New National Historic Landmark recognizes mid-air over the Grand Canyon

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis today marked National Park Week by announcing the designation of four new national historic landmarks

  • Adlai Stevenson II Farm in Illinois,
  • The Detroit Industry Murals in Michigan,
  • George Nakashima Woodworker Complex in Pennsylvania, and
  • 1956 Grand Canyon TWA-United Airlines Aviation Accident Site in Arizona.

Below is a brief description of the mid-air crash of two airliners over the Grand Canyon.

1956 Grand Canyon TWA-United Airlines Aviation Accident Site, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

On June 30, 1956, a Trans World Airlines Super Constellation L-1049 and a United Airlines DC-7 collided in uncongested airspace 21,000 feet over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, killing all 128 people onboard the two flights. The tragedy spurred an unprecedented effort to modernize and increase safety in America’s postwar airways, culminating in the establishment of the modern Federal Aviation Administration. Other improvements that resulted from the crash included nationwide radar coverage, a common military/civilian navigation system, and the development of technologies such as collision avoidance systems and flight data recorders.

1956 crash over Grand Canyon

The severed tail section of the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation operating as TWA Flight 2 on June 30, 1956. TWA Flight 2 collided with United Flight 718 in what became known as the 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision. The photo was taken by National Park Service employees in the course of the Civil Aeronautics Board’s investigation of the crash.


Another air tanker company moves out of California


Coulson's T-131 at Reno

Coulson’s Tanker 131 at Reno, April 18, 2014. Photo by Ryan Coulter.

The Coulson Group has moved their air tanker operation from McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California to Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada. This is the second air tanker operator that has moved out of the state in the last six months. In October, 10 Tanker Air Carrier relocated their corporate headquarters from Victorville, California to the airport at Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10 Tanker has two DC-10 air tankers and is converting a third, while Coulson has one C-130 on U.S. Forest Service contract and hopes to acquire another. Coulson expects to have a minimum of 20 employees on their payroll at Reno.

Still left in California is Air Spray, who in 2012 took over a hanger at Chico formerly occupied by Aero Union. The company has a  Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra “Long Liner” air tanker and is converting two BAe-146s into air tankers at the facility. Several employees that formerly worked for Aero Union are now employed by Air Spray at Chico.


KTVN Channel 2 – Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Britt, Ryan, Dave, and Scott.


CBS broadcasts report on aging air tankers

CBS This Morning(Originally published at 4:01 p.m. MDT, April 15, 2014)

The CBS This Morning television show will broadcast a report on air tankers Tuesday morning, April 15. In most, but not all areas, the program airs from 7 until 9 a.m. A producer told us that the segment will be seen approximately 90 minutes after the show begins. They have been working on the piece off and on for several months and it is expected that it will highlight the atrophy of the air tanker fleet over the last 12 years.

(UPDATED at 10:15 a.m. MDT, April 15, 2014)

The four-minute segment, titled Air tanker burnout: aging planes being used to battle wildfires, aired this morning at 91 minutes into the program. The emphasis, as the title implies, was that a shrunken fleet of aircraft, most over 50 years old, is being used to fight wildfires. The video is below.

One of the memorable sound bites was when a gentleman who flies air attack said:

We’re kind of looking like a third world country in our capability with large air tankers.

He went on to say:

We have a serious threat here in this country with wildland fire every year, we know that, and it’s a homeland security problem if there ever was one. And we don’t have the resources to begin to take care of it.

It will be interesting to see if he suffers any consequences after voicing his opinion, as others have who work in fire aviation for the U.S. Forest Service.

CBS air tanker report


Antonov AN-32P Firekiller

Antonov AN-32P

Antonov AN-32P. Photo by Vladimir Kalinin.

This is an air tanker that we were not familiar with until today. The Antonov AN-32P Firekiller air tanker received its type certificate in 1995. It is a variant of the AN-32 which was first produced in 1976. According to Antonov, a state-owned company in Ukraine, it can carry 8 tons which translates to about 2,000 gallons.

Antonov An-32P Firekiller emergency jettison training

Antonov An-32P Firekiller, emergency jettison training. Photo by Oleg Belyakov.

Below is an excerpt from the Antonov website:


“This aircraft was developed on the basis of the AN-32 commercially produced transport and it is capable to perform the following missions for the forests conservation and protection: extinguishing the forest fires with the special fire liquid; airdropping the smoke jumpers, their equipment, special aids, equipment and cargoes to the area of forest fire.

The design performance of the aircraft have been confirmed during more than 10 years of operation. After discharging 8 tons of fire extinguishing liquid from two groups of tanks of the aircraft, from the altitude of 40-50 m at a speed of 240 to 260 km/h, a water spot of 120-160 m long and 10-35 m wide with concentration of the liquid exceeding 1 liter per sq. m is formed on the ground. Discharging the fire agent may be done simultaneously (in a single discharge) or serially from two tanks of one board, than of the other board, with an automatic delay or with manual control.

