Plane used by military could become next weapon against wildfires

C-130 Hercules plane designed to fly low, slow

SAN DIEGO - A plane previously used by the military has been turned into a new, prototype weapon that could save homes from wildfires.

Air tankers have been powerful weapon against wildfires, but they could soon become a lot more potent.

10News obtained photos of a C-130 Hercules transport plane undergoing a transformation inside a hangar in San Bernardino. The entire bottom end of the back half has been removed, which will eventually host a tank.

The military cargo plane is the newest purchase of Canadian aviation magnate Wayne Coulson.

Coulson is the man who brought the world's largest seaplane, the Martin Mars -- a World War II-era plane -- to San Diego to help fight the wildfires in 2007.

Because of the plane's age and the rest of the U.S. Forest Service's aging fleet, the Forest Service has issued a call for new air tankers. Its fleet of tankers has dwindled from 44 to 10.

Some companies are looking at converting airliners, but Coulson turned to the C-130.

Unlike airliners, the C-130 is designed to go slow and relatively low, which means the retardant in the plane will end up where it's aimed at.

"If you're higher and faster, it dissipates before it hits the ground," said Coulson. "If you go low and slow, you will have a wet, thicker footprint on the ground."

Coulson said a patented, constant-flow tank design that dumps the retardant right out the belly means twice as much retardant can flow out.

Another big plus is the thermal imaging and other technology that would enable night flying. New GPS technology means the plane computer will activate the drop.

"The computerization developed for the air tanker and the tank will drop the retardant between the two GPS points, where the retardant is to go," said Coulson.

Coulson said the prototype should be done and ready for testing in April, but a price tag has not been revealed yet. He envisions a fleet of some six C-130s.

The U.S. Forest Service could be announcing contracts for new air tankers in the next few weeks.

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