North American air tankers to be under contract in NSW during Australia’s summer

T-132 Thor
T-132, or ‘Thor’, an L-382 Hercules contracted to the NSW Government to assist in fighting bushfires dispenses water during a demonstration over the Rickaby’s drop zone near RAAF Base Richmond. Australia Department of Defence photo by CPL David Said .

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).

ABC reports that the DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) will be under contract with the RFS beginning in October. The agency has not announced which company will supply the DC-10, however there is only one that operates DC-10 air tankers.

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.

Australia Bushfire Outlook


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.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Cameron.

Coulson’s L-382G awarded contract in Australia

Coulson T-132 grid test
Coulson’s Tanker 132 during the grid tests in Lancaster, California during the week of May 4, 2015. Coulson photo.

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.

air tanker L-382G tank rolling in
The retardant tank rolling into Coulson’s L-382G, Tanker 132. Coulson photo.

NSW to contract for a large air tanker

After we heard rumors about it for a few days, the government of New South Wales in Australia has confirmed that they intend to contract for a large, and possibly very large air tanker (LAT or VLAT).

At this time the state of Victoria is contracting during this 2014/2015 bushfire season two LATs supplied by Coulson and Conair, a 3,000-gallon RJ-85 and a 4,000-gallon C-130Q.

NSW Premier Mike Baird and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Stuart Ayres said today that this would be the first time that an LAT has been under contract in the state. While their press release did not specify the time period during which the aircraft would be under contract, another report said they would be used “during the next bushfire season”, which would begin near the end of 2015. And since this bushfire season will be winding down in a while, it would be nearly impossible for a typical government agency to put one under contract for the remainder of this 2014/2015 season if they have not been working on it for months. However, the U.S. Forest Service sets a very low bar for their efficiency in awarding air tanker contracts.

NSW expects to acquire under contract for a “trial”, one air tanker that would hold between 15,000 litres and 40,000 litres (3,962 gallons to 10,566 gallons) of water or fire retardant. If they stick with these specs, that would eliminate the RJ-85, BAe-146, BE-200, and of course the Korean War vintage P2V, leaving, among existing or soon to be flyable privately owned air tankers, the Coulson’s C-130Q and L-382, Erickson’s MD-87, and 10 Tanker’s DC-10.

In addition, the NSW Government announced today that they will:

  • Commit to additional hazard reduction activities;
  • Provide NSW with an enhanced fire trail network;
  • Invest in four regionally-based fire fighting training centres; and
  • Provide the public with important bush fire information in their locality through an online portal, building on the success of the ‘Fires Near Me’ app.

After crash, Dromaders grounded in Australia

Six days after the crash of a Dromader single engine air tanker that killed pilot David Black, government investigators have reached the crash site. Firefighters built a helispot in the steep, rugged terrain, but strong winds prevented helicopters from flying the investigators into the area.

Below is an excerpt from the Guardian:


“…Seven other models of the same fixed-wing aircraft were grounded on Wednesday by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority as a precaution.

David Black, 43, died when his Dromader aircraft crashed in Budawang national park, 40 kilometres west of Ulladulla, about 10am on Thursday.

A witness saw one of the plane’s wings fall off before the aircraft plummeted.

Fire risks and rough terrain meant investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found it difficult to reach the crash site but on Wednesday a team of four got there.

“Rural fire service teams had completed clearing a helicopter landing site nearby. However, the site has not been accessible until today due to ongoing high winds,” a bureau spokesman said.

On the same day a Casa spokesman, Peter Gibson, announced that seven Dromaders had been grounded.

“It’s a precaution to make sure there aren’t any problems with the wings or other structures on the aircraft,” he said.

The aircraft were used for crop dusting in NSW and Queensland, Gibson said, and could be contracted for water bombing.

In April the bureau released a report after investigations into three fatal incidents involving Dromader aircraft.

On each occasion the aircraft were carrying increased weight and the bureau found associated safety risks, despite approval being granted for operation at takeoff weights of more than 4200kg.

The report outlined operating limitations under higher loads and recommended increased awareness among pilots.”

Two aircraft crashes in Australia connected to bushfires

Dromader M-18 air tanker
File photo of Dromader M-18 in Prineville, Oregon. Photo by Ted Quackenbush.

Two pilots were killed in Australia Wednesday and Thursday in separate crashes while they were fighting or supporting bushfires in New South Wales.

On Wednesday Peter Brereton, 60, was killed when his light plane crashed on his way back from dropping off spare parts for a helicopter used in the fire fighting efforts on the south coast of NSW October 23, 2013. After he did not return as expected a search located the wreckage Thursday morning in rugged terrain near Mt Hotham in Victoria. Eight helicopters and two fixed wing planes were involved in the search for the Cessna. He had recently retired from the Country Fire Authority as an Operations Officer for District 22 that covers Shepparton.

David Black, 43, died when his Dromader single engine air tanker crashed while fighting a fire at Wirritin in Budawang National Park, 40 kilometers west of Ulladulla, around 10 a.m. on October 24, 2013.  The Australian network ABC reported that a wing snapped off the aircraft before it went down. The crash started another bushfire which, along with high winds, was hampering efforts to reach the pilot. Other firefighting aircraft were called to the area and were attempting to slow the spread of the fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families and coworkers of both pilots.

Stunning UAV video of bushfire

UAV video bushfire near Lithgow, NWS
Still image from a UAV video of a bushfire near Lithgow, NWS

The video below of a bushfire was shot by an unmanned helicopter near Lithgow, a city in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. While there are several issues that would need to be addressed to deploy one safely over an active wildfire, the benefits of having live aerial streaming video available to firefighters on the ground could be enormous.

The UAV was piloted by Cividrones.

Photos: aerial firefighting in New South Wales

Air-Crane Camille drops on the Badgerys Lookout Fire
Air-Crane Camille drops on the Badgerys Lookout Fire. Photo: Kerry Lawrence, NWS RFS

While the wildfire season in most of the United States is in hiatus, our friends down under in New South Wales are busy — VERY busy, during one of their busiest bush fire seasons in years. We want to thank the Rural Fire Service for these photos of some of their aircraft that have been working on the fires.

Firebird 211 drops at Camerons Creek
Firebird 211 drops at Camerons Creek. Photo: NWS RFS
SEATs line up to reload at Narrabri
Single Engine Air Tankers line up at Narrabri. Photo: NSW RFS
Supplies are loaded into a helicopter to assist flooding victims
Supplies are loaded into a helicopter to assist flooding victims earlier in 2012. Photo: NWS RFS

(More photos are below)

Continue reading “Photos: aerial firefighting in New South Wales”