Full page newspaper ads recommend converting C-5M aircraft into firefighting air tankers

The aircraft would supposedly carry up to 60,000 gallons after structural modifications were made

C-5 Galaxy.
C-5 Galaxy. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Charlie Miller, Oct. 3, 2005..

A former aircraft engineer is taking out full page newspaper advertisements proposing that C-5M aircraft be converted into firefighting air tankers operated by the Air Force. If you live in the Fresno, California area you may have seen the ad in the March 8 edition of the Fresno Bee. I called the person whose name appears on the ad, Joseph C. Coomer, and asked why he placed the ad.

“I was up against a brick wall and nobody wants to publish this stuff,” he said. “The Representatives already know everything and I can’t get through to anybody and it was just a dead end. I had to do this or nothing and I’ve put three years of work on this thing and I didn’t want to see it die. It’s too important.”

The ad will also appear March 15 in the Modesto Bee and the Sacramento Bee. Mr. Coomer said he is spending about $10,000 for the ads.

He said he does not have any firefighting experience but formerly worked for Boeing as a Weight Engineer on the 707, 737, and Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS).

He explained that the latest version of the C-5, which is the C-5M, has been outfitted with more powerful engines and has the ability to carry up to 60,000 gallons of water if substantial structural modifications are made. With fewer modifications it could carry 50,000 gallons, he said.

Single engine air tankers carry around 750 gallons or less, large air tankers 3,000 to 4,000 gallons, while very large air tankers can hold 9,000 to 19,000 gallons. Helicopters have a capacity of 250 to 3,000 gallons.

“They’ve got 52 [C-5Ms] in inventory and I think what’s going to evolve out of this, all 52 will be turned into the tankers and it will be a world firefighting unit for forest fires,” said Mr. Coomer. “That’s what I anticipate. Because Australia will probably want them and Canada will want them and they get spread out and the European Union will probably want some. One of the key things I come up with is a dumping system that can dump that much water, and that’s in three seconds because the aircraft is traveling at almost 200 feet per second.”

I asked if he was saying that the government should take over the operation of air tankers, which would put the private contractors out of business.

“Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.” he said. “You have the Forest Service and I’m taking responsibility over the aircraft away from the Forest Service and assign it to the Air Force. Yeah. And the tankers would be stationed at Travis Air Force Base [near Sacramento, CA.] … It’s almost in the center of the state. Up to 15 aircraft stationed at Travis, 15 C5s converted to tankers that would cover all of California, all of Colorado, and part of Oregon just from that base because the aircraft flies at 400 miles per hour. And when a fire breaks the locals won’t have to respond, they just wait for the aircraft — four, five, six, seven, whatever it is, to that site. And in one pass they put the fire out, one pass.”

I said to Mr. Coomer, “Aircraft don’t put out fires. Under ideal conditions they can slow them down long enough for firefighters—.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” he interrupted. “They will put the fire out from the air. They are soaking it with more than one inch of water. My calculations show that on a 10-acre fire, if you put five of those aircraft with 60,000 gallons each, will put one-inch of water on the ground.”

Retardant delivery systems used today have adjustable flow rates that produce variable coverage levels on the ground, measured in gallons per 100 square feet. The coverage levels defined by the U.S. Forest Service and used by contracted air tankers range from 1 to 10. For example, the maximum coverage level of 10 would be 10 gallons per 100 square feet. Water one inch deep would be coverage level 62, according to my calculations.

When asked how much it would cost to convert a C-5M into an air tanker, Mr. Coomer said, “I have no idea. … I don’t know, $3 million or $10 million to convert an aircraft. I don’t know that. I know it’d be quite a bit.”

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