Above: Tanker 105 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. It is a good view of the external tank, or pod, that was fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowered the release point by 46 inches. The intent was to keep the flow of the retardant away from the engines. Photo by John Vogel.
(Originally published at 6:04 p.m. MDT August 5, 2017)
John Vogel shot these excellent photos on August 5 of air tankers at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento.
All three of the DC-10 air tankers were in the same place at the same time Saturday, October 1, which is a rare occurrence. Tankers 910, 911, and 912 were all parked at McClellan Air Field. This happened at least one other time that we are aware of, August 30, 2014 at Castle Airport near Merced, California.
The trio will be split up again in the near future when Tanker 910 begins preparing for its contract in Australia where it will begin in less than four weeks. Tankers 911 and 912 will continue their work for CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service for the remainder of the season.
Last week during the Aerial Firefighting conference there were two interesting aircraft at McClellan Airfield parked in the hangar near the static display of the 747 Supertanker and other firefighting aircraft.
The other aircraft in the same hangar was a Coast Guard C-27J Spartan. A few years ago the U.S. Forest Service attempted to acquire a bunch of the former military aircraft to use them as air tankers. But the Coast Guard intervened, and unloaded seven of their old C-130Hs to the USFS, so they could get the C-27Js.
More information about the C-17J from the Coast Guard, December 18, 2015:
Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento is preparing to become the first permanent home of C-27J Spartan medium range surveillance aircraft, with operations expected to start in 2016.
The HC-27J Asset Project Office will assist with the transition by providing a forward-deployable maintenance team and pilot, aircrew and maintenance technician instructors, said Cmdr. Peter Beavis, APO executive officer. An aircraft to be used for training was repositioned to the air station Dec. 2.
Four aircraft will be transferred to the air station in fiscal year 2016, said Lt. Robert Hovanec, C-27J platform manager with the Office of Aviation Forces. Sacramento will have six aircraft at full capacity, with the remaining two arriving in 2017.
As the sun was rising in Sacramento this morning I took these shots of Tanker 944, a 747-400, as it departed from McClellan Air Field en route to Marana, Arizona. It had been on static display during the Aerial Firefighting conference.
If you want a high resolution professional quality print of Tanker 944…
It has been years since most people have seen a P3 air tanker, on the ground OR in the air. Today one of the P3s that has been stored at McClellan Air Field for several years made a demonstration pass over the airport as part of the Aerial Firefighting conference. Check out the video below.
MAFFS LLC owns the six remaining P3’s that were formerly operated by Aero Union. Two years ago at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at McClellan I took a photo of Ronald Guy of United Aeronautical shaking hands with Joe McBryan of Buffalo Airways shortly after Mr. McBryan purchased Tanker 22. Yesterday Mr. McBryan told me that I might get a chance to take another similar photo. He is negotiating with MAFFS LLC, the company now marketing the P3s, to buy more — perhaps more than one, Mr. McBryan said.
The P3 they purchased in 2014 is currently being worked on in Florida. Buffalo Airways expects it to live on an as air tanker.
Above: Tanker 118, an HC-130H, at McClellan Airfield. Photo by Jon Wright, July 25, 2015.
The induction, modification, and maintenance program for the seven Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft into the U.S. Forest Service’s government-owned air tanker fleet is requiring some shuffling of the planes. In 2015 Tanker 118 (Coast Guard #1721) operated as an air tanker out of McClellan Airfield. It did not have a conventional gravity-based retardant tank installed yet so it was temporarily outfitted with one of the eight Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that are normally only used by military C-130s conscripted into an air tanker role during periods of high wildfire activity.
T-118 will be going through programmed depot maintenance (PDM) at the Coast Guard facility at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Replacing it during the 2016 fire season will be Tanker 116 (Coast Guard #1708) after its PDM is complete at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Like its predecessor, it will use a MAFFS unit, rather than a gravity tank, and will be based at McClellan Airfield at the facility the USFS likes to call “Forest Service Air Station McClellan”.
