Aero Air to begin grid testing their MD-87

Erickson Aerotanker MD-87
Erickson Aerotanker (Aero Air) MD-87 test drop in early 2013. Screen grab from Erickson Aerotanker video. (click to enlarge)

Aero Air, also known as Erickson Aero Tanker, has scheduled retardant drop grid tests at Fox Field in southern California for one of their MD-87 aircraft that they are converting into air tankers. Last month Aero Flite’s Tanker 160, an RJ85 which is similar to a BAe-146, went through the same procedure.

Aero Air’s tests of their 4,000-gallon MD-87 are expected to begin January 13, weather permitting, and will last four or five days. The aircraft will start dropping at about 7:30 a.m. each day and will continue until either the wind increases to over 10 knots or until one hour before sunset if there is no wind.

The process involves dropping retardant over a grid of hundreds or thousands of cups intended to measure the volume and consistency of the pattern when it hits the ground. The Interagency AirTanker Board requires passing this and other certifications before an aircraft can be “carded” as a federal air tanker, which makes it eligible for a contract to fight fires. For the RJ85 tests, both paid and inmate fire crews were on hand at Fox Field last month to assist with the set-up of the grid and the collection of the cups after each drop. Firefighters have been asked again to assist with the MD-87 tests.

Kevin McCullough, the President of Aero Air, told Wildfire Today in December, 2012 that they had purchased seven MD-87s and intended to convert them into air tankers.

Aero Air received a contract from the U.S. Forest Service on June 7, 2013 for two MD-87 air tankers. The aircraft were not ready and missed the contractual start date a couple of months later. The U.S. Forest Service then issued “cure notices” to Aero Air and two other companies that received the next generation contracts for five air tankers, none of which met the required start date. Aero Air responded saying the aircraft would be available between April and June, 2014. Later in a justification for awarding a sole source contract to Neptune for two BAe-146 air tankers, the USFS wrote they were “not confident that [the] five … contracted NextGen airtankers will be available to fight fires in 2014″.

Below is a video about Aero Air’s MD-87 air tanker making their first test drop early in 2013.

8 thoughts on “Aero Air to begin grid testing their MD-87”

  1. When I view the video, it appears that the water is being ingested into the engines.
    I can only assume this would not be the case, as one could only imagine the effect that retardant would have on the engines.
    Does anyone have firsthand info that this is not the case.

  2. Here’s why they absolutely have to avoid retardant ingestion.

    http://www.omao.noaa.gov/aviationsafety/mishaps/N42RF_mishap_investigation_report_01-07.pdf

    “… salt accretion on the compressor stator and rotor vanes of the engines during the incident flight is considered a causal factor in this incident.”

    Additionally, no one has really studied the effects on the engine hot section of ingested ammonium salts and clay. I suspect the result would be significant component degradation and more frequent inspection and overhaul requirements.

  3. Good find, beanj

    Just reading it now………if ammonium salts and clay are similar to excessive coking in hot ends…….

    It will.get interesting with rear mounted turbofan engines with spray and particle size and drift………

    1. Remember the water injection system used in the J-57’s in the KC-135’s for additional takeoff thrust? There was a reason it had to be distilled water …

  4. Retardant “flys” very different than water. Airspeed management during the drop, probably a good idea, not only for the structural impact but maintenance of the power plants. Flew thousands of hours in turbines applying fungicides to stone fruit, twenty to thirty gallons per acre. Constantly flying back through the vortices (washed wind screen every other load) After 12 hours of flying per day about 50 five hundred gallon loads the power plant (PT6 A) was needing a internal wash. S.O.P. after shut down. Fungicides have many of the same properties as retardant. Power plants on the MD ‘s will probably have the same protocol? Remember A.D.I. for the big radials?

    1. My first year as co-pilot for Mac avia we ran adi
      with Tanker 51. Worked well,came in handy at
      Durango.

  5. the issue it seems to me is if its going up, its not going down and staying thick, so how will it ever be able to get high coverage? Interesting airplane to use, should have the power but will it get slow enough and when it does will it pull more of that red stuff up and over?

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