Military C-130 crews train for fighting wildfires

At Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver

MAFFS aircraft at Boise C-130
MAFFS aircraft at Boise, April 20, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Military crews and C-130 aircraft are training in Colorado so that they can assist with wildfires.

Members of the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, and other firefighting agencies today began a weeklong aerial wildland firefighting training and certification session hosted at the air tanker base at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport  (Jeffco) near Denver, Colorado.

The 302nd Airlift Wing and 153rd Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules aircraft are equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS), which can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. The system slides into the back of the military aircraft and retardant is sprayed under pressure through a nozzle in the troop door on the left side. MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the civilian airtanker program to slow the spread of wildland fires.

Training drops with water will be conducted in the nearby Arapaho and Roosevelt and Pike-San Isabel National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands using potable water. Residents in those areas may see low-flying C-130 aircraft and U.S. Forest Service lead planes throughout the week. MAFFS aircraft will load water from Jeffco and will start and end their days at their home units.

The three Air National Guard wings tasked with conducting MAFFS missions include: the 146th Airlift Wing from Channel Islands, California, 152nd Airlift Wing from Reno, Nevada and the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyoming. The 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, is the only Air Force Reserve unit tasked with the MAFFS mission.

Each base has two MAFFS units that can be activated for firefighting, usually in pairs with a third C-130 carrying additional personnel and equipment. The Forest Service or other land management agencies have to reimburse the Department of Defense for the costs of the three aircraft and personnel.

The certification training sponsored by the US Forest Service includes classroom sessions, as well as flying and ground operations for Air Force aircrews, civilian lead plane pilots, support personnel from the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other state and federal firefighting agencies.

Having military C-130s that can be converted into airtankers provides a “surge” capability to augment wildfire suppression efforts when there are not enough privately owned air tankers available on Forest Service contracts.

The first of five C-130s purchased from Norway departs from Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson

Coulson intends to convert them into air tankers

Coulson T-132 departing Davis-Monthan C-130H air tanker
T-132 departing Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, April 20, 2020. Coulson photo.

The first of five C-130H planes that Coulson Aviation purchased from the Norwegian military was ferried Monday from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona to Crestview, Florida. Over the last seven weeks two of the aircraft were brought back to life in order to fly them to the facility in Crestview for heavy maintenance and conversion into air tankers capable of fighting wildfires.

Coulson  Aviation (USA) Inc. purchased the five C-130Hs through a complicated procedure that started in March, 2018 and was finalized at the end of 2019.

Coulson T-132 departing Davis-Monthan C-130H air tanker
T-132 preparing to depart Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, April 20, 2020. Coulson photo.

From Coulson:

The airplane was crewed by Dawn, Travis, and Charlie for its uneventful 3.7 hour flight. One down, four more to go.

This aircraft is called “TY” by Coulson, but officially will be Tanker 132.

Coulson T-132 departing Davis-Monthan C-130H air tanker
T-132 departing Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, April 20, 2020. Coulson photo.
Coulson T-132 departing Davis-Monthan C-130H air tanker
T-132 departing Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, April 20, 2020. Coulson photo.

Two C-130Hs begin the path to transformation

The aircraft will be converted into air tankers by Coulson Aviation

C-130H Coulson convert air tanker Tucson
Two Coulson C-130H aircraft being towed from the AMARG in Tucson Feb. 29, 2020. Coulson photo.

Yesterday the physical process of converting two C-130H aircraft formerly owned by the Norwegian military began when they were towed from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) in Tucson, Arizona. Coulson  Aviation (USA) Inc. purchased five C-130Hs through a complicated procedure that started in March, 2018 and was finalized at the end of 2019.

Thursday the two aircraft were moved from AMARG to a nearby facility where they will be brought back to life, with the goal to fly them both out in March for heavy maintenance and conversion into air tankers capable of fighting wildfires.

A third 737 is being converted
In 2017 Coulson purchased six 737-300’s to convert them into 4,000-gallon “Fireliner” air tankers capable of transporting up to 70 passengers. So far two conversions are complete, and Tankers 137 and 138 and have been dropping on fires in Australia during their 2019-2020 bushfire season. New South Wales bought T-137 and Coulson still owns T-138.  Britt Coulson, Vice President of Coulson Aviation, told us a third is in the pipeline; all of the parts have been manufactured and their team members are working on it.

C-130H Coulson convert air tanker Tucson
Two C-130H aircraft being towed from the AMARG in Tucson Feb. 29, 2020. Coulson photo.

More information has become available about the C-130 crash in Australia

Investigators have recovered the cockpit voice recorder

C-130 crash site NSW
NSW police and a military aircraft near the site of the C-130 crash near Cooma, NSW. Photo: NSW Police.

Australian media outlets have published aerial photos of the site where Air Tanker 134, an EC-130Q, crashed in New South Wales January 23, 2020. In some respects the site looks similar to those taken after the 2012 crash of the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) C-130 aircraft. The sections of the aircraft that received the least damage were the tails.

