While Coulson’s three C-130-type air tankers were all together in Reno last month for carding by the U.S. Forest Service and pilot training the company took the opportunity to grab some photos of the aircraft while they were flying in formation.
They are all variants of Lockheed’s C-130 platform — Tanker 131 is a C-130Q while Tankers 132 and 133 are L-382G’s. Tanker 133, the newest addition to the fleet, just became operational a couple of weeks ago.
Scroll down to see how Dan Megna got the photos.
To take the photos Coulson rented an OV-10 that conveniently has a small compartment in the rear. Professional photographer Dan Megna sat in that tiny space to get the shots.
Coulson Aviation distributed this photo today of their three C-130-type air tankers lined up at Reno for “USFS carding”. As we reported on April 10, they introduced their third tanker this month, another L-382G. They also have a C-130Q. The tanker numbers when used in the USA are 131, 132, and 133.
At the end of this month the company will be conducting their annual pilot training.
And, on another subject, can you find the two air tankers in the photo below that was taken by the RAAF at the Avalon Air Show in Australia around March 4?
Britt Coulson told us today that their most recently converted air tanker, Tanker 133 will be complete by the end of this week (see above photo). It will be the third in the C-130 series that the company has converted and is their second L-382G, which is a civilian version of the C-130. Their first L-382G, Tanker 132, was first grid tested in 2015 and in recent months was on contract in Australia. T-133 should be complete before the company begins pilot training at the end of this month.
Coulson is also working on a fourth air tanker. The “new” Tanker 134 is the second C-130Q that they have acquired and should be ready to go about four years after their first C-130Q, Tanker 131 reported for duty. The aircraft needs heavy maintenance, and to get it done they will remove the tail and wings and truck it down the highway from Tucson to another facility in Mesa. Britt Coulson said they expect to have it complete by the end of this summer.
The C-130Q’s began as strategic communications links for the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine force and as a backup communications link for the U. S. Air Force manned strategic bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces. They are similar to the C-130H, but the 12 “Q” models that were made were outfitted with complex electronics systems, including a six-mile long trailing wire antenna, for communicating with submarines and bombers. Tanker 131 still has the remains of a vent for cooling the winch that was used to reel in the long antenna.
Privately owned C-130’s are extremely hard to find, and it is likely that very few more, if any, will be converted to air tankers in the near future.
Meanwhile Air Spray expects to roll their first converted BAe-146 out of the hangar in a week or so to begin static tests of the retardant system while the aircraft is parked on the ground. After that is complete they will start flight tests and work towards the grid test, dropping retardant into a matrix of cups on the ground at Fox Field. Ravi Saip, the company’s Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told us today that he expects the tanker will be ready to fight fire sometime this summer. They are also working on a second BAe-146, which, so far, has the interior stripped out. Air Spray has been working on the first one since at least 2013, when the estimated completion date was fire season 2014.
Mr. Saip told us that the recent contracts for federal air tankers require that instead of being certified in the “restricted” category, they must comply with the requirements of a “standard” aircraft. The Forest Service, and especially the FAA, have been pushing for this change for jet-powered air tankers for a while.While it complicates the conversion and approval process, it also opens the possibility of air tankers being allowed to carry passengers if the Forest Service wanted to plug that into the contracts.
Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) — three on wheels, and five on floats. They are on contract with Alaska, Oregon, the Forest Service, and one is on Call When Needed.
Mr. Saip said the one with the Forest Service at John Day, Oregon is the only SEAT the agency has on contract and is instrumented with strain gauges like the large air tankers.
The Bureau of Land Management usually does all of the contracting for the federal SEATs. Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the BLM, told us in March that the number of SEATs on exclusive use contracts was expected to be the same as in 2016 — 33 aircraft.
Above: Air Tanker 132 makes a practice drop in New South Wales. Photo by Sgt. Brett Sherriff, Royal Australian Air Force.
