Erickson Aero Tanker to receive approval for their MD-87s

Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87
An Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87. Photo by Paul Carter.

Erickson Aero Tanker expects to begin flying two of their MD-87 air tankers on contract next month. Kevin McCullough, President of the company, told Fire Aviation on Wednesday that they have received a supplemental type certificate for the aircraft from the FAA, they have passed the grid test of dropping retardant into hundreds of cups on the ground, and the Interagency AirTanker (IATB) board will soon issue an interim 18-month approval. The new policy of the IATB is to award 18-month interim approvals, basically two fire seasons, for new air tanker designs.

The mandatory availability periods for the two MD-87s that received next-generation air tanker contracts will begin June 5 and June 10. Mr. McCullough said the aircraft are in Arizona now and will fly up to their facility in Oregon next week. The following week they will go through the carding procedure.

The MD-87s have a retardant capacity of 4,000 gallons and will very rarely have to carry less than that due to density altitude, Mr. McCullough said.

The company bought seven MD-87s and so far three of them have been completely retrofitted as air tankers. Their next-gen contract allows for the U.S. Forest Service to add as “additional equipment” eight more MD-87s, for a total of ten. The decision to add more air tankers is totally up to the USFS, assuming of course that the vendor has the aircraft available. The USFS would, 1) determine that there is a need, and then, 2) come up with the money. Mr. McCullough told us they hope to have ten MD-87s in service somewhere down the road.

The air tanker numbers on the three completed MD-87s are 101, 103, and 105.

Erickson Aero Tanker was one of five companies that received contracts in May of 2013 for a total of seven next-gen air tankers:

Coulson and 10 Tanker had their aircraft flying soon after the awards became final last summer, following the resolution of the protest that was filed over the contract by Neptune Aviation. It is our understanding, after talking with USFS officials, that Aero Flite will very soon receive final IATB approval for their two RJ85s. That leaves Minden’s BAe-146, which has not yet attempted a formal grid test, but has passed a static test, releasing water from the tank while parked on the ground.

Here is the breakdown of Type 1 air tankers which are now, or may soon be active on USFS exclusive use contracts this year:

Air tankers available in 2014

Other air tankers

10 Tanker has a second DC-10 on a call when needed contract. It could either remain as call when needed, or the USFS could add it as additional equipment on the company’s next-gen contract.

As mentioned above, Erickson Aero Tanker has a third MD-87 that will ready to drop on fires in a couple of weeks, according to Mr. McCullough. It is not currently on contract but could be added as additional equipment. They have four more MD-87s that could be retrofitted.

Neptune Aviation has three additional BAe-146s that are ready to fly now, and one more will be complete sometime this summer. One of the five is on a “legacy” contract (as noted in the chart above), and the other four have no contract. The USFS is still dithering about what to do after the Government Accountability Office upheld the protest of a contract that was given to Neptune without competition for two BAe-146s. About the only options available now are to add some of the BAe-146s to the legacy contract as additional equipment, ignore the GAO decision and honor the no-competition contract, or cancel the no-competition contract and do nothing about the other four Neptune BAe-146s that are sitting on the ramp at Missoula.

The Department of the Interior also has 33 single-engine air tankers (SEATs) on exclusive use contract that carry 800 gallons, and the USFS has a 1,600-gallon CL-415 water-scooping air tanker. The DOI usually has two CL-215s on contract that have a 1,400-gallon capacity.

7 thoughts on “Erickson Aero Tanker to receive approval for their MD-87s”

  1. Erickson Aero Tankers, a parent company of Erickson Helitankers? It seems that the three MD-87’s came along just in time. I hope the Fed C-130 project is not going to interfere with letting private industry handle the need for fixed wing air tankers. It is a proven industry with hard working, skilled, dynamic thinking people. Reminds me of the oil fields on fire during the Gulf War “it will take years to control (hundreds) these fires! What was it six months, fires were out? Federal government secure the funding and let the experts get the job done, you (Feds) can take all the credit. Mr. Carter thanks for sharing your picture. Here is “mud” in your eye.

    1. Johnny, here’s what we wrote in December of 2012:

      …Kevin McCullough, now the President of Aero Air, and Jack Erickson, founder and former owner of Erickson Air-Crane, became co-owners of Aero Air in 1998 and since then have been growing the company. After Mr. Erickson sold Erickson Air-Crane to ZM Private Equity Fund in 2007, they began talking about getting into the air tanker business. A couple of years ago they decided to go with MD-87s and pulled together teams to develop a tank design and to handle obtaining the supplemental type certificate (STC) from the FAA…

  2. Erickson Aircrane (the S64 helicopters), and Erickson Aero Tankers (the MD87 planes) are two very separate companies. Jack Erickson has left Aircrane and it is now a publicly listed company. A few years ago he joined with Aero Air to add his experience to help build the MD87 tankers, (and to add his name to confuse us).

  3. Great job guys!!! The Mad Dog has new life! Just make sure to keep those mirrors clean so you can check your teeth, uh…er… read the compass!

  4. Two engines vs four, 4000 gallons vs 3000. A well proven tank style. An efficient delivery platform. It is going to be interesting to see how the cost per gallon delivered works out.

  5. Quote, “owns a collection of vintage aircraft, almost all in flying condition”.

    Yep, that can be said about a lot of our tanker fleet too!!

    I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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