Two airplanes were used to extinguish the high-elevated forest fire in the vicinity of Yalta (Ukraine). The experience of their application (about 100 flights over mountain terrains) showed a high efficiency of these aircraft.

Three aircraft AN-32P were sent to Portugal for the experimental operation. A high intensive work (each airplane used to perform up to 10 or even 12 flights daily) resulted in a total of 545 fire fighting flights. The performance and fire fighting effectiveness of the aircraft were highly appreciated by the specialists who participated in the test operation.

In absence of fires, the aircraft can be converted (within the airfield conditions) into a standard cargo variant for airlift.”

Antonov AN-32

Antonov AN-32


Video from California National Guard aerial firefighting training

This “B roll” footage is from the April 5th, 2014 California National Guard and Cal Fire Joint training exercise at the Cal Fire Training Academy in Ione, California. It includes shots of helicopter takeoff and landings, air crew members, aircraft refueling, helicopter controls, and California National Guard personnel working with civilian firefighting personnel from CAL FIRE.


Air tanker availability during this wildfire season

T-131 in hangar door

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131 being pushed out of the hangar at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, March 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Today two newspapers published lengthy and detailed articles about the shortage of large air tankers. The Missoulian’s has an emphasis on their home-town company, Neptune Aviation, while the Arizona Republic’s has several references to last year’s Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona that killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew. You will recognize the names of one or two of the people quoted in the articles.

Below are the introductory paragraphs:


Wildfire season officially begins April 28, and the U.S. Forest Service is heading into it with only three modern firefighting air tankers.

Missoula-based Neptune Aviation has one of those planes on contract. It argues to have two more, but competitors won a protest over Neptune’s no-competition award worth almost half a billion dollars over 10 years. By August, Neptune will have two more jets looking for work.

“We’re still cranking out air tankers,” Neptune CEO Ron Hooper said Friday. “But that’s the state of limbo we’re in. We’re waiting to see what the Forest Service will do.”

Meanwhile, one of Neptune’s six Korean War-vintage P2-V bombers saw seven hours of flying time on a wildfire in New Mexico last week. Of the five companies that received Forest Service “next-generation” contracts to provide seven new fire bombers last year, three have failed to deliver their planes.

Arizona Republic:

National wildfire officials are urgently trying to reinforce an undersized and aged fleet of retardant-dropping air tankers in the aftermath of June’s deadly Yarnell Hill Fire, but as they gird themselves for a potentially treacherous 2014 season, significant improvements may be more than a year away.

Tom Harbour, national director of fire and aviation management for the U.S. Forest Service, said drought conditions have dried up the West since last summer, when monsoon rains spawned a bumper crop of fire fuels.

“You bet we’re concerned and worried about what’s going to happen,” Harbour told The Arizona Republic. “This puts us in a precarious position as we head into this new season.”

Harbour noted that numerous unusual winter wildfires already have erupted and been doused in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest and in drought-ravaged Southern California. State officials said on April 2 that 179 wildland fires already had been reported this year in Arizona alone.

The significance: “We could be off to a very early start,” said Harbour.

The Arizona Republic and USA Today are both credited with this video report, uploaded Saturday to YouTube, about air tanker shortages:

Air tankers available in 2014

The following Type 1 & 2 air tankers, commonly called “large” air tankers, will be available on exclusive use contracts this year:

  • 8 — on the “legacy” contract, (1 Minden P2V, 6 Neptune P2Vs, and one Neptune BAe-146)
  • 2 — on the “next-gen” contract (1 Coulson C-130H and a 10 Tanker DC-10)
  • Possible: 5 other next-gen aircraft that received contracts on May 6, 2013 that may or may not become certified. The companies that still have not supplied the aircraft are Minden, Aero Air, and Aero-Flite.

Total: between 10 and 15. This does not include the two Neptune air tankers that were issued the sole source contract. That contract was protested, and the protest was upheld by the Government Accountability Office. The U.S. Forest Service can also call upon up to eight MAFFS military C-130 aircraft and can borrow some old CV-580s from Canada and Alaska if they are available. One additional DC-10 is on a call when needed contract and may be available if needed by the U.S. firefighting agencies.

Requests for air tankers that were unable to be filled

We have read several references recently about the number of requests for air tankers by wildfire incident commanders that were unable to be filled (UTF). We have been reporting on this issue for several years and updating it annually, but just to be sure the latest data is out there, below, again, is a graphic we put together from National Interagency Fire Center reports. The UTF numbers do not include the requests that were canceled, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere.

Air tanker unable to fill requests (UTF)

The actual numbers for the last three years:

UTF data 2011-2013