On Wednesday CAL FIRE gave a live tour of the Air Attack Base at Ramona, California. They talked about the OV-10 Bronco, S2T air tankers, and the C-130 that the agency has under an exclusive use contract until the end of August which is serving as a training platform so their pilots will be ready for the planned acquisition of seven C-130 air tankers.
The runway is too short for some large air tankers
It is unusual to see an air tanker larger than an S-2 at the Ramona Air Attack Base in Southern California, but a C-130Q under contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) was seen at the base yesterday, August 3. Kevin Pack, who took the photo below, said it had been dropping on a fire, possibly the Sage Fire, in San Diego County.
The relatively short runway restricts which types of aircraft can use the facilities at Ramona. When the U.S. Navy built the airport in 1945 to be used as an emergency landing field it was only 4,000 feet long and remained that length well after it was conveyed to the County of San Diego in 1956.
CAL FIRE established an Air Attack Base there in 1957 and the U.S. Forest Service followed three years later.
The runway was lengthened in 2002 to 5,001 feet but it is difficult for some large air tankers and impossible for very large air tankers to work at the base. CAL FIRE has allowed BAe-146 air tankers under CAL FIRE contracts to use the runway, but currently the Forest Service prohibits their large air tankers from using the airport.
CAL FIRE bases two S-2 air tankers and an Air Tactical Group Supervisor at the airport, and the Forest Service bases a helicopter there.
The C-130Q at Ramona on Saturday was Coulson’s Tanker 134, the fourth C-130 the company has converted. Its first drop on a fire was around November 1, 2018 while on a contract in Australia. It had just finished being reconfigured as an air tanker after being rescued from storage in Tucson and had not yet been painted.
CAL FIRE is using Tanker 134 to train their pilots who are transitioning from the S-2 air tankers to the seven HC-130Hs the agency has acquired after the U.S. Forest Service lost interest in the aircraft which were previously operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Tim Crippin got these excellent shots of air tankers that were at Medford, Oregon July 27, 2019 supporting the Milepost 97 Fire south of Canyonville. Thanks Tim! The fire has burned 12,578 acres since it started on July 24, 2019.
During the Australian summer it was south of the equator fighting fires.
When Air Tanker 134, a C-130Q, flew across the Pacific in October, 2018 to begin a firefighting contract in Australia, it had just completed its conversion into an air tanker. There was no time to pretty it up with a fancy paint job, it had work to do.
It has only been back in North America for a couple of months but its been busy with maintenance and getting new livery. It looks like it was painted white and then partially covered with a fancy wrap.
And it has already started its second contract, this time with CAL FIRE. In the last couple of days it as been spotted at Redding and Porterville.
The military has used C-130Q aircraft as a strategic communications link for the U.S. Navy’s 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.
A C-130Q is similar to a C-130H, but the “Q” model was outfitted with a six-mile long trailing wire antenna for communicating with submarines and bombers.
Another Coulson aircraft, a 737, has departed Australia now that its contract has ended.
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.
Amazing flying skills as aircraft tankers drop water on the Pierces Creek fire front.
This footage makes it look like the fire is closer than it actually is – about 3kms.
The antenna in the foreground is #DSS36. @ACT_ESA
Thanks @nascom1 for the video.📡✈️ pic.twitter.com/4zwXjRSC5U
During the coming bushfire season they will have access to six large air tankers and scores of SEATs and helicopters
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) – already in place. (This is an “extra” 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)
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.
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.
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 – so at this stage there won’t 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.
The article linked to above has the details about Airstrike’s recent projects.
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.