Air tankers support firefighters at the Deep Space Network near Canberra, Australia

Air tanker 165.

A fire that was a few kilometers away from NASA’s Deep Space Network of satellite antennas near Canberra, Australia was attacked by firefighters on the ground assisted by large air tankers that have migrated below the equator for the Australian summer.

Seen in these photos are a C-130Q (T-134) and an RJ85 (T-165). In the video below is the C-130Q.

All photos are by the Canberra DSN. The video is by @nascom1.

Air tanker 134.
Air tanker 134. This is Coulson’s most recently converted C-130. They have not had time yet to paint it. This was the first live fire it has dropped on.
Air tanker 165.

The NASA Deep Space Network facilities at Canberra, Australia, seen below in a file photo, are managed by CSIRO.

NASA Deep Space Network facilities at Canberra, Australia
File photo of the NASA Deep Space Network facilities at Canberra, Australia. DSN photo.

Aussies set the summer lineup for their firefighting aircraft

During the coming bushfire season they will have access to six large air tankers and scores of SEATs and helicopters

Air tanker 137, 737-300
Air tanker 137, a 737-300, is slated to make its world firefighting debut in Australia. This photo was taken at the grid test near Lancaster, California, September 3, 2018.  Coulson photo.

Australia’s National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) has virtually settled on its lineup of the country’s firefighting aircraft for the 2018-2019 bushfire season which is getting underway. It was just a few years ago that they had no large air tankers, but this season they will have six privately owned large air tankers on contract, including three RJ85s, two C-130Qs, and one 737.

Large air tankers:

  • RJ85, T-165¬† (Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Sydney (Richmond) ¬†– ¬†already in place;
  • B-737,¬† T-137 (Coulson)¬† based in Sydney (Richmond) – subject to ¬†regulatory approvals;
  • RJ85, T-166 ¬†(Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Sydney (Richmond)/Dubbo;
  • C-130Q, T-134 (Coulson) based in Sydney (Richmond) ‚Äď already in place. ¬†(This is an ‚Äúextra‚ÄĚ for the 2018-19 season only, considering the predicted above-normal potential of the fire season on the east coast of Australia);
  • RJ85, T-163¬† (Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Melbourne (Avalon);
  • C-130Q, T-131 (Coulson) based in Melbourne (Avalon)

Coulson’s recently converted 737 just went through its first flight tests for the U.S. Interagency Airtanker Board in September, dropping retardant into a grid of hundreds of cups on the ground. For it to be used in Australia it must first receive their regulatory approvals.

Single Engine Air Tankers

In addition, NAFC will have 51 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) on contract across the country,  including 2 amphibious water-scooping Fire Bosses. Another 8 SEATs have been contracted directly by State agencies. The SEATs can also be supplemented by other aircraft on Call When Needed (CWN) arrangements if required.

Helicopters

There will be 77 Helicopters of all types for a variety of roles across the country.  This includes six Erickson S-64E Aircranes, as well as five Type 2 /Type 3 helicopters that will be specially equipped for intelligence gathering, with gimbaled sensors and on-board image processing, mapping, and transmission gear.

Night flying helicopters

Near the end of the 2017-2018 bushfire season the Aussies experimented with dropping water from helicopters at night in Victoria.

night-flying helicopter Australia
The S-61 snorkels from a dip tank in phase 2 of the night-flying trial, February, 2018.

This season one Type 1 helicopter (a Coulson S-61) based at Ballarat, Victoria and one Type 2  helicopter (a Kestrel Aviation Bell 412) based at Mangalore, Victoria will have a Night Vision Imaging Systems or Night Vision Goggles (NVIS/NVG) for water dropping. Several other Type 2 and Type 3  helicopters based in Victoria and New South Wales will be capable of NVIS mapping, reconnaissance, supervision and aerial ignition.

“We aim to continue and extend the helicopter NVIS firebombing trial in Victoria, operationalizing the learnings from the Victorian trial earlier this year, but it will be in small, careful steps”¬†Richard Alder, General Manager of NAFC said. “At this stage”, he continued, “it is anticipated that night firebombing will only occur on fires where the aircraft crew has operated during the day ‚Äď so at this stage there won‚Äôt be any initial attack at night.”

