(Originally published at 3:07 p.m. PDT September 8, 2018)
Two Senators from California have written a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue imploring him to retain until the end of the year two former U.S. Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft that the U.S. Forest Service decided they no longer want. Legislation passed a few weeks ago directed that seven Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft, originally intended to be used by the USFS, be transferred to the state of California after work is complete by the Air Force to convert them to air tankers with conventional gravity-powered retardant tanks.
Below is an excerpt from the Senators’ letter, dated August 30, 2018:
…The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (Public Law 115-232) authorizes the transfer of seven HC-130H aircraft to the State of California for firefighting purposes. Two of these seven aircraft are currently in use in California by the Forest Service. While they will eventually be outfitted with a gravity retardant delivery system, there is no need to pull these two aircraft from California’s front lines for many months. Instead, these aircraft should remain actively engaged in California as we approach the historically most active months of the fire year.
Given the continuing threat of catastrophic wildfires in California, we ask that you continue operating the two HC-130H aircraft in California to ensure that every asset is available to protect lives and property. Thank you for considering our request.
To be clear, today there are four former Coast Guard HC-130Hs at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Two of these four have been painted in USFS livery, Tankers 116 and 118, and two ships still have Coast Guard livery, 1709 and 1714. A third ship has been painted, Tanker 119, and it is already in long term storage. None of them have conventional gravity-powered retardant delivery systems. The Air Force should have installed them by now but had contracting difficulties which they did not solve.
The USFS has “borrowed” one of the Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that is assigned to the Air National Guard base in Reno, Nevada — one of eight distributed by the USFS to four military bases (two each) that operate C-130s. They can be installed in a matter of hours in a C-130. The MAFFS units are owned and maintained by the USFS for the purpose of having access to a surge capacity of eight additional air tankers operated by the military.
One of the aircraft, T-116, made 330 drops in 2017.
But the USFS is only using one MAFFS unit, the one from Reno, so they can only operate one of the former Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft at a time as an air tanker. The USFS has not used the aircraft on a routine basis for other duties, such as hauling fire equipment or firefighters, so right now the USFS can see no use for the additional HC-130H aircraft, except as possible spares if maintenance or other issues keep the primary ship on the ground.
The USFS plan is to return the borrowed MAFFS unit to the Reno Air National Guard base on September 17, effectively shutting down the program.
Contractors have been operating and maintaining the aircraft, similar to the CAL FIRE model for their 23 air tankers. But the USFS contract for the flight crew will be cancelled on September 20, 2018. The maintenance contract will remain in effect.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Markus. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
On June 30 there was a variety of C-130 air tankers working out of Medford, Oregon, and Tim Crippin was able to capture them on celluloid an SD card. It kind of boggles the mind to see three C-130 air tankers at the same air tanker base, all operated by completely different organizations.
There was one privately owned tanker, Coulson’s T-132, and two government-owned. T-116 will eventually, one of these days, way down the road, perhaps, be officially transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. And MAFFS 5 is from the Colorado Springs Air Force Reserve base.
Two other MAFFS C-130’s are also activated — one each from Air National Guard units at Cheyenne and Reno.
Above: Air Tanker 116, an HC-130H, sprays retardant on a fire near Phoenix, June 22, 2017. Fox 20 Phoenix.
Tanker 116 saw some action today, dropping on a fire near Phoenix that closed Interstate 17. Fox 10 got a pretty fair shot of the drop, but unfortunately the camera operator, perhaps not experienced in covering air tankers, followed the aircraft very closely all the way through the drop so it was difficult to tell which of the two parallel retardant drops was made by T-116. Yes, there were two drops parallel to each other. One looked like it was very wide but the coverage on the ground was very thin. The other was much more narrow and and had better coverage.
The video below shows the drop, and I found it at 2:40:45, but when I first saw it, it was at a different time stamp. The video should begin a few seconds before that point, but it you don’t see it there, check a couple of minutes on each side.
The image below shows the two parallel drops. It is difficult to tell from the video which one was made by the HC-130H.
The news people in the audio have some problems with aircraft ID in that video and at another spot in the same video. At about 2:22:15, there is a second drop and you will hear the news people identifying a lead plane as a Single Engine Air Tanker and what is either an RJ85 or a BAe-146 as a DC-10.
About 2 to 3 minutes after that second drop, a third drop (at 2:25:45) is similar to the second one, and is possibly the same but from a different angle. I am fairly certain this third drop is an RJ85, since you can see the pregnant bulge on the belly.
The very lengthy video goes back to a fire near Los Angeles several times. The image below, a screenshot, show a retardant drop that affected several homes.
T-116 is using, not a conventional gravity retardant tank, but a pressurized Modular Airborne FireFighting System rig that is normally only used in military aircraft that have been temporarily drafted into an air tanker role by loading a MAFFS unit in the cargo hold. The compressed air that blows the retardant out of the 3,000-gallon tank sprays it out of a nozzle, breaking the thickened retardant into very small droplets. T-116 and six other HC-130H’s are in the process of being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. If the process is complete by the end of this decade as the agency expects, all seven will have conventional gravity-powered retardant delivery systems and will be operated and maintained by contractors, but owned by the USFS.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom and Brian. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The U.S. Forest Service distributed these photos Thursday of air tanker 116 at Redding, California. Normally the aircraft is based at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, but it ventured north for “aerial firefighter training”.
The agency did not specify if the lawn chairs in the shade are part of the regular equipment inventory on the aircraft.
We shot this photo of U.S. Forest Service air tanker 116, an HC-130H, in Boise on April 20. It was there to deliver the MAFFS unit it has been using so that the Reno National Guard folks can train with it and the other one normally assigned to Reno. After the training the unit will be retrieved by T-116 and hauled back to McClellan in California where that tanker is based.
Two C-130’s and their crews from each of four military bases — Channel Islands, Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, and Reno — are going through their annual training and recertification in Boise this week.