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Retiring Air Force Cargo Planes Might Be Useful For Firefighting In San Diego

Credit: Jerome K

Aired 10/8/13 on KPBS News.

An Air Force cargo plane could be just the medicine to improve the aging fleet of the U.S. Forest Service firefighting aircraft. County supervisors hope federal officials agree with their assessment.

— San Diego county supervisors hope to persuade the Department of Defense to turn some surplus military aircraft into firefighting tools.

The Air Force is phasing out a cargo plane that recently saw duty serving troops in Afghanistan. The C-27J Spartans are considered excess inventory and are heading for retirement, as the Air Force phases out use of the aircraft. The service will replace them with C-130 cargo planes.

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said this happens at an opportune time. The U.S. Forest Service is looking to replace its aging fleet of firefighting aircraft and the C-27Js are a perfect fit to help firefighters get the upper hand on backcountry fires.

"It would be another firefighting resource that would have the capability of dumping a large load of retardant on a fire. The goal is: put those fires out as quickly as we can," Jacob said.

Supervisors will vote on a measure asking the Department of Defense to transfer seven of the military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. Supervisor Greg Cox already discussed the idea with U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain and both senators indicated they saw merit in the idea.

"Clearly they still have economic use," Cox said. "They have the ability to be retrofitted to work in a very productive manner with the U.S. Forest Service in fighting fires, and so I think we'll have a very receptive audience."

Cox said the planes likely would end up in a plane graveyard in Arizona if they are not transferred to another federal or state agency.

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