CAL FIRE’s Tanker 119 spotted at McClellan

T-119 McClellan 5-5-2020
T-119, an HC-130H, was seen at McClellan May 5, 2020. Photo by John Vogel.

One of CAL FIRE’s seven HC-130H air tankers, T-119, was spotted by John Vogel at Sacramento McClellan Airport on May 5. This is the first report we have seen about the aircraft since it was in storage in Tucson at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, often called The Boneyard, in September, 2018.

The U.S. Forest Service received the seven aircraft from the Coast Guard in 2013, but regifted them to CAL FIRE in 2018 after losing interest. Approximately three were painted in USFS livery, T-116, T-118, and T-119. Before the transfer from the Coast Guard was finalized, they were all going to receive internal retardant tanks and various levels of maintenance, work to be overseen by the U.S. Air Force at a cost of up to $130 million; that work is still going on. Most of them were to be fitted with new center wing boxes. After many delays, in December, 2019 the Air Force awarded a contract to Coulson Aviation to install the tanks.

CAL FIRE has been showing off one of them, T-118, which has been repainted with their livery.

Senators ask USFS to keep operating the HC-130H air tanker until end of year

The USFS plans to shut down their HC-130H air tanker program September 17, 2018

HC-130H Coast Guard US Forest Service
Three of the four former Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft that have recently been at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Seen here: T-118 (in USFS livery), and two ships still with Coast Guard livery, 1709 and 1714.  Photo by Drew P. Hansen.

(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.
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