California: Castle Airport is now an air tanker base

Castle Airport
Castle Airport. Google Earth.

For a decade or two CAL FIRE and U.S. Forest Service aviation managers been talking off and on with officials at the Castle Airport (MER), 8 miles northwest of Merced, California, about using it as an air tanker base. As a former Air Force base with an 11,802-foot runway, and its location in central California near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it could be a valuable resource for any fire aviation asset, but especially for Very Large Air Tankers like the DC-10 or 747.

Finally, prompted in part by the nearby Rim Fire, 40 miles from the airport, the U.S. Forest Service recently signed an agreement with Merced County to allow the airport to be used as an air tanker base. Tuesday of this week both DC-10 air tankers began using it to reload with retardant, making the round trip to and from the Rim Fire every 30 to 40 minutes, dropping 11,600 gallons with every trip.

According to the Modesto Bee:

Under the agreement, Merced County will charge the Forest Service through a series of fees: $225 per month for the 5,200-square-foot building lease, $450 per day for the 551,600-square-foot ramp and 50 cents per 1,000 pounds a plane weighs upon landing, according to county staff.

With a DC-10 air tanker weighing about 368,000 pounds, it will cost around $184 for each landing. The fee for landing a 6,505-pound single-engine Air Tractor AT-802 with an 820-gallon retardant capacity would be about $3.

For now, at least, the Tanker Base will be on call when needed status, staffed only if there is a specific need.

The video below has information about this new use for the Castle Airport.

Thanks go out to Johnny

4 thoughts on “California: Castle Airport is now an air tanker base”

  1. Very good. As a veteran of the ” Carrier” “USS Wenatchee” and the “Jeep Carrier” “USS Omak” Nothing like more runway for any one… Enjoyed working with the Personnel at those bases, just that
    you got a lesson in density altitude and runway length.
    Good location, too..

  2. On several occasions I have arrived at Castle Airport unannounced with a flight of three or four military Chinooks on fire mission. Total personnel about thirty. Each visit the fine folks at Gemini Flight Service rose to the needs of the nomad visitors. Motels, rental cars, offices, expeditious fueling and cooperative service.
    Many times new breaking fires with higher priorities required the entire Chinook flight to move within an hour. Gemini took care of the business we had to leave behind, rental cars etc. Thanks Gemini.

  3. Are they using powdered retardant? That’s too bad – it’s an inferior product to liquid concentrate.
    As a matter of interest, in 2011, an LC-95A base supporting Tanker 910 was set up in Alberta at an active air force base. The conversion from bare apron to working tanker base took about 12 hours.

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