Coulson’s Air Tanker 132 started its contract with New South Wales on September 6, helping to provide air support for wildland firefighters in Australia. This is the second year in a row that the L-382G, a variant of the C-130 platform, has worked down under during their summer bushfire season.
The aircraft will be based at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base at Richmond (map) . Known as “Thor” in Australia, the 4,000-gallon air tanker will be operated under contract to the NSW Government. In November it will be joined at Richmond by a very large air tanker, with the two aircraft being part of a two-year trial by the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Last year one of 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s DC-10 very large air tankers worked in NSW alongside Thor. Rick Hatton, President and CEO of the company said they will again have a DC-10 in Richmond to start their contract on November 1. The end date is flexible depending the bushfire conditions, but he expects to have it there through February, 2017.
On launching from RAAF Base Richmond the tankers can reach any part of the state within an hour.
RAAF Base Richmond will provide aircraft parking and security, access to fuel and refuelling facilities, equipment storage, use of resources including water, aircrew office space, meals, and accommodation for up to 20 people.
Bushfires that have been raging across northwest Tasmania for several weeks are still causing great concern in the island state south of Australia.
Three air tankers from North America that have been working in Australia during their summer bushfire season have been recently deployed to Tasmania, including a DC-10, Avro RJ85, and a C-130. This may be the first time large aerial firefighting assets have been used in the state. The Fire Service felt it was necessary to warn the residents to “not be alarmed” when they saw the air tankers “flying a bit low over the coast”.
(UPDATED November 19, 2015. Scroll down to see the updated information.)
Air tankers was one of the topics discussed today in a Washington D.C. hearing convened by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Richard B. Zerkel, President of Lynden Air Cargo, was one of six witnesses who testified, two of whom brought up issues about firefighting aircraft.
One of Mr. Zerkel’s main points in his prepared testimony was the “double standard” used by the U.S. Forest Service in managing their government owned air tankers and privately owned air tankers. The USFS will not operate the seven HC-130H air tankers obtained from the Coast Guard according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations as Part 121 air carrier aircraft, but will instead fly them as public use aircraft. This allows them to make up their own standards, or, as they announced, use procedures created by the Coast Guard who will advise the USFS about maintenance of the aircraft. (Fire Aviation wrote about this issue in September, 2015.)
Mr. Zerkel, in referring to the first of the USFS HC-130Hs which began spraying retardant on fires this summer, described it as “equipped with the obsolete MAFFS II dispersant system and operated without appropriate FAA oversight.” The MAFFS system uses compressed air to force the retardant out of the 3,000-gallon tank. Spraying the liquid, rather than allowing gravity to let it fall from the tank, breaks up the retardant into small droplets which does not penetrate tree canopies as well as a conventional gravity-powered system. The plans are to eventually replace the MAFFS tanks with conventional gravity systems, but the Air Force, the agency converting the aircraft into air tankers, has been dithering about the contracts for the retardant system since July of 2014, without any result so far.
Mr. Zerkel argued that the federal fire aviation fleet should operate their aircraft under the same standards they require of their contractors, FAA Part 121. The Chair of the Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, the state in which Lynden Air Cargo is based, agreed, saying the current system “is absolutely unacceptable. You go with your highest standard.”
Lynden Air Cargo has skin in the game. The company took one of their seven L-382 cargo planes, a civilian version of the Hercules C-130, and spent $4.5 million, according to Mr. Zerkel, to retrofit it as an air tanker and train personnel to fly and maintain it. That aircraft is leased to Coulson who operates it as Air Tanker 132, currently on a firefighting contract in New South Wales, Australia. It was disqualified from competing for the USFS next-gen Version 2 air tanker contract earlier this year because part of the Supplemental Type Certificate had not been awarded from the Federal Aviation Administration by the USFS deadline, which was a couple of months before the contracts were awarded.
Mr. Zerkel said, “The commercial aerial firefighting industry is entirely capable of providing all of the Forest Service’s Large Air Tanker requirements at considerably less expense than the current planned use of C-130H aircraft.” And further, “The non-regulated, public aircraft format, proposed for the government owned large air tanker fleet is inherently less safe than the rigorous standards the commercial fleet must adhere to and has set an unfair double standard.
