The former McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento is the major maintenance base for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's (CDF) aircraft fleet.
The CDF runs a very comprehensive maintenance facility. Almost all work the planes require is performed in-house, from replacing aircraft skins to total wheel maintenance. One of the few things that cannot be done on-site is full repaints of the aircraft, although there is a small paint shop for parts like wings, cowlings, or panels.
Most of the CDF fleet were in residence when we visited. Sadly, the weather was not kind to us, offering steady rain the whole time. (Don't you just love California?)
Inside the hangars we saw at least one example of each of the CDF's aircraft having various types of maintenance work done. You'd be forgiven if you thought this was an aircraft production line - both the hangar and the aircraft were in pristine condition.
The CDF maintain all their aircraft to standards higher than those of the various US military services from which the planes were sourced. Many of the engineers have vast experience in the types they maintain, having worked with these aircraft in the field with the military.
During the fire season, the aircraft are dispersed to thirteen air attack bases and nine helitack bases throughout the state, which allow a response to most fires within a 20-minute flight.
The CDF are currently flying three types of aircraft:
S-2T Airtankers - these are a mixture of S-2E's and G's that have been converted with turboprop engines, updated avionics and 1,200 gallon retardant tanks. They are faster, more manoeuvrable and larger than the old, piston-engined S-2A's they have replaced. There are currently 23 S-2Ts in the fleet.
OV-10A Broncos - these aircraft are used in the command and control role. The crew are in effect "eyes in the sky" for the tanker pilots. They communicate with the incident commander on the ground and direct the S-2T and UH-1H pilots to their drops. There are currently 14 Broncos in the fleet, having replaced the slower O-2 Skymaster.
UH-1H Super Hueys - these are all ex-UH-1F Hueys that have been re-engined, hence the "super" moniker. The helicopters are used in the fast initial-attack role. They can deliver a nine-person ground crew to the scene as well as perform water drops using an under-slung bucket. The bucket gives them the advantage of being able to pick up water from any available source very quickly. The helicopters are also available for short-haul rescue duties. There are currently eleven in the fleet.
The California Army National Guard unit at Mather has recently upgraded to UH-60 Blackhawks, and the CDF took the opportunity to source their retiring UH-1's for conversion at a later date.
The CDF will be changing its name to CALFIRE in the future.
Thanks to Martin Keen from CAG for organising this visit and to Bill Mason from CDF for a highly enjoyable, thorough, and informative tour (despite the rain).[photo/serial list]
This article was published in the May 2007 edition of Fence Check Magazine.