it aggressively from the ground and the air. As of 10:30 a.m. PDT on November, here is a partial list of the aircraft working the fire:

Air Tankers with their tanker numbers:
DC-10: 910, 911, and 914
MD87: 105
BAe-146: 02
RJ85: 167

Helicopters:
Blackhawk: Coulson’s “new” camo-painted helicopter
Air-Crane: N722HT
(and numerous other Medium helicopters)

Today, Friday, most of the air tankers are reloading at Santa Maria, 86 miles northwest of the fire.

Maria Fire
The Maria Fire as seen from the camera on Sulphur Mountain (Willet) at 9:55 a.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019.

Video of Super Scoopers refilling at Lake Castaic

Today, October 11, 2019, Robert Schwemmer shot this video of two Canadair CL-415 Super Scoopers from Quebec that are under contract with Los Angeles County, refilling their water tanks at Castaic Lake to fight the Saddle Ridge fire on the north side of Los Angeles.

The fire has burned over 7,000 acres and destroyed 25 structures. More information about the fire is at Wildfire Today.

Flight attendants on an air tanker

Authorities in Australia are considering authorizing a 737 air tanker to carry up to 70 passengers

737 air tanker T-137
Coulson’s installation of the internal retardant tank in the passenger compartment of their 737-300. They intend for the aircraft to have seats for up to 70 passengers, enabling it to do double-duty; drop retardant or haul passengers. Coulson photo.

The Boeing 737-300 airliners formerly operated by Southwest Airlines that Coulson Aviation is converting into air tankers are physically capable of carrying up to 4,000 gallons of retardant or 70 passengers. The one the company sold to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia, Tanker 138, has been busy fighting bushfires since it was delivered in July.

The regulatory steps to get approval from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to carry passengers are under way, according to Richard Alder, General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre. Some of those milestones include changing the aircraft’s registration from the United States Federal Aviation Administration to CASA. That process may involve testing with a load of people acting as passengers to ensure that they can evacuate within the required time frame.

Coulson's 737 air tanker passengers
Coulson’s 737 air tanker, outfitted with passenger seats. Coulson photo.

Flight Attendants

“We are required to have three flight attendants in the airplane due to the number of seats,” said Britt Coulson Vice President of Coulson Aviation. “We are still looking at options of who we are going to use to fulfill those positions.”

Coulson's 737 air tanker passengers
The aft section of Coulson’s 737 air tanker, outfitted with passenger seats. Coulson photo.

Passenger and baggage screening

One other detail that has to be worked out is whether the passengers and baggage are required to be screened by electronic devices or security personnel.

Passengers in the 737 air tanker in the United States

Stanton Florea, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said the contract for the 737 air tanker currently on a call when needed contract in the United States does not have any provision to fly passengers. We asked him if the Forest Service has any interest in using an air tanker that can also carry passengers, but have not received a response.