Air tankers at Medford

Medford Tankers by Kristin Biechler (1)
DC-10s, Tankers 910 and 911, at Medford. Photo by Kristin Biechler.

Kristin Biechler sent us these photos that she and Dave Clemens shot at the Medford, Oregon Airport (map) over the last few days. She said her house is directly under the tankers’ flight path to the Happy Camp and Beaver Fires in northwest California. The planes depart MFR, she explained, bank west, and mostly follow Highway 238 toward Jacksonville and out to Applegate Reservoir and into California.

Medford Tankers by Kristin Biechler (2)
A P2V (Tanker 07) and a DC-10 at Medford. Photo by Kristin Biechler.
Neptune 01-10 by Kristin Biechler
Neptune’s BAe-146s, Tankers 01 and 10, at Medford. Photo by Kristin Biechler.
Medford tankers by Dave Clemens (1)
Tanker 910, a DC-10, at Medford. Photo by Dave Clemens.
Medford tankers by Dave Clemens (5)
Tanker 101, an MD-87, at Medford. Photo by Dave Clemens.
Medford tankers by Dave Clemens (4)
Tanker 101, an MD-87, at Medford. Photo by Dave Clemens.

12 thoughts on “Air tankers at Medford”

  1. A few months ago there was a discussion on this site with reference to mechanics “chasing” tankers to perform routine inspections and maintenance. I understand that the two DC 10’s return to Castle to RON. With the jet era starting to take off this direction of maintenance certainly makes better sense than having blurred eyed traveled out mechanics working with headlamps throughout the night. “where are we, what airport is this”?

  2. Exactly Johnny

    New days….new ways

    Expecting MX work based on the daze of past yore …..the LMA’s are going to see new expectations from vendors in all arenas….

    Expectations in contracts procedures will certainly need to follow

    No more 60 yr + ideas need to be applied with “Next Gen” speeds in contract procedures

    Oh and the VLAT incident FLA is now circulating….lookeeeee where ’10 had turn around and maneuver and then the associated ground support equipment issues that ensued

    Issues not only for contractor…..BUT the USFS should have had a FEE area CLEARLY identified prior to the ’10 arriving.

  3. As always, costs will largely determine the “direction of maintenance”. Do the fire agencies pay for deadhead flights to marry up airplanes with mechanics for routine, scheduled maintenance? Seems to me this should be the burden of the aircraft operator, with the costs of moving their planes (or their people) being built into their contracts.

    (costs should not determine Quality of maintenance, let me be clear)

  4. Here is a thought for you, Chris

    Since the operators have borne the burden of R&D for these ships for a SPECIFIC purpose and no other unless they haul freight in the off season….which is debatable for off season maintenance….

    Since USFS and others claim “operational control”…..

    Then the burden should be on the LMA’s pay for the deadhead flights..

    Part 121 operators do it ALLLL the time under their operational control

  5. Leo, when you hire a contractor to drywall your basement, do you pay him to drive his work truck to the garage for an oil change or to the hardware store to buy new drill bits? Or do you expect that your drywaller will have considered his costs of doing business and built it into his rate?
    Now, the work site (your basement) won’t move on short notice during the term of the contract, as with airtankers, but every single operator knows that A) their planes will be required to move throughout the western US on an unpredictable schedule and B) they will need regular maintenance. If they haven’t accounted for that in their business plan, then, well, but of course they have. And so have Part 121 airlines, even though they do not operate on a comparable exclusive-use contract basis.

    The reward for spending vast sums on R&D is that Next-Gen operators received a meaningful contract that will allow them to recoup those costs over time. That’s kinda the point of being an entrepreneur. There is no obligation for the customer to repay anything above the negotiated terms.

  6. I am very naive on the subject but pose this question? At least for the jet tankers, is returning to a home base for maintenance on an as needed basis just as cost effective as having traveling maintenance crews? Figure the costs of a crew- travel time, vehicles, food/lodging, etc. and it’s gotta be crazy expensive. Then add in the tanker being here one day and another the next. And what about having a real supply of parts? I don’t care what you’re working on it’s hard to have everything you need when you are traveling.

