Coulson partners with Linfox to form consortium for fighting bushfires

Coulson's Tanker 132
Coulson’s new Tanker 132, formerly operated by the Norwegian military. Coulson photo, November, 2020.

Coulson Aviation and Linfox have agreed to work together in a consortium to help Australians suppress bushfires. Coulson will bring helicopters and air tankers to the table to work with the logistics company Linfox, with both presently operating on multiple continents.

The proposed fleet of large fixed wing air tankers, super heavy helicopters, and fire intelligence gathering aircraft will be based and operated throughout the State and Territories in Australia, with maintenance and support infrastructure supplied in New South Wales and Victoria.

The team intends to work with State Governments, Territories, emergency services agencies, and within any framework agreed by the Federal Government. Australia has one of the largest volunteer firefighting forces in the world. They intend to build a world class training facility and center of excellence for volunteers to create a strong, intelligence-led and informed approach to firefighting.

The 365 day a year fleet is intended to offer firebombing, intelligence gathering, and aerial firefighting support services during the fire seasons, but also search and rescue, surveillance and medical evacuation services at other times.

The combining of the two company’s unique skill sets will allow the consortium to set up remote bases where aircraft can reload retardant close to a live fire zone, rather than having to fly, sometimes for hours, to the nearest airport – and then back again.

Chairman of Coulson Aviation Australia, Wayne Coulson said, ‘We’ve learned through many major fire campaigns globally the enormous effect of large capacity air tankers in managing bushfires, particularly when we bring the fight at night; this results in lives saved and houses standing and that’s why we do what we do.’

“There is always an opportunity to improve our nation’s approach to aerial firefighting,’’ added Lindsay Fox, founder of Linfox. “Each of the States and Territories are responsible for their own emergency response, so each response varies. As our fire seasons get longer – and become more dangerous and unpredictable, the most sensible – and safe – solution is a co-ordinated, national approach.”

Coulson's Tanker 132
Coulson’s new Tanker 132. Coulson photo, November, 2020.

Another C-130 is almost ready to join the Coulson fleet

October 2, 2020   |   4:46 p.m. MDT

Coulson air tanker C-130 T-132 (N132CG)
Coulson Air Tanker 132, a C-130H (N132CG) with its fancy black props. Coulson photo.

The first of five C-130H planes that Coulson Aviation purchased from the Norwegian military completed its heavy maintenance in Crestview, Florida October 1 and was ferried to Spokane, Washington for new paint and an inspection.

The aircraft has already been converted to an air tanker, Tanker 132, with the installation of a 4,000-gallon internal gravity-powered retardant tank. As recently as 2017 Coulson operated another C-130 known as Tanker 132. It was leased and was returned to its owner.

Coulson air tanker C-130 T-132 (N132CG)
Coulson Air Tanker 132, a C-130H (N132CG) fueling up before ferrying to Spokane, WA for new paint and inspection. Coulson photo.

A second C-130 was pulled out of mothballs at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona at the same time as this aircraft. It will also be outfitted as an air tanker and is going through heavy maintenance at Crestview.

Tanker 132 Coulson
After being delayed by Hurricane Sally, Tanker 132 was back outside completing is final ground runs and ops checks.”TY” is sporting its overhauled black propellers and painted rudder.
Coulson air tanker C-130 T-132 (N132CG)
Coulson Air Tanker 132, a C-130H (N132CG), completing its Functional Check Flight after maintenance. Coulson photo.

Two new Firehawks tested in Colorado

Eventually will be delivered to CAL FIRE and Los Angeles County FD

Los Angeles County's new i70 Firehawk helicopter
Los Angeles County’s new S-70i Firehawk, helicopter 22, being tested at Centennial, Colorado May 7, 2020. Photo by @skippyscage.

Paul Filmer sent us these photos of new S-70i Firehawk helicopters being tested at the Centennial, Colorado Airport.

Several wildland fire agencies have used the services of United Rotorcraft at Englewood, Colorado to retrofit Sikorsky S-70i helicopters — adding extended landing gear, external belly tanks, retractable snorkels, and rescue hoists. CAL FIRE is purchasing up to 12, Los Angeles County Fire Department is adding two more to their fleet, San Diego Fire-Rescue has received one, and Ventura County FD is converting three HH-60L Blackhawks formerly operated by the U.S. military. Coulson-Unical is taking a different approach, outfitting UH-60s with RADS internal tanks.

CAL FIRE's new i70 Firehawk helicopter
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i Firehawk, helicopter 205, being tested at Centennial, Colorado May 7, 2020. Photo by @skippyscage.

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.

How much does it cost to drop retardant on a fire?

We calculated the cost per delivered gallon

air tanker dropping Cave Fire Santa Barbara California
Tanker 12, a BAe-146, drops on the Cave Fire Nov. 26, 2019. Photo by Mike Eliason for Santa Barbara County FD.