One of the obvious differences between T-118 last year and T-116 this year will be the freshly applied USFS approved livery. The HC-130Hs are being painted as they go through PDM.
The plan is for all seven of the HC-130Hs to have a gravity-based retardant delivery system. Most of the maintenance and retrofitting of the aircraft, including arranging for the installation of the retardant system, is being done by the Air Force on their own schedule. There is no indication, however, that their September 17, 2014 solicitation for the retardant tanks has been awarded, after 18 months.
Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told us the schedule calls for the programmed depot maintenance and the installation of the retardant systems to occur on the seven aircraft between 2016 and 2020. The delivery of the first HC-130H with a new retardant delivery system is expected in late 2017 or early 2018 with incremental delivery of the remaining aircraft through 2019.
Air Tanker 118 saw activity Saturday on the Lowell Fire near Gold Run, California 46 miles northeast of Sacramento. This aircraft is one of seven that are in the process of being refurbished and converted into air tankers after being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. Yesterday’s mission may have been the first time the HC-130H has dropped on a fire.
The conversion process is not quite complete on T-118. It still needs a permanent internal gravity-based retardant tank and a paint job. Until the tank is installed, it will continue to use a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) slip-in unit that used compressed air to force the retardant out of the 3,000-gallon tank, turning the thickened retardant into a mist.
The photos were taken Saturday at McClellan Airport by Jon Wright. Thanks Jon!
The Union has a photo of T-118 dropping retardant over the Reynolds Fire on Saturday, July 25.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dave and Jon.
The U.S. Forest Service is struggling to figure out how to manage a new, very complex, government-owned large air tanker program. On December 27, 2013, President Obama signed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act which directed the Coast Guard to transfer seven HC-130H aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. The legislation also directed the Air Force spend up to $130 million to perform needed maintenance on the aircraft and to convert them into air tankers.
On June 1, 2015 the FS distributed a “Briefing Paper” that revealed the agency is not prepared to manage a long term safety oversight program for this government owned/contractor (GO/CO) operated venture. On that date, 522 days after Congress began the process of transferring the aircraft, the the FS had no detailed operating plan and had not hired or appointed any long-term, full-time safety personnel.
“The time frame to create one or more new positions to provide aviation safety oversight duties”, the Briefing Paper said, “would likely be lengthy and not meet Agency HC-130H requirements in time for the 2015 fire season.”
The document also stated that “the military model for a squadron of seven HC-130H aircraft is to have TWO [sic] full time safety officers assigned”. With the first HC-130H scheduled to arrive at McClellan Airport (MCC) in Sacramento in mid-June (not mid-May as originally planned) the FS has not used the 522 days to become prepared for the beginning of a new paradigm of large air tanker use.
At the end of those 522 days, they came to a conclusion, according to the Briefing Paper.
This is a new program for the Forest Service, one that we have never managed before (We don’t know what we don’t know).
Until now, all federal air tankers, from single engine to jumbo jet sized, have been contractor owned and contractor operated (CO/CO). The actual operation and maintenance of the tankers, including the on-site, day to day safety, has been the responsibility of the privately owned companies. Even though some high-ranking officials in the agency have been asking for brand new GO/CO C-130J air tankers for years, they appear to be woefully unprepared now that they received a version of what they have been begging for.
The first two HC-130Hs to arrive at MCC this summer will be 27 and 31 years old. It is likely that they will require more safety oversight than a new C-130 right off the assembly line.
On January 20, 2015 we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Forest Service asking for copies of plans related to the management of the HC-130H GO/CO air tanker program. The agency refused to comply with the request, telling us on March 19, 2015, that basically there were no completed plans:
The records related to the C-130H Aircraft Transfer, which you requested, exist only in draft and contain opinions, recommendations, and advice. It is important to protect these discussions, which may help formulate the Forest Service’s opinions and to release the draft would likely stifle honest and frank communication within and outside the Forest Service.
We checked with the FS again today, June 8, 2015, asking if any plans had been developed. Mike Ferris, a spokesperson for the agency, said, “An operational plan will be in place prior to the aircraft being available for wildfire response” in July.