U.S. airmen use a C-130 Hercules aircraft to respond to massive wildfires in Colorado last month. The C-130 tanker fleet was grounded for a day in the wake of a July 1 crash, but operations were to resume July 3. (Staff Sgt. Stephany D. Richards / U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force C-130s will be back in the air July 3 to fight forest fires in the western U.S., two days after one of the aircraft crashed in South Dakota, reportedly killing four airmen.
Operations were suspended July 2 to review safety and flying procedures following the crash, according to U.S. Northern Command.
The C-130 that crashed July 1 was with the North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing, based at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
NORTHCOM has confirmed that some of the crew were killed in the crash but has not released their names yet. An investigation into the crash is ongoing.
Each year, there is an average of 78,000 forest fires in the U.S., which burn a total of 6.5 million acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
“Because of the extreme challenges presented by flying slow, low and heavy, only the most experienced C-130 aircrews train for this mission,” according to an Air Force news release from April.
The high winds, thick smoke and mountainous terrain makes firefighting efforts even more challenging, said Maj. Neil Harlow, a pilot with the Wyoming National Guard’s 187th Airlift Squadron.
Crews had been forced to drop fire retardant at 10,000 feet, much higher than the normal drops, which are usually made at 8,000 feet, Harlow told Air Force Times last week.
“The conditions couldn’t be worse for aircraft,” Harlow said. “We have high-pressure altitudes in excess of 10,000 feet just for takeoffs. We’re fully loaded with slurry and fuel. It makes it extremely difficult to get the plane to perform for you.”