Paint design approved for USFS C-130H air tankers

C-130H paint design
C-130H paint design, by Scheme Designers

The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service has approved the paint design for the seven C-130H aircraft the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard. The National Defense Authorization Act required the transfer of the C-130Hs plus 15 Shorts C-23B Sherpas from the military. The C-130Hs are being converted by the Air Force into air tankers, while the Sherpas will be used to deliver smokejumpers and cargo and to perform other wildfire support missions. The C-130Hs will be owned by the USFS but will be operated and maintained by contractors. Some of the Sherpas will be flown by agency personnel and others by contractors. All of the Sherpas will all be maintained by private companies.

The paint for the C-130Hs was designed by a company in New Jersey, Scheme Designers. Craig Darnett, their founder and CEO, told Fire Aviation that they have also designed the paint for other USFS aircraft, including the DC-3 and some smokejumper planes. Other examples of their work can be found at Airliners.net. Scheme Designers will not actually paint the C-130Hs; most of their work is done on computers, however sometimes the aircraft owner will pay them to be on site and monitor the painting as it is done.

If someone is restoring an automobile that is at least 27 years old, as these C-130Hs are according to our research, paint is the very last step in the process. Five of the seven have to go through a 10-month wing box replacement, and then the rest of the conversion process can begin, including cutting a hole in the belly and installing a retardant tank system.

Initially bringing the 22 aircraft into the agency will be extremely complex and time-consuming, with FAA approvals, inspections, evaluating, painting, writing then awarding contracts for maintenance and pilots, deciding on a tanking system, contracts for installing tanking systems, avionics, etc. And, developing a comprehensive PLAN of how to manage the aviation assets now and in the future. The Air Force will do some of this, other than the planning, before the actual final transfer of the C-130s to the USFS (the Sherpas will not receive retardant tanks), but the Forest Service has to be involved in the decision making. Then, after the 22 aircraft are completely up and running, managing the programs on a continuing basis is not simply a part time job for one person.

Below are some other paint designs on USFS aircraft:

McCall DC-3 retirement
J-42, a US Forest Service DC-3, retires. USFS photo, taken at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012.
Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa
Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.
Smokejumper aircraft, N143Z
Smokejumper aircraft, N143Z. USFS photo.
USFS IR aircraft, Cessna Citation Bravo
One of the U.S. Forest Service’s Infrared aircraft, their Cessna Citation Bravo, N144Z
Lead planes at Cheyenne
Lead planes at Cheyenne, WY, May 7, 2013. These were not government owned, but were under contract to either the USFS or BLM. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Fire Watch helicopter
The U. S. Forest Service’s Fire Watch Cobra helicopter. July 28, 2011.
US Forest Service infrared aircraft N149Z
USFS infrared aircraft N149Z at Phoenix in 2013

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Leo

Wing box replacements in the USFS C-130s

Coast Guard C-130H No 1714
Coast Guard C-130H No 1714, October, 2008. This is one of the seven C-130s being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by PhantomPhan1974

The legislation that enabled the transfer of seven C-130H aircraft from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service to serve as air tankers required that the wing boxes be replaced and other maintenance be performed.

C-130H wing box, diagramA wing box is the core or backbone of an aircraft. In a C-130 it sits atop the fuselage and forms the attachment point for both wings. A failure of the wing box during flight could be catastrophic.

In the mid-2000s, center wing boxes (CWB) on C-130s began showing cracks earlier than expected. Many of the aircraft were grounded or placed on restricted flight status, including some that were flying in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006 the Air Force began a program to replace them on all C-130 models except the C-130J which entered the inventory in February, 1999. By 2020, 155 C-130s will have new CWBs that are the same ones being manufactured today for the C-130J.

Removing C-130H wing box at Robins AFB
Removing a C-130H wing box at Robins AFB. USAF photo by Sue Sapp.

The total cost of a CWB kit in 2011 was $6.7 million, including installation which takes about 10 months.

C-130 1706 wing box replacement
A Coast Guard C-130, #1706, receiving a CWB replacement at Robins AFB. It was completed August 12, 2012. This aircraft is one of seven being transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. (U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

A couple of years ago the Coast Guard identified six C-130Hs to undergo CWB replacements. The first, #1706 seen in the photo above, was completed August 12, 2012. A second C-130 began the process in November, 2012 and should have been complete by September, 2013. The other six aircraft numbers that are being transferred to the USFS are 1708, 1709, 1713, 1714, 1719, and 1721. Many of the CWB replacements for the Air Force and Coast Guard aircraft are being done at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

The Coast Guard expected that the CWB and other upgrades would allow the C-130Hs to serve until 2027, after which they would be replaced by new aircraft. They have already started ordering C-130Js, tagging on to Air Force procurement programs..