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy article about exclusive use Next Generation 3.0 air tanker contracts, the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness study, air tanker availability since 2000, and the contracts that were awarded recently for Call When Needed (CWN) large and very large air tankers.

Today I added some calculated data to that article about the cost per delivered gallon from the CWN air tankers. In an effort to ensure this additional information does not get lost, I am including it again here.

Keep in mind the costs only apply to CWN air tankers which can be more than 50 percent higher than an exclusive use air tanker that is guaranteed several months of work. The initial dollar figures supplied by the Forest Service are based on the contracts that were awarded in December, 2019.

The U.S. Forest Service refused to give us the actual daily and hourly costs that the government agreed to when issuing the new CWN contracts to the six companies, but did supply the chart below with estimates based on the contract costs. The data assume the tankers were activated 36 days a year, for 4 years, and flew 100  hours each year. The dollar figures also include the estimated fuel costs based on each aircraft’s fuel burn rate at a fuel price of $5.21 a gallon.

Call When Needed large air tanker contracts
The companies that were awarded Call When Needed large air tanker contracts in December, 2019. Data from the US Forest Service.

In comparing the dollar figures, note that the listed air tankers can carry up to 3,000 to 4,000 gallons in each load, except the DC-10 and 747 which can hold up to 9,400 and 19,200 gallons respectively.

With the very different capacities of the seven models of air tankers receiving the CWN contracts, using just the USFS data above it is difficult to analyze and compare the actual costs of applying retardant. I did some rough back-of-the-envelope cyphering assuming 3,500-gallon retardant capacities for all aircraft except the DC-10 and 747, and 9,400 and 19,200 gallons respectively for those two very large air tankers. Other assumptions were, 36 days availability a year for four years and one load per hour for a total of 400 hours. The approximate, ball park costs per gallon delivered by a Call When Needed air tanker that was awarded a USFS CWN contract in December, 2019, rounded to the nearest half-dollar and including fuel but not the costs of retardant, are:

Retardant Cost Delivered Gallon CWN

These dollar figures are very, very rough estimates. In some air tankers the amount of retardant carried varies with density altitude and the amount of fuel on board. The cost of retardant would add several dollars per gallon.

Call When Needed air tankers are usually much more expensive per day and hour than Exclusive Use Air Tankers which are guaranteed several months of work. CWN air tankers may never be activated, or could sit for long periods and only fly a small number of hours. Or, they may work for a month or two if the Forest Service feels they can pay for them out of a less restrictive account.

In 2017 the average daily rate for large federal CWN air tankers was 54 percent higher than aircraft on exclusive use contracts.

Statistics for the use of air tankers, 2000 through 2019

And, more details about the new Call When Needed contracts

 
Usage of large air tankers, 2000-2019
Usage of large air tankers, 2000-2019. Revised Feb. 24, 2020. Fire Aviation.

(Updated Feb. 24, 2020)

This chart shows data from 2000 through 2019 for the number of large air tankers (LAT) on U.S. Forest Service Exclusive Use (EU) Contracts, the number of times each year large air tankers were requested by firefighters on a wildfire, and the percentage of requests that were not filled (Unable to Fill, UTF). 

New Call When Needed contracts

More information is now available about the Large Air Tanker Call When Needed (CWN) contracts that were awarded in December, 2019. Six companies have a total of 36 aircraft on the list, a number of aircraft that is one more than first announced.

The costs below are estimates provided by the Forest Service for one aircraft  based on the contracts awarded. Kaari Carpenter, a Lead Public Affairs Specialist for the Forest Service who sent us the information, told us that the estimates assume 36 days a year, for 4 years, and 100 flight hours a year. The dollar figures also include the estimated fuel costs based on each aircraft’s fuel burn rate at a fuel price of $5.21 a gallon.

Call When Needed large air tanker contracts
The companies that were awarded Call When Needed large air tanker contracts in December, 2019. Data from the US Forest Service.

In comparing the dollar figures, note that the listed air tankers can carry up to 3,000 to 4,000 gallons in each load, except the DC-10 and 747 which can hold approximately 9,400 and 19,200 gallons respectively.

Update February 13, 2020. With the very different capacities of the seven models of air tankers receiving the CWN contracts, using just the USFS data above, it is difficult to analyze and compare the actual costs of applying retardant. I did some rough back-of-the-envelope cyphering assuming 3,500-gallon retardant capacities for all aircraft except the DC-10 and 747, and 9,400 and 19,200 gallons respectively for those two very large air tankers. Other assumptions were 36 days availability a year for four years and one load per hour for a total of 400 hours. The approximate, ball park costs per gallon delivered by a Call When Needed air tanker that was awarded a USFS contract in December, 2019, rounded to the nearest half-dollar and not including the costs of retardant, are: 
$7.00:  MD-87
$8.50:  BAe-146, C-130, & 737
$10.00: RJ85
$4.50:  DC-10
$3.00:  747

These dollar figures are very, very rough estimates. In some air tankers the amount of retardant varies with density altitude and the amount of fuel on board. 

