USFS may contract for scooper air tankers

CL-415
CL-415 in Los Angeles County

The U.S. Forest Service may contract for one or more amphibious water-scooping air tankers. Tuesday the agency issued a Request for Information which can be a first step before a solicitation for proposals. From the specifications below, it appears that they are looking for CL-415s which have a maximum capacity of about 1,600 gallons.

  • One (1) aircraft with a tank capacity of 1,600 U.S. gallons.
  • Cruise airspeed of at least 180 knots true airspeed at 10,000 feet pressure altitude and ISA, empty tank.
  • Endurance of four (4) hours at maximum cruise power, optimum altitude, standard temperature with a 45-minute reserve.
  • Sufficient flight crews to provide seven day coverage while in use.
  • Capable of landing and takeoff on a 5,000 ft gravel runway.
  • Multiple Turbine Engines.

The RFI has a response due date of July 23, and it says the aircraft would be used 2013 through 2017. Knowing how long it takes the USFS to award a contract for air tankers, many scoopable lakes will be iced over by the time any contracts are signed. [I wish I had a Photoshopped image of a CL-415 trying to scoop on an iced-over lake.]

It will be interesting to see if anyone puts up a fight or lodges a protest to try to get a contract for the Russian-built BE-200, a jet-powered water scooper that carries about 3,000 gallons. That aircraft has several obstacles to overcome, including certification from the FAA. Contract protests have worked out well recently for the companies that used the process. But we are still waiting to see what Neptune is going to receive for dropping the one they lodged during the last next-gen air tanker contract process. Do they have some scoopers hidden in their hangar in Missoula? Maybe we’ll start a rumor: they are installing floats on one of their BAe-146s. Ā  šŸ˜‰ Ā [Another Photoshop opportunity.]

The Department of the Interior contracts for at least a couple of water scoopers, but the USFS has not had any in their air tanker fleet in recent years. The conventional wisdom is that the USFS has a bias against scoopers.

The USFS aviation program is not known for taking large, bold steps, decisive steps, so it would be surprising if they contracted for more than two or three scoopers. If they want more than that, and a vendor was hoping to purchase a new one fromĀ Bombardier, they better move quickly because the company has only one outstanding order for a CL-415Ā after which they are expected to shut down production.

10 Tanker cancels plans to move to Wyoming

Tanker 910 at Rapid City
Tanker 910 at Rapid City, April 23, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Mead Gruver of the Associated Press reports that 10 Tanker Air Carrier has decided not to move their air tanker headquraters from Victorville, California to Casper, Wyoming, after announcing May 14 they would relocate to theĀ Casper/Natrona County International Airport.

CEO Rick Hatton said in May, “This fantastic operational environment and its central location will allow improved response times to fires in the mountain west region.ā€

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Gruver’s article:

…On Friday, 10 Tanker President Rick Hatton said Wyoming has been welcoming to his company but the desert Southwest offers a better climate to store planes.

Also, a reassessment of Wyoming’s tax advantages showed little benefit to relocating to the state.

“We started to rethink our decision and we started to conclude that the receptivity in Wyoming, which was lovely, didn’t outweigh the other factors,” Hatton said.

He hasn’t settled yet on a headquarters location yet, he said, but it won’t be Victorville [California]. He suggested that it could be New Mexico or Arizona.

10 Tanker air carrier has one DC-10 under a five-year exclusive use contract and another has a call when needed contract. They carry 11,600 gallons of retardant and were both busy in June, droppingĀ about 698,000 gallons during the month.

 

Thanks go out to Dick

Coulson’s support truck

Coulson Truck
Artist’s conception of what the Coulson C-130 support truck will look like after the wrap is applied. (click to enlarge)

Coulson is outfitting a 53-foot trailer to support the C-130 air tanker they are retrofitting. The trailer had previously been used by a race car team. According to Britt Coulson who provided these photos, it hasĀ a lounge in the front for the maintenance folks, it’s all air conditioned, has outside work lights, a massive awning, and a full rear hydraulic tail gate for putting cars on the top deck or for working on the engines.

Interior of the Coulson C-130 support trailer
Interior of the Coulson C-130 support trailer

Martin Mars and other aircraft attack fire near Powell River

In this video the Martin Mars, a single engine air tanker, and several helicopters are seen making water drops on a fire near Powell River in British Columbia June 9.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Alberni Valley Times:

A two-hectare slash fire in Powell River is now under control, and it offered a good opportunity for the Hawaii Mars to show off the important role it can play in firefighting – an essential step given that the province has announced it will not use the bomber next fire season.

Alberni Valley resources played a big part in containing the blaze. Both the Martin Mars \water bomber and Thunderbird fire unit headed out to fight the Powell River fire on Tuesday.

“It was excellent for us,” said Wayne Coulson, CEO of the Coulson group, which owns the water bomber. “We did about four loads and whacked it out with a couple of other machines, and it was a quick one.”

According to Coastal Fire Centre fire information officer Marg Drysdale, the fire was three kilometres northeast of Powell River and the resources that took care of it were three initial attack crews, two officers and half a unit crew, which were the Thunderbirds.

“And then they brought in air tankers, including the Martin Mars,” Drysdale said. “And it knocked the fire down really well.” The fire was reported at 1: 55 p.m. and the Mars bomber began its action in Powell River at 5: 05 p.m., before finishing at 6: 16 p.m. after dropping four loads.