Wildfire Today has found information which indicates the seven C-130s being given away by the Coast Guard were manufactured between 1983 and 1987, but this is not yet confirmed. If the data is accurate, they are 27 to 31 years old now, and will be 40 to 44 years old in 2017. A person might wonder why the Coast Guard can buy new C-130Js while the U.S. Forest Service has to make do with hand-me-down aircraft being discarded by another agency.

A C-130H of Israel Air Force receives a new wing box
A C-130H of Israel Air Force receives a new wing box. Photo by IAI.

In addition to replacing the CWBs, the legislation requires “progressive fuselage structural inspections” for the seven Coast Guard C-130s being transferred to the USFS. If they receive the standard primary structure inspection — known as programmed depot maintenance — that process will take between 180 and 200 days. In February, 2013, the Ogden Air Logistic Complex at Hill Air Force Base in Utah began performing some of the programmed depot maintenance on the Coast Guard C-130s, aircraft which are similar to the C-130s flown by the Air Force, but they have more avionics for radios and radar.

The legislation directed that no more than $130 million be spent by the Department of Defense to modify and maintain the seven C-130s before the transfer; any additional funds would have to come from the USFS. Doing a little math here, if the CWB replacement costs $7 million each, the programmed depot maintenance runs $3 million per aircraft (to pick a number out of the air), and the installation of the retardant tank system is $4 million (Coulson’s preliminary estimate is $3.5 million each for their Aero Union/Coulson RADS tank), we are looking at a total of about $98 million — within the $130 maximum allowed by Congress. If $14 million is subtracted for CWB replacements that have already occurred on two aircraft, that total is brought down to $84 million.

However, there will no doubt be other work that will have to be done to the aircraft, such as installation of radios, a real time location tracking system, and perhaps other avionics and a stress monitoring system. It is also possible that unneeded equipment such as a cargo handling system and armor will have to be removed, all of which could require more USFS dollars unless these items are included in the total conversion project funded by the military, rather than done later by the USFS. These additional tasks would push the price closer to the $130 million threshold.

Defense bill passes, clearing way for C-130H transfers to the USFS

Late Thursday night the Senate passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 84-15, which passed the House last week. President Obama has already said he will sign it which clears the way for the aircraft transfers we have written about previously. (UPDATE, December 27, 2013: the President signed the bill December 26, 2013.)

The bill contained provisions for the U.S. Forest Service to receive seven C-130H Coast Guard aircraft which will be converted to air tankers, in lieu of the C-27Js they had been expecting. It requires the Air Force to “promptly schedule” the “center and outer wing-box replacement modifications, programmed depot-level maintenance, and modifications necessary to procure and integrate a gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system in each such HC–130H aircraft”.

The Air Force will spend a maximum of $130 million of for all of the maintenance and modification work on the seven aircraft. The bill also specifies that no more than $5 million shall be spent on each HC–130H aircraft for the “gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system”. If the modifications exceed these limits, the additional funds will have to be provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service will also receive up to 15 C-23B+ S Sherpa aircraft which are expected to be used as smokejumper platforms. Earlier this week representatives from the USFS were in Oklahoma evaluating the Sherpas they were expecting to receive.

If C-130s are transferred to the USFS, they will have gravity retardant tanks

We were able to find documentation that if the seven Coast Guard C-130H aircraft are transferred to the U.S. Forest Service as required in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA), they WILL have gravity assisted retardant tanks, rather than a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) pressurized tank like is used on the military MAFFS C-130s.

The NDAA passed in the House on December 12 with a vote of 350 to 69. Its next stop will be the Senate, which is expected to take up the bill this week before they adjourn on December 20.

We found the retardant tank requirement in the 1,106-page NDAA bill along with some other interesting details. There are time elements mentioned, such as allowing 45 days after the act passes to begin the transfer of the C-130Hs. And “at the first available opportunity, promptly schedule” the “center and outer wing- box replacement modifications, programmed depot-level maintenance, and modifications necessary to procure and integrate a gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system in each such HC–130H aircraft”.

A maximum cost of $130 million of Air Force funds was established for all of the maintenance and modification work on the seven aircraft. The bill also specifies that no more than $5 million shall be spent on each HC–130H aircraft for the “gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system”. If the modifications exceed these limits, the additional funds will have to be provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa
Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.