Another witness from Alaska brought up the issue of inconsistent “carding”, or qualification of fire aviation assets. John “Chris” Maisch, the Alaska State Forester who was also representing the National Association of State Foresters, provided some examples of problems with “carding” individual pilots and aviation platforms.
Colorado sent its multi-mission fire detection and mapping aircraft, which was approved by the Forest Service in its Region 2, to Oregon where it had to be carded again by Forest Service Region 6.
A state of Alaska contract helicopter based out of California had been carded at the beginning of the fire season by the Forest Service and had to be re-carded by the Department of Interior’s Office of Aircraft Services when it reported to Alaska for work.
UPDATE: On November 19, 2015 we heard from Richard B. Zerkel, President of Lynden Air Cargo, who testified at the hearing. He wanted to make it clear that he does not recommend that the U.S. Forest Service operate their air tankers under CFR Part 121. But he would like to see them under CFR Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operations that covers aerial dispensing. Failing that, Mr. Zerkel thinks they should at least be required to obtain Supplemental Type Certificates for all modifications and document any maintenance and or operational training which should then be available to the general public.
A year ago during Australia’s 2014-2015 summer two large air tankers from North America were under contract in Victoria, Australia, Coulson’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, and Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ-85. The two aircraft dropped more than a million liters of fire retardant across the state, completing 81 drops across Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Victoria will have two large air tankers under contract again this summer, beginning in November unless they are needed earlier.
Australia’s Minister of Defence, ABC News, and ASD News reported that this year the New South Wales Rural Fire Service is “trialling” two air tankers, a DC-10 and Coulson’s Tanker 132 (an L-382G which is a civilian stretched version of a C-130).
T-132 is already in Australia and earlier this week performed a practice or demonstration water drop near Richmond air base in northwest Sydney where it will be based until early December. The aircraft is under contract with the RFS for two fire seasons.
Coulson says the L-382 has their latest Coulson SMART 4,400-gallon retardant tank system. The DC-10 carries 11,600 gallons (44,000 liters).
RAAF Base Richmond will be used to provide airfield support services to the air tankers in NWS from September 1 until January 20, 2016.
According to the Department of Defence:
Defence is providing a number of services including aircraft parking and security, access to fuel and refueling facilities, equipment storage, use of resources including water, aircrew office space, and meals and accommodation for up to 20 people, as required. Facilitating the aircraft at RAAF Base Richmond is intended to maximize aircraft utility and provide access to all areas of NSW in the event of a bushfire emergency.
Portions of Australia have the potential to face an above normal bushfire season.
Below is an an outlook for the 2015-2016 bushfire season in Australia, from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and the AFAC:
“Large areas of southern Australia, especially along the east and west coasts extending inland, face above normal fire potential for the 2015-2016 fire season, despite many fires in some parts of the country over the last 12 months. The above normal forecast is mostly due to a strengthening El Nino over the Pacific Ocean, currently tracking as one of the strongest on record, but is made more complex this year by the influence of warmer sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean.
There have also been significantly below average rainfalls over the last decade across almost all of eastern Australia, the west coast and Tasmania. Such underlying dry conditions mean that any surface moisture from recent rains will quickly decline once temperatures begin to warm. 2014 was Australia’s third warmest year since records began and, when combined with such long term rainfall deficiencies, an early start to the bushfire season is likely in many areas.
The Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook is used by fire authorities to make strategic decisions on resource planning and prescribed fire management for the upcoming fire season.”
Coulson’s L-382G, a civilian version of Lockheed’s C-130, has received an air tanker contract in New South Wales, Australia, according to a report on the company’s Facebook page. Tanker 132 is due to start there on September 1, so they are prepping it now for the overseas flight. They expect to have it in Sydney in the last week of August.
Coulson says the aircraft has their latest Coulson SMART 4,400-gallon retardant tank system.