Neptune to have 11 air tankers available this summer

T02 arriving at Missoula 2-2-2014
Tanker 02 arriving at Missoula for the first time, February 2, 2014. Photo by Bill Moss.

Neptune Aviation received their fifth BAe-146 February 2 when it arrived at Missoula on a snowy Sunday. The aircraft is still painted in the colors of United Express it had when the aircraft was operated by Air Wisconsin, but will soon take on Neptune’s white with red trim color scheme, and will have a big 02 on the tail. The work to build the tank system began even before it arrived in Missoula but there is still much to do before it can drop retardant over fires. Dan Snyder, Neptune’s Chief Operating Officer, told us that they expect to have it ready to go by the first of August this year.

Tanker 02 will receive the new, upgraded tank system that has already been installed on two of their other BAe-146s, Tankers 01 and 10. The modifications will help to correct some of the bugs in the first generation of the BAe-146 tank, which was criticized for inconsistent flow rates, especially when dropping downhill and for the last several hundred gallons in the tank. Neptune is calling the redesign the “Rev 300”. Mr. Snyder said it has received a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA, and in August it also passed the new more stringent requirements introduced in 2013 for static and grid testing required by the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). The air tankers with the Rev 300 will have interim approval from the IAB to operate without restrictions.

Tanker 01 at Missoula 2-2-2014. Photo by Bill Moss.
Tanker 01 at Missoula 2-2-2014. Photo by Bill Moss.

In addition to the three air tankers above, Neptune’s other two BAe-146s, Tankers 40 and 41 are also getting the redesigned 3,050-gallon tank system installed.

Mr. Snyder described the tank:

In addition to meeting the new 2013 IAB criteria, Neptune fielded a lot of new technology in this system that has never been used in large airtanker tanking systems to date. The systems have been significantly changed from the original tanks seen during operations last year. Additional exits have been added to give the tank excellent performance in all pitch attitudes, including down-hill drops.

The new gating system has the ability to be adjusted during a drop. Enhanced computer sensing and control have taken constant flow tanking to a new height, “Active Control”. Active Control allows the computer to actively monitor the flow performance and modify the exits to maintain the selected coverage level, based on aircraft ground speed, tank flow-rate, g-loading, and aircraft pitch attitude.

The new sensing and control system has yielded a tank that has a very high level of repeatability and consistency under all flight conditions. All these enhancements are significant improvements over the concept of Constant Flow tanking systems of years past.

Neptune will have six P2Vs and one BAe-146 on contract in what the U.S. Forest Service calls the “legacy” air tanker category this year. A second contract that the USFS awarded without competition to Neptune on December 12 for two BAe-146s is being protested by four other air tanker companies. Until it is settled, which should happen by March 28, it is unclear what Neptune will have in the air this year other than the seven air tankers on the legacy contract. In addition to those seven, Neptune will have at the beginning of the summer, three other BAe-146s ready to fight fire, with a fourth coming on line by the first of August.

This latest protest, which has become routine in the USFS air tanker contracting process, and the recent acquisition by the agency of seven, 27+ year old C-130s discarded by the Coast Guard which will be converted into air tankers, makes it difficult for Neptune and other vendors to make long range plans about the acquisition of millions of dollars worth of aviation assets that may or may not be wanted by the federal government.

Mr. Snyder said that if there is a need, they can acquire additional BAe-146s and convert them in about four months — several airframes concurrently if necessary.

10 thoughts on “Neptune to have 11 air tankers available this summer”

  1. I wish Neptune all the best with the new tank design and look forward to seeing more of the 146’s in the skies. I just really wish they would go with silver paint jobs like the P-2v’s I think they would look sharp.

  2. Place me in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” camp. The demonstrated performance of the Neptune 146s has to date been (to put it politely) sub-par in terms of retardant drop effectiveness, and I can’t see some tarted-up tanks solving the problems of reliable and consistent coverages inherent in the pressurized evacuation technique. Neptune continues to affix band-aids onto the proverbial festering wound. The corporate decision to hobble a decent aircraft platform with an aerosol tank system will, I fear, continue to haunt them, particularly as their competitors come on line with similar (146) or better (RJ) platforms armed with unbeatable gravity tanks. Very quickly, the firefighters will notice the differences.

    Thank goodness for direct-awards…

    1. Anthony Neptune stopped using the pressurization to assist in the drops after the first season that Tanker 40 was online. I got this information directly from more that one Neptune pilot when I spoke to them.

    2. Anthony, I assume you know its a pressure system based on the fact you called it an “aerosol tank” but from my conversations with those that have toured the aircraft, no pressurization pumps or systems were seen on board the aircraft and no external systems were used at the base. You however might have more knowledge than me on this, if so please feel free to set me straight.

      1. Terry my understanding of the original tank was that during drops cabin pressure was used to assist with removing the retardant from the tank. I have had the opportunity to tour both Tanker 40 and 41, I asked both times if they were using the cabin pressure to assist during the drops. Both times the answer I got was no.

  3. Lemmmeseee here……

    We got folks here bitchin about BAe 146t’s drop effectiveness, folksy bitchin about how bad C130’s are, agencies bichin about Legacy iron, we got bitchin over C27Js and there will be bitchiin about the ‘130H models….

    I ‘ ve done my bitchin, tooooo..

    One thing I KNOW for sure………there ain’t a purpose built tanker in the current day LAT inventory to worry about ALLLL this drop perfection!!!

    Hell…..we ain’t Even got a stable “perfect” LAT program……yet!!!!!!

  4. I agree with LEO.

    My hat is off to the operators that have jumped in, the money spent is HUGE, and the leap forward mind boggling. Neptune has figured out where the problems are and addressed them (nope I don’t work for Neptune). They have passed the IAB grid with their new design. Lets give it a chance this summer before bitching about it.

    Hoss

  5. Let’s see if the Neptune aircraft have a visible external tank when they arrive on base. I have to date only seen their 146s with internal tanks, with the retardant being dropped via an aft-mounted series of nozzles. Perhaps the new modifications more closely resemble the system used by the Aero-Air MD-87 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcMgmqybJYw)? From my experience, drop patterns are enhanced when gravity tanks are equipped with longer longitudinally-oriented openings that allow for the higher coverage levels. Achieving a passing grade by filling Dixie cups in a flat field may ‘check a box’, but does little to resemble real-world conditions. I’m unsure why IAB certification doesn’t involve grid tests on slopes and/or beneath a tree canopy.

    As for comments about achieving an LAT program that works…hoo boy. That’s a can o’ worms. I won’t be so optimistic to use the “I’ll believe it when I see it” phrase here. I also applaud private industry for their investment and efforts, but the best they can hope for is to introduce a decent product into a hopelessly mismanaged arena. At least they’ll be well compensated for their troubles.

  6. As an Air Wisconsin employee I personally put 5 of these aircraft into commercial service back in 1984. It’s nice to see the old girls haven’t been turned into beverage containers. Our engine program lead the world in reliability for many years. Good luck , hope to see them in service dong something useful soon!

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