The transfer of “not more than” 15 C-23B+ S Sherpa aircraft” is required to begin within 45 days of the passage of the bill. If they receive them, the USFS could use the Sherpas for smokejumping and for hauling cargo. In 1991 the agency acquired six Shorts 330 Sherpas and has used them as smokejumper platforms. The 330s are similar to the C-23B+ Sherpas but have smaller engines and a lower cruising speed. The military C-23B+ S Sherpas also have a rear drop-down cargo door which could be used by smokejumpers. The transfer of the Sherpas would allow the USFS to stop contracting for jumper aircraft such as the Twin Otters and have an all-Sherpa jumper fleet that is Government-Owned/Contractor Operated, bringing some standardization to the jumper fleet. The acquisition of 15 Sherpas might even make the retirement of the DC-3 more palatable.

House passes bill to transfer C-27J aircraft to Coast Guard; USFS would receive C-130Hs

C-27J

On Thursday the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 that contains provisions for the Forest Service to receive seven C-130H aircraft in lieu of the C-27Js they had been expecting. The bill passed with a vote of 350 to 69. Its next stop will be the Senate, which is tied up debating executive nominations, but they are expected to take up the bill next week before they adjourn on December 20.

The last time we reported on the possible transfer of excess C-27J aircraft from the Air Force to the Forest Service, there had been a proposal to instead, give all 14 of the remaining C-27Js to the Coast Guard if the Coast Guard would transfer seven C-130Hs to the Forest Service to be used as air tankers. With an agreement reached on December 9 regarding the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 between Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that proposal remained alive.

The bill passed by the House today:

  • Requires the Coast Guard to transfer seven HC-130H aircraft to the Air Force.
  • Requires the Secretary of the Air Force to spend up to $130 million to upgrade those seven aircraft to make them suitable for Forest Service use a firefighting aircraft.
  • Requires the Forest Service to accept the upgraded HC-130H aircraft in lieu of exercising their right to take seven excess C-27J aircraft.
  • Transfers 14 excess C-27J aircraft from DOD to the Coast Guard.
  • Transfers up to 15 C-23 Sherpa aircraft from DOD to the Forest Service.

Before transferring the C-130Hs to the Forest Service, the Air Force would:

…perform center and outer wingbox replacement modifications, progressive fuselage structural inspections, and configuration modifications necessary to convert each HC-130H aircraft as large air tanker wildfire suppression aircraft.

 

Thanks go out to Ross

Legislation introduced to transfer 7 C-130Hs to US Forest Service

The U.S. Coast Guard’s idea to give some C-130s to the U.S. Forest Service if the Coast Guard can get at least 14 of the Air Force’s C-27Js is gaining some traction.

Of the 507 amendments that have been introduced to modify the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (Senate Bill 1197), 8 of them are sponsored by Senator John McCain. All of the Senator’s lengthy amendments, covering many topics, have nearly identical language requiring the Department of Homeland Security, referring to the Coast Guard in this case, to transfer seven C-130H aircraft to the Air Force without reimbursement. Then the Air Force will be required to :

…perform center and outer wingbox replacement modifications, progressive fuselage structural inspections, and configuration modifications necessary to convert each HC-130H aircraft as large air tanker wildfire suppression aircraft.

The aircraft will then be transferred to the Forest Service to be used as air tankers, again without reimbursement.

If the bill passes and Senator McCain’s amendment remains intact, two big IFs, we assume that the USFS would use the C-130H air tankers as Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated assets, a new type of venture for the agency. CAL FIRE has been using this model for years with their fleet of 23 S-2T air tankers and it seems to work well for them.

(UPDATE 1-7-2014: The bill passed. Here is a link to the text.)

In addition, the McCain amendments require the Army to transfer, in FY 2014 without reimbursement, up to 15 Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft to the Forest Service to be used in fire management.

Apparently Senator McCain has given up on his previous proposal. In July of 2012, with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) he introduced legislation known as the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 (S. 3441) ”to help replenish the agency’s aging airtanker fleet”. It would have required the transfer of 14 C-27Js to the Forest Service. The bill died, and since then the USFS has said they want 7 of the aircraft.

The Coast Guard would like to have all 21 of the C-27Js that the Air Force is giving away, but since Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the October 28 decision to give seven of them to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that left the USFS and the Coast Guard to fight over the remaining 14. In an interview we posted November 13, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp said they wanted all 21, but  ”…we are going to press ahead and get as many of those [remaining 14] as we can.” Then he floated the idea of trading their old C-130Hs for the seven C-27Js that appeared to be heading to the USFS.

The upgraded C-130H with the wingbox replacement and an Aero Union RADS 3,500-gallon constant-flow GPS-regulated retardant tank could be an excellent air tanker for the USFS. This is basically what Coulson has done with their Tanker 131, a C-130Q which is nearly identical to the C-130H.

Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa
Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.

If they receive them, the USFS could use the Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft for smokejumping and for hauling cargo. In 1991 the agency acquired six Shorts 330 Sherpa’s and has used them as smokejumper platforms. The 330s are similar to the C-23B+ Sherpa but have smaller engines and a lower cruising speed.