 

Thanks go out to John

Removing Coulson’s C-130 tank

These photos show the removal of the 3,500-gallon retardant tank from Coulson’s C-130 air tanker which is being converted in San Bernardino, California. Just going by the time stamps, it took about eight minutes. The pictures were taken today and sent to us by Britt Coulson.

C-130 retardant tank unload

C-130 retardant tank unload

C-130 retardant tank unloadWe thank Britt Coulson for sharing these photos.

 

Progress check on next-generation air tankers

We attempted to contact all four of the vendors that received contracts for next-generation air tankers that are still working to convert their aircraft into air tankers. We wanted to get updates on how close they are to being ready drop retardant over fires. Minden and Coulson returned our phone calls. 10 Tanker had their two DC-10s ready to go and fully certified when the contracts were announced, so their status is obvious.

As you may know, the USFSĀ announced on May 6Ā that exclusive use contracts were going to be awarded for seven next generation air tankers. The activation of the contracts was held up by a protest from Neptune Aviation, but the awards finally went to.

Only one of the five companies had their air tanker fully certified and ready to go when the awards were announced — 10 Tanker Air Carrier and their DC-10. They put Tanker 910 to work around June 1. In fact, their second DC-10, Tanker 911, was activated on a Call When Needed (CWN) contract June 14 and both of them have been flying fires since then. The two DC-10s, which always carry 11,600 gallons, dropped approximately 698,000 gallons of retardant in the month of June.

The other four companies are finishing the tank installations and still have to obtain a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) from the FAA and have to pass a static test, dropping while parked on the tarmac; then, finally a grid test during which they drop actual retardant from the air into a grid of hundreds of cups on the ground which will determine the volume and consistency of the drop pattern. As far as I know none of the four remaining companies have scheduled a grid test yet with the Interagency AirTanker Board, which must certify all air tankers under contract with the federal government.

Minden Air Corporation

We talked with Len Parker, the CEO of Minden, who told us that they are making good progress on their BAe-146, Tanker 46, and that they expect to make the deadline for full certification, which is in the first part of August. Their tank design is very different from Neptune’s design for their BAe-146 which uses cabin air pressure to assist in forcing the retardant out of the tank. Mr. Parker told us their tank totally relies on gravity, having more than 10 feet of vertical head pressure. When asked if the door system was constant flow, he said yes and no, explaining that it is more advanced than a typical constant flow system, and uses advanced technology.

The tank holds about 3,100 gallons, he said, and when empty weighs about 2,000 pounds less than other tanks that may be used on BAe-146s, meaning they would not have to carry reduced loads of retardant as often when density altitude is an issue on hot days at high altitude.

Tanker 46 has passed the static test and meets the required flow rates, Mr. Parker told us. They are still working on the STC, but expect to select a date for the grid test by July 12.

Minden has purchased a second BAe-146 and has already started converting it.

Coulson Aircrane (USA), Inc.

Coulson's T 131

Britt Coulson sent us these photos that were taken June 28, 2013. He told us the aircraft, which holds 3,500 gallons, has been painted and they will apply the wrap, which we ran a photo of earlier, later this month. He said on July 2:

…most of the tank is now installed, gear and all flight controls are checked, tank doors are going on this week, hydraulics are being finished this week as is the floor to complete the tank install.

The tank in Coulson's T 131

As you can see in the photo, there are wheels attached to the tank. Mr. Coulson told us they can remove or reinstall the tank in about 30 minutes.

They still have to obtain the STC and the other certifications.

The other two companies

We called and left messages at Aero Flite and Aero Air, but the calls and emails were not returned.

Aero Flite photos?

We received the two following photos from someone who told us that they show Aero Flite’s RJ85 (Tanker 160) external retardant tank being attached to the belly and sides of an aircraft last week. We can’t independently verify they are genuine, so for now we’ll just call them an artist’s conception of what their RJ85 may look like.

AeroFlite RJ85 side AeroFlite RJ85

Four MAFFS being swapped out

The four military MAFFS air tankers that have been activated since June 11 and 21 are being swapped out for four others. Over the next few days the C-130s and crews fromĀ the 302nd Airlift Wing, Colorado Springs (US Air ForceĀ Reserve), and the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands (California Air National Guard) are being traded for two each from Air National Guard units in North Carolina and Wyoming

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Charlotte Observer about the North Carolina aircraft:

…Three C-130s will lift off Sunday from the base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and head to Mesa, Ariz., to fight a new outbreak of wildfires. Their assignment comes less than a week after 19 firefighters were killed on the ground while battling a raging wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz., about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix.

A year ago, four Charlotte-based crewmen were killed on a mission when a sudden downdraft hurled their aircraft into a mesa in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Charlotteā€™s Air National Guard unit is one of four in the nation, and the only one on the East Coast, equipped with what are called MAFFS units. Mobile Airborne Fire-Fighting Systems are van-sized tanks that are loaded onto C-130 cargo planes to spread fire retardant from low altitudes.

Two C-130s from the base are equipped with the MAFFS gear, and a third carries support personnel. In all, about 30 members of the N.C. Air Guard unit will be on the mission, Lt. Col. Rose Dunlap of the N.C. Air National Guard said Wednesday.

 

Thanks go out to John