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New to the fleet, this HC-130H, Hercules, is an aerial firefighting workhorse. Area residents and visitors to the Tahoe National Forest may see this airtanker going through its training maneuvers in the next few weeks. The missions are an annual training requirement for pilots who conduct aerial firefighting operations. (Photo Credit US Forest Service).

NEVADA CITY, Calif. October 4, 2016 – In the following weeks, visitors to, and residents near the Tahoe National Forest (TNF) may observe a U.S. Forest Service HC-130H airtanker conducting training over select remote areas on the American River and Yuba River Ranger Districts. The missions are an annual training requirement for pilots who conduct aerial firefighting operations.

The HC-130H is arguably the most versatile tactical transport aircraft ever built. Better known as the Hercules, the aircraft is a proven workhorse capable of a variety of missions, such as airdropping parachutists or cargo, refueling aircraft, and search and rescue missions. “Its capabilities make it adaptable for aerial firefighting,” said Staci Dickson, TNF Aviation Officer, adding the flights are part of the annual training for the agency’s contract pilots.

Tanker 118 (before the current paintjob) on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.

The  HC-130H airtanker, based at McClellan, is currently equipped with a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS). Five pressurized tanks can dispense approximately 3,000 gallons of water or retardant out of the aircraft. The long term plan is to install a 3,000 gallon capacity tank to hold water or retardant.

Dickson explained the airtanker, in coordination with a smaller lead plane, will be observed making low level passes and water drops during this drill. “The lead plane uses a puff of smoke to indicate where they would like the airtanker to start their drop.”

The aircraft may fly as low as 150’ above the ground or tree tops, whichever is higher, and they may make dry passes before they make wet passes. Dickson confirms that “No retardant will be used for this training operation.”

“Aerial firefighting is an important component to wildfire suppression activities. Often they are the first on scene to remote areas before ground forces can get there,” Dickson pointed out.