    Returning to a home base for maintenance seems reasonable and quite cost effective IMO. If the costs are close I see no reason why the contracting agency can’t pay for it.

  7. Great photos.Medford tanker base,one of my favorites.As far as who pays… we the taxpayers do.The new platforms cost more to acquire.The cost to design,build and fit a new tank plus all the time ,money spent on FAA requirements,STC’s etc runs in the multi millions!Kudos to anyone willing to take the risk of trying to build a tanker to meet the USFS specs while being unsure of the contract coming thru.The contract bids will reflect the cost of doing business,deadhead flights won.t be free.Now that the Gov thinks it needs jets for air attack,lead planes etc the cost of aviation firefighting will go up even more.The next gen tankers are a needed upgrade.the trick now is too use our money wisely

  8. Chris

    The agencies have been bragging about speeds of ” Next Gen” aircraft to and fro..

    So running back to their base operation should not be a problem

    BUT the agencies are always right…….until one needs specialized MX that may not be accomplished right on a tanker base

    But as a former ’10 mechanic and helo mech……what the #$#@ would I know

    Hey ..but thanks for the drywall example…..seen a few Guv operations operate in that fashion

  9. One has to remember that tankers aren’t just a western states tool.These guys may start their seasons in Florida,Minnesota etc and work west as the season progresses.The distance to home and back may be substantial.When someone pops a tire on the runway at a faraway base, they won’t be ferrying home.The ground crew will fix it there.Yes the new tankers are faster”above 10,000 ft.” But remember one of the factors of the contract process is “Daily availability” Vendors strive to keep the aircraft operational at all times.When bids are submitted,companies with poor availability will not be viewed as favorably as others.Its just not that easy to say”take the aircraft home for maintenance.”Sometimes yes,other times not warranted.The need for mechanics with the planes or at the base is still a reality for an efficient operation.Mechanical things break,and even though the next gen tankers are new too firefighting they are in no way new aircraft.

  10. In my experience, contracts are structured so that the airplanes are paid to be available at a customer-designated location for a defined number of days. Written into the contract is language that states the planes may stay at their nominated base all season, or they might move around. It could be a rare base change or it could be a traveling circus all summer. Also within the contracts is language that states the aircraft must not be due for major maintenance during the fire season (ie: do your overhauls in the winter). That can make for tight timelines for operators who shuttle their aircraft between hemispheres, but again, that’s built into their business plan. I can only guess why the DC-10s RON to Castle. Sometimes it’s a particular maintenance requirement and sometimes it’s as trivial as a lack of available accommodation. But if a plane breaks and must ferry to the company hangar at another airport for maintenance, then guess what: that’s paid for entirely by the operator, who is on the hook for the costs of moving the people & plane + fuel + the possibility of defaulting on a portion of their daily availability rate. One operator has purchased a dedicated airplane to ferry parts and sometimes additional mechanics in support of its large & scattered fleet of airtankers and birddogs. Their customers do not ever see an invoice for the cost of that service, but I’m certain they’re collectively paying for it. That’s not cut-throat, that’s business.

  11. We should still strive for seven day coverage of the next generation fleet. This will require the ability to perform maintenance at or near a location after cut off. What is near? Air tankers are “release” from an incident (if assigned) and are placed into “available” until committed or recommitted? CDF procedure (contract vendors then) if a air tanker needed more than on site routine inspection and maintenance (i.e. engine change) the tanker would be downloaded of retardant before cut-off, after 5 p.m. filled with water and be sent to a maintenance location LOADED (water) and AVAILABLE. It was a revenue flight. Extended Cut Off: after 6 p.m. If a Federal contract air tanker flies to another location for whatever reason, fill with water (pounds on contract) and be AVAILABLE in transit not to exceed more than thirty flight minutes. Any additional minutes (31 minutes plus) would be the responsibility of the contractor. I feel those guns coming out of the holsters.

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