On November 22 Air Tanker 137 dropped on a bushfire in New South Wales
On November 22 Air Tanker 137 made the first drop by a Boeing 737 on an active fire. It occurred in the Hunter region of New South Wales, Australia.
In these photos the aircraft was dropping gel, which clings to the vegetation and retains the moisture.
Coulson completed the conversion of the 737 a few months ago and it is now working on a contract with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service during their summer. Nicknamed “Gaia”, it arrived at Richmond RAAF Base near Sydney November 11 after a multi-day trip across the equator. It will be primarily based at the RAAF Base along with three other large air tankers from North America — a C-130Q (T-134), and two RJ85s (T-165 and T-166). Two other large air tankers will be based in Victoria at Avalon Airport in Melbourne, a C-130Q (T-131), and an RJ85 (T-163).
The 737 Large Air Tanker ‘Gaia’ has been in action in the Hunter this afternoon – the first time this kind of plane has been used to fight a fire anywhere in the world. It’s provided valuable support to firefighters on the ground. #NSWRFS#nswfires#avgeekpic.twitter.com/qHnbcddFpe
Going by the coordinates on the images, the fire T-137 dropped on was very close to the Kurri Kurri Hospital southwest of Heddon Greta. The NSW RFS reported at 8:14 p.m. local time on November 22 that firefighters assisted by aircraft had slowed the spread of the fire. They estimated it had burned 61 hectares (151 acres).
This will be the first time a 737 air tanker has been used on a wildfire
Today the New South Wales Rural Fire Service introduced to the media the fourth large air tanker that will be assisting ground-based firefighters in NSW and other Australian states during their bushfire season that is well underway.
The conversion of the Boeing 737 airliner into what Coulson calls a “Fireliner” was just completed a few months ago and has not yet dropped on a live fire. Tanker 137, nicknamed “Gaia”, arrived at Richmond RAAF Base near Sydney November 11 after a multi-day trip across the equator. It will be primarily based at the RAAF Base along with three other large air tankers from North America — a C-130Q (T-134), and two RJ85s (T-165 and T-166). Two other large air tankers will be based in Victoria at Avalon Airport in Melbourne, a C-130Q (T-131), and an RJ85 (T-163).
One of the speakers at the welcoming ceremony said one feature that separates the 737 from the other air tankers is that when it is not carrying 4,000 gallons of fire retardant, it can transport up to 70 firefighters or other passengers.
The NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Troy Grant, announced that $23.6 million will be available for a large air tanker to be permanently based in NWS. This will be a first for the state and the country.
During the coming bushfire season they will have access to six large air tankers and scores of SEATs and helicopters
Australia’s National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) has virtually settled on its lineup of the country’s firefighting aircraft for the 2018-2019 bushfire season which is getting underway. It was just a few years ago that they had no large air tankers, but this season they will have six privately owned large air tankers on contract, including three RJ85s, two C-130Qs, and one 737.
Large air tankers:
RJ85, T-165 (Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Sydney (Richmond) – already in place;
B-737, T-137 (Coulson) based in Sydney (Richmond) – subject to regulatory approvals;
RJ85, T-166 (Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Sydney (Richmond)/Dubbo;
C-130Q, T-134 (Coulson) based in Sydney (Richmond) – already in place. (This is an “extra” for the 2018-19 season only, considering the predicted above-normal potential of the fire season on the east coast of Australia);
RJ85, T-163 (Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Melbourne (Avalon);
C-130Q, T-131 (Coulson) based in Melbourne (Avalon)
In addition, NAFC will have 51 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) on contract across the country, including 2 amphibious water-scooping Fire Bosses. Another 8 SEATs have been contracted directly by State agencies. The SEATs can also be supplemented by other aircraft on Call When Needed (CWN) arrangements if required.
There will be 77 Helicopters of all types for a variety of roles across the country. This includes six Erickson S-64E Aircranes, as well as five Type 2 /Type 3 helicopters that will be specially equipped for intelligence gathering, with gimbaled sensors and on-board image processing, mapping, and transmission gear.
This season one Type 1 helicopter (a Coulson S-61) based at Ballarat, Victoria and one Type 2 helicopter (a Kestrel Aviation Bell 412) based at Mangalore, Victoria will have a Night Vision Imaging Systems or Night Vision Goggles (NVIS/NVG) for water dropping. Several other Type 2 and Type 3 helicopters based in Victoria and New South Wales will be capable of NVIS mapping, reconnaissance, supervision and aerial ignition.
“We aim to continue and extend the helicopter NVIS firebombing trial in Victoria, operationalizing the learnings from the Victorian trial earlier this year, but it will be in small, careful steps” Richard Alder, General Manager of NAFC said. “At this stage”, he continued, “it is anticipated that night firebombing will only occur on fires where the aircraft crew has operated during the day – so at this stage there won’t be any initial attack at night.”
Night flying air tanker
Mr. Alder said they may experiment toward the end of the 2018/2019 bushfire season with a fixed wing large airtanker (the C-130Q, T-131) using NVIS/NVG, but there is much work still to be done to design the trial and obtain the necessary regulatory approvals.
Coulson Aviation intends for the 737 to be able to haul 4,000 gallons of retardant, or passengers
Above: Air tanker 137, a 737-300, at the grid test near Lancaster, California, September 3, 2018. Coulson photo.
Coulson Aviation posted these photos September 3, 2018 of one of their recently converted 737-300’s, Tanker 137, as it was undergoing grid testing in Lancaster, California.
The process involves dropping retardant over a grid of thousands of cups intended to measure the volume and consistency of the pattern when it hits the ground. The Interagency AirTanker Board requires passing this and other certifications before an aircraft can be “carded” as a federal air tanker, which makes it eligible for a contract to fight fires.
Some air tankers are required to make 20 to 25 drops over several days at the test. Firefighting hand crews are usually hired or borrowed to retrieve the cups after each drop. It is a very expensive process. The last time we checked the price of retardant was $2.50 to $3.00 a gallon, depending on which air tanker base it is delivered to.
The interior of Coulson’s 737 looks futuristic.
They intend for it to be able to haul 4,000 gallons of retardant, or passengers. Last year Britt Coulson said, “With a full retardant load and 4.5 hours of fuel we are so far under max gross weight we are going to leave the full interior and galleys in even when just in airtanker mode.”
The company purchased six 737-300’s from Southwest Airlines.
Above: One of the first test drops by a 737 air tanker, Coulson’s T-137. Photo by Jeremy Ulloa.
On July 13 the 737 that Coulson Aviation has been converting into an air tanker made its first drops. In this case it was a series of water drops by Tanker 137 while flying out of San Bernardino, California.
Britt Coulson said, “The 4,000 USG RADS-XXL/2 performed perfectly as did the airplane. Our flight crew couldn’t have been happier with the handling characteristics and our split tank worked as designed with no CG shift during the drop.”
Next week they will finish flight testing with the FAA, and will soon begin static tests of the tank system. They are working with the Forest Service to schedule the grid test.
Mr. Coulson expects Tanker 137 will be ready to fight fire in August.
(Originally published at 3:47 p.m. MDT June 17, 2018)
One of Coulson’s recently converted 737’s, Tanker 137, is in San Bernardino for certification testing by the FAA.
One of Coulson’s 737 air tankers, T-137, will be at San Bernardino for the next 7 days where it will be carrying out its FAA Flight Testing. This photo is one of its sister ships, T-138, seen at MCC in March, pic.twitter.com/CsZM7UjPav