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.

Sell Art Online

Photos of P-3 Orion air tankers at McClellan

Also: A DC-10 and Coulson’s most recently converted C-130

Above: Air tanker 23 testing at McClellan.

When Sergio Maraschin saw our article about Airstrike Firefighters signing a call when needed contract with Colorado for their P-3 air tankers, he realized we needed some more current photos of the recently refurbished aircraft. He took these at various times over the last six weeks at Sacramento McClellan Airport.

The article linked to above has the details about Airstrike’s recent projects.

Thanks Sergio!

P-3 Orion air tanker T-23 T-17 T-912
Air tankers 17, 23, and 910.
P-3 Orion air tanker T-23
Air tanker 23, over McClellan.

Coulson’s T-134, a C-130Q, has come a very long way since April, 2017. Check out these photos, here and here, taken as the project was just getting started. It is amazing what private industry can do in 16 months when they want to convert an aircraft into an air tanker. The Air Force dithered for almost five years when they were supposed to be converting seven former Coast guard HC-130H aircraft into air tankers for the U.S. Forest Service, and never fully completed any of them. Now it appears the state of California will get the reborn air tankers, when and if the USAF completes the work.

T-134 C-130 Coulson
This is T-134, Coulson’s most recently converted C-130Q air tanker. Brett Coulson told us as far as they are concerned it is ready to fight fire. They intend to wait until after the fire season to paint it.

North American air tankers return from Australia

Four large air tankers have completed their assignments

Above: The crew from 10 Tanker makes final preparations to depart at the end of their assignment in Australia. Photo credit: RK Smithley.

Originally published at 8:59 a.m. MDT March 23, 2018.

As the bushfire season winds down in New South Wales and Victoria the large air tankers have all returned to their  bases in North America or will be departing soon. The four aircraft were an RJ85 from Aero Flite, a DC-10 from 10 Tanker, and two C-130’s from Coulson.

Below, RK Smithley documents the preparation of the DC-10, the cargo, and their flight from Richmond RAAF Base in New South Wales, Australia back to Albuquerque.

CAL FIRE considering acquiring larger air tankers

The agency is looking at a range of alternatives, including the C-130, but no decisions have been made

Above: C-130’s in the aircraft boneyard at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Google Earth.

(Originally published at 10:19 a.m. MST January 20, 2018)

After hearing rumors that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, is considering acquiring C-130’s to use as air tankers, we talked with Dennis Brown, the agency’s Chief of Flight Operations. He confirmed that they are exploring the idea of obtaining some larger air tankers and said the C-130 is on the list of aircraft they are looking at, but emphasized that no decisions have been made. The source of the C-130’s, if that is the direction they choose to go, would be the same as their S-2’s, military surplus, such as the 70+ seen in the photo above in mothballs at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

CAL FIRE has successfully used S-2 air tankers for about 40 years. The aircraft have served the agency well, but since they started acquiring them from the Department of Defense through the U.S. Forest Service in the 1970s the air tanker state of the art has advanced significantly in spite of converting the S-2A and S-2E/G aircraft to modern turboprop engines.

S-2T air tanker CAL FIRE
CAL FIRE S-2T air tankers at Sacramento McClellan Airport, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Last year the 1,200-gallon tankers, now known as S-2T’s, worked alongside the 19,000-gallon 747 which holds 15 times more retardant, about the same as three-quarters of CAL FIRE’s entire fleet of 23 S-2t’s.

The agency also had on CWN contract in 2017 a C-130 from Coulson (T-133) and an MD-87 (T-105) from Erickson AeroTanker. A Neptune BAe-146 from Neptune (T-12), was on an exclusive use contract. Those three tankers each have a capacity of at least 3,000 gallons.

Perhaps looking at an S-2T parked on the same ramp as the 747 at Sacramento McClellan Airport last year got people thinking.

Since the reborn 747, which came back in a slightly different configuration after a several-year hiatus, is relatively new to the air tanker world, we asked Mr. Brown how it performed while under a Call When Needed contract with the agency in 2017. He said that in the environments where it was assigned it did very well. Like many aircraft, especially new versions, he said they noticed a few things that needed to be worked on.

For the last several years CAL FIRE has been refurbishing and converting an S-2 into an air tanker to replace Tanker 81 that crashed near Yosemite National Park in 2014, killing pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. The work is nearly complete on what will become Tanker 79 and they expect to begin flight tests in the next week or two. This will bring the number of S-2T’s in the CAL FIRE fleet back up to their traditional number, 23. The Neptune BAe-146 on contract has temporarily replaced T-81 for the last couple of years.

New CAL FIRE helicopters

As we reported in December, CAL FIRE’s intended contract  to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR), survived the protest. An administrative law judge ruled against a protest filed by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (AWPC, part of Leonardo Helicopters) clearing the way for the acquisition.

We asked Mr. Brown how many CAL FIRE intends to purchase, and he said at least one. In a perfect world they would like to buy one a year for 12 years (or possibly more quickly than that) but it is dependant on the helicopters being available at the right times, and more importantly, the state funds.

Los Angeles County Fire Department is acquiring similar helicopters.

firehawk helicopter LA County FD CAL FIRE
A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter demonstrates water suppression during a 2013 airshow. Photo credit: Trent Bell.

Video of multiple air tankers working the Liberty Fire near Murrieta, CA

Above: The Liberty Fire east of Murrieta, California, December 7, 2017. Screengrab from the KTLA video.

(Originally published at 7 p.m. PST December 7, 2017)

KTLA shot some excellent stabilized video from a helicopter Thursday of the Liberty Fire that has burned about 300 acres northeast of Murrieta, California. This is a new fire that erupted this afternoon 17 miles north of another new fire, the Lilac Fire south of Temecula which was 3,000 acres at 7 p.m. PST.

The video, which is almost 2 hours long, has at least 8 shots of air tankers dropping. We skimmed through it quickly and noted where the drops occur, probably missing a few.

13:00 – DC-10
17:00 – BAe-146/C-130
35:30 – C-130
38:35 – BAe-146
49:15 –  S-2
1:05:00 – MAFFS
1:30:00 – 747
1:40:20 – MAFFS