The 2012 accident occurred on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota and resulted in four fatalities among the seven-person crew. Two crewmen in the rear of the aircraft were injured but survived. Those two were operating the pressurized Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) in the cargo hold which enables a military C-130 to function as an air tanker, capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. On a C-130 with a conventional gravity-powered retardant delivery system, all three crewmen are in the cockpit.

I will not force anyone to look at the crash scene photos, but if you feel up to it you can find them at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) here and here. Reuters also has decent coverage. Most of the photos were taken by a drone operated by the Army. They are using the aircraft to map the site.

The information that has come out so far indicates that the crash occurred following a retardant drop. The drop could have been planned, or the retardant might have been jettisoned if the aircraft was suddenly in a dangerous position.

Investigators with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) have found the cockpit voice recorder in the tail of the plane and hope to analyze it by Sunday.

NSW police said they have recovered the bodies of the three crew members that were killed, Ian H. McBeth, Captain, Paul Clyde Hudson, First Officer, and Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., Flight Engineer. They will be repatriated to the United States as soon as possible.

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

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.

C-130 works the Canyon Fire in Northern California

Napa County

C-130 air tanker retardant drop Canyon Fire California
A C-130 makes a retardant drop on the Canyon Fire in Napa County, California July 22, 2019. Photo by Kent Porter.

The Canyon Fire burned 64 acres July 22 in Napa County, California near Highway 128 and Wragg Canyon Road east of St. Helena.

I asked Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Kent Porter who took the picture if he got hit by the retardant and he said it missed him. The vehicle seen with the open door belonged to a California Highway Patrol officer, he said. Anyone who has had their vehicle slimed with retardant while the door was open will never let it happen a second time.

MAFFS training being conducted this week in Colorado Springs

MAFFS
Air National Guardsmen with the 152nd Airlift Wing from Reno, Nevada drop water during the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training and recertification week in Colorado, May 6, 2019. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Amber Sorsek.

About 300 aviation personnel from the Air National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, and other firefighting agencies are participating this week in aerial wildland firefighting training and certification for Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) personnel. It is hosted by the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“We are eager to join with our civilian and military partners this week and prepare for another challenging wildfire season,” said Col. James DeVere, 302nd Airlift Wing commander. “Training together is vital. We are able to battle wildfires as one seamless interagency team working with the U.S. Forest Service because of the training we do together.”

Training drops will be executed in nearby forests west of Colorado Springs using potable water. Rural residents in those areas may see low-flying C-130 aircraft and U.S. Forest Service lead planes throughout the week.

The 302nd Airlift Wing’s C-130 Hercules aircraft are equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s MAFFS, which is capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant or water in less than 10 seconds along a quarter-mile line. The system slides into the back of the military aircraft, and retardant is released through a nozzle on the left side through a modified paratroop door. MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the U.S. Forest Service and the civilian air tanker program to slow the spread of wildland fires across the nation.

MAFFS
A U.S Forest Service lead plane releases smoke to signal where the Air National Guardsmen with the 152nd Airlift Wing from Reno, Nevada, will drop water during the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training and recertification in Colorado, May 6, 2019. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Amber Sorsek.

The three Air National Guard wings tasked conducting MAFFS missioned include: the 146th Airlift Wing from Channel Islands, California, 152nd Airlift Wing from Reno, Nevada, and the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyoming. The 302nd Airlift Wing is the only Air Force Reserve unit executing the MAFFS mission. Each of the four wings usually have two slip-in MAFFS units in order to mobilize two firefighting C-130s along with a third C-130 hauling equipment and additional personnel.

The certification training, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, includes classroom sessions, flying and ground operations for Air Force aircrews, civilian lead plane pilots, and support personnel from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other state and federal firefighting agencies.

“Wildland fire management agencies have relied on MAFFS for 46 years to provide a surge capacity when commercial air tankers are fully committed or not readily available, as they frequently are during periods of high wildfire activity,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for operations for the U.S. Forest Service. “Training that includes all of the military and civilian personnel that work together when MAFFS are mobilized is critical to ensure that military aircraft fly safely and effectively and that they can be seamlessly integrated into wildfire suppression operations.”

Videos of air tanker drops at the Britania Mountain Fire

The lightning-caused fire has burned over 32,000 acres eight miles northwest of Wheatland, Wyoming

A BAe-146 drops on the Britania Mountain Fire. A screen shot from the video below which was uploaded August 30, 2018.

Brenton Soule shot these videos at the Britania Mountain Fire in southeast Wyoming. They were uploaded to Facebook August 30, 2018.

I noticed that the audio was more intense than in most air tanker videos… probably because he was about as close as you can get to the aircraft while still remaining safely out of the drop zone.

The air tankers could be the ones photographed at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JEFFCO) September 2, 2018. Above we see a C-130 and below, a BAe-146.

Wildfire Today has more information about the Britania Mountain Fire which has burned over 32,000 acres eight miles northwest of Wheatland, Wyoming.

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