Night flying air tanker

Mr. Alder said they may experiment toward the end of the 2018/2019 bushfire season with a fixed wing large airtanker (the C-130Q, T-131) using NVIS/NVG, but there is much work still to be done to design the trial and obtain the necessary regulatory approvals.

Continue reading “Aussies set the summer lineup for their firefighting aircraft”

Photos of air tankers at McClellan

Above: Air Tankers 102 (MD-87) and 134 (C-130)

Don Hosford took these photos of firefighting aircraft at Sacramento McClellan Airport August 31, 2018.

air tankers sacramento mcclellan airport
Air Tankers 23 (P-3) and 944 (747)
air tankers sacramento mcclellan airport
Air Tanker 914, a DC-10
air tankers sacramento mcclellan airport
Air Tanker 118, an HC-130H

Continue reading “Photos of air tankers at McClellan”

Photos of P-3 Orion air tankers at McClellan

Also: A DC-10 and Coulson’s most recently converted C-130

Above: Air tanker 23 testing at McClellan.

When Sergio Maraschin saw our article about Airstrike Firefighters signing a call when needed contract with Colorado for their P-3 air tankers, he realized we needed some more current photos of the recently refurbished aircraft. He took these at various times over the last six weeks at Sacramento McClellan Airport.

The article linked to above has the details about Airstrike’s recent projects.

Thanks Sergio!

P-3 Orion air tanker T-23 T-17 T-912
Air tankers 17, 23, and 910.
P-3 Orion air tanker T-23
Air tanker 23, over McClellan.

Coulson’s T-134, a C-130Q, has come a very long way since April, 2017. Check out these photos, here and here, taken as the project was just getting started. It is amazing what private industry can do in 16 months when they want to convert an aircraft into an air tanker. The Air Force dithered for almost five years when they were supposed to be converting seven former Coast guard HC-130H aircraft into air tankers for the U.S. Forest Service, and never fully completed any of them. Now it appears the state of California will get the reborn air tankers, when and if the USAF completes the work.

T-134 C-130 Coulson
This is T-134, Coulson’s most recently converted C-130Q air tanker. Brett Coulson told us as far as they are concerned it is ready to fight fire. They intend to wait until after the fire season to paint it.

A second 737 air tanker emerges from paint shop

Coulson’s Air Tanker 138 makes its debut

Air Tanker 138, the second of Coulson’s six recently acquired 737-300’s to emerge from the paint shop, is sporting the same livery as Air Tanker 137 that was introduced to the public in May.

Britt Coulson said the conversion of T-137 is almost complete. When it’s done in early February, T-138 will be inducted into the modification process.

The conversion of the company’s fourth C-130, T-134, is nearly done, Mr. Coulson said.

Air Tanker 138 Coulson
Air Tanker 138. Photos by Coulson.

The future Tanker 134 on the move

These are photos of an air tanker that you don’t see every day. The C-130Q that Coulson recently acquired, was being moved from Tucson to another facility in Mesa, Arizona where it will be transformed into Coulson’s fourth C-130 air tanker, Tanker #134. Obviously it needs a little work.

It is the second C-130Q that they have acquired. The first was Tanker 131 that entered service about four years ago. The company also has two L-382G’s, which is the civilian version of the C-130.

Britt Coulson, who sent us these pictures, said they expect to have the conversion complete by the end of this summer.

air tanker 134 C-130Q

The photo below shows the aircraft before it was dismantled.

Coulson's L-130Q
Coulson’s C-130Q which will become Tanker 134 later this year.

Air Spray and Coulson to roll out additional air tankers

Both companies expect to introduce new air tankers in the next few months.

Coulson's "new" Tanker 133
Coulson’s “new” Tanker 133 just after the decorative wrap was applied. Coulson photo.

Coulson

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.

Coulson's L-130Q
Coulson’s C-130Q which will become Tanker 134 later this year. Coulson photo.

The C-130Q’s began as strategic communications links for the U.S. Navy‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúQ‚ÄĚ 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.

Air Spray

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.

Air Spray's BAe-146
Air Spray’s BAe-146s as seen in a 2013 Air Spray photo. Ravi Saip said when they roll the nearly completed aircraft out of the hangar he will send us a better picture.

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 ‚ÄĒ 33 aircraft.