Call When Needed air tankers are usually much more expensive per day and hour than Exclusive Use Air Tankers which are guaranteed several months of work. CWN air tankers may never be activated, or could sit for long periods and only fly a small number of hours. Or, they may work for a month or two if the Forest Service feels they can pay for them out of a less restrictive account.

In 2007 the average daily rate for large federal CWN air tankers was 54 percent higher than aircraft on exclusive use contracts.

The CWN contract was awarded 555 days after the process began May 30, 2018 —  the exact amount of time it took to award the first Next-Generation EU air tanker contracts,  Version 1.0, in 2013.

Exclusive Use Next Generation 3.0 contracts

And speaking of long time frames, it has been 450 days since the Forest Service published the solicitation for the third round of EU Next Gen air tankers, Ver. 3.0, on November 19, 2018. Bids were required 12 months ago. Ms. Carpenter told us today that the FS expects it to be awarded in “early March, 2020.”

Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness study

The Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness study began approximately 2,812 days ago in 2012 and to date no substantive results have been released, other than a two-page “fact sheet”.  Senator Lisa Murkowski asked about the study during a Congressional hearing April 9, 2019 and FS Chief Vicki Christiansen told her a report would be released “soon”. Ms. Carpenter told us today it would be released in the Spring of this year, 2020.

In the hearing 10 months ago Colorado Senator Cory Gardner referred to the study, saying in his rapid-fire speaking style: “There is a technical term I want to use to describe the length of time it is taking to get that study done, and it is bunk! I’m sorry, it’s just a bunch of bunk that it has taken seven years to get this done. We fought a world war in four years, we built the Pentagon in 16 months, we can’t do a study in 2 years, 1 year, 3 years, 4 years, maybe 5 years? It has taken seven years to do this? In the meantime we have western states that have had significant and catastrophic fires. I understand it’s important to get the information right. But doggonnit, someone needs to get a fire lit underneath them to get something done on this study.”

When asked if firefighting aircraft were worth the cost and if they were effective, the answers from land management agencies have often been, “Yes”.

How do you know?

“We just do”. (I’m paraphrasing here).

The study is supposed to quantify the effectiveness of the various types of fixed and rotor wing aircraft when they are used on wildfires. Theoretically this would better justify the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the Forest Service on firefighting aircraft. In FY 2017 for example, the agency spent over half a billion dollars on fire aviation; $507,000,000. If completed and the results implemented, the study could make it possible to answer the question: “What are the best mixes of aircraft to do any fire suppression job?” Data collected from this study and other sources would be used to inform decisions about the composition of the interagency wildland firefighting aircraft fleet — to use the best, most efficient tools for the job.

Last year one person familiar with the issue told me that they thought the actual, accurate data from the AFUE would never be released — like the situation with the RAND air tanker study that the Forest Service never released even after our Freedom of Information Act request. Two years after it was completed RAND released the document.

Coulson purchases five C-130H aircraft from Norway

They will be converted to air tankers

https://wildfiretoday.com/tag/cave-fire/
Norwegian C-130H aircraft in storage. Coulson photo.

Coulson Aviation (USA) Inc. has bought five C-130H transport planes from the Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency (NDMA) and will convert them into firefighting air tankers. The formal takeover is planned for the end of this year or early in 2020.

The NDMA is Norway’s commercial and technical designated procurement and divestment authority for their Department of Defense.

In March 2018, the NDMA sales process began with a Request for Proposal. Six companies responded, however only Coulson Aviation was able to provide the required documentation, including the current government contracts, which was part of the sales regulations. The sales have been approved by U.S. Authorities, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Norwegian Ministry of Defense.

“These C-130H’s have been maintained to the highest standard and with our modifications, along with a new glass cockpit, they will continue to serve the public for years to come,” said Britt Coulson, President of Coulson Aviation.

The five C-130Hs have been stored at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.

“These airplanes have been very important for the Norwegian Defense, and I am pleased that they will now also be useful for civilian purposes, said Frank Bakke-Jensen, Minister of Defense in Norway. Mette Sørfonden, Director General for NDMA, added “This is the most significant material sales project finalized after the establishment of NDMA, and it has been an important achievement […].”

Coulson has been operating C-130Q  and C-130H models since at least 2013. In 2017 the company purchased six 737-300’s with the intention of converting them into 4,000-gallon “Fireliner” air tankers. Britt Coulson said they saw an opportunity when Southwest Airlines made a decision to replace their 737-300’s with the new 737-Max. Conversions on at least two 737-300s are complete, with one being sold to the government of New South Wales Australia. The other has a call when needed contract with the U.S. Forest Service.