Erickson adding a second tank to their MD-87 air tankers

Tanker 101, an MD-87
Tanker 101, an MD-87, during the grid retardant test, January 15, 2014. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. (click to enlarge)

In order to eliminate the problem of retardant from the MD-87 air tanker entering the tail-mounted engines, Erickson Aero Tanker is making a major modification to their tank system. The company is adding an external tank on the belly of their MD-87s. This tank will have an exit point for the retardant that is quite a bit lower than the previous spade opening that was virtually flush with the belly.

Chuck Rhodes, Maintenance Supervisor for Erickson Aero Tanker, told us that the new exit point is in clean air well below the slip stream. At that location, the company expects the air flow will carry the retardant straight back, and will not force it up onto the wings and into the engines as before.

Chuck Rhodes Erickson DC-7
Chuck Rhodes, Erickson Aero Tanker Maintenance Supervisor, with Tanker 60, a DC-7 (not an MD-87), at Madras, Oregon, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

After experiencing what Erickson called “intermittent engine surges when dropping [retardant at] high coverage levels”, they installed air deflectors in front of the exit points for the retardant. But since they are taking this extraordinary step of a major modification to the tanking system, apparently the deflectors were not as effective as they had hoped.

The air tankers will still have the internal tanks and the capacity will remain at 4,000 gallons. Mr. Rhodes said they will not carry a full load this year until the company becomes more familiar with the new system.

This modification will require that the company start over again with the approval process, which includes receiving a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA and certification from the Interagency AirTanker Board.

The two MD-87s on exclusive use contract were scheduled to begin their mandatory availability periods on June 5 and 10, but the start dates are being pushed back by weeks, if not months.

In other Erickson news, they have four MD-87s and one MD-83 parked at the Madras, Oregon airport that have been stripped of their engines and have not been converted to air tankers. (See the video below.) The MD-83 is being used for parts, while they expect the MD-87s will be converted into air tankers after the bugs are worked out in the tanking system.

Erickson also has DC-7s. Tanker 62, now located at Redmond, will likely work on an exclusive use contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) from July into mid-September. Tanker 66 has the option to work on a call when needed basis with the ODF. Mr. Rhodes said the company hopes Tanker 60 will receive a contract with CAL FIRE.

Tanker 66 Erickson
Erickson Aero Tanker 66 at Redmond, Oregon, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

15 thoughts on “Erickson adding a second tank to their MD-87 air tankers”

  1. Now it will look like an air tanker. In the early ’60’s a converted KC97 was modified into an air tanker. The aircraft had an internal tank that held 4000 gallons and an external tank (called a slipper tank?) which reportedly held 1000 gallons. The tanker would drop 1000 gallons at a time with the internal tank “feeding ” the next 1000 gallon drop. When TBM’s,600 gallons, F7F’s 800 gallons and B 17’s 1800 gallons were fire managers air tankers of choice, the thought of a 5000 gallon air tanker was outside the box. Too big too expensive. A later version of the KC 97 came along (Tanker 67) that was tanked internally for 5000 gallons which saw service mainly in Alaska. It appears history will repeat itself.

  2. ? Status of the Air cranes? Are they going to fly this year CAN? or exclusive use local agency like L.A . County or LA City?

    1. Erickson Aircrane is a different company from Erickson Aero Tankers. Jack sold the helicopter business then joined with Aero Air to form the tanker business.
      Erickson Aircane lost their status as a small business so could not receive an exclusive use contract this go around. They will be on Call When Needed (CWN).

  3. First off, what’s the point in have a 1,000 gallon tanker on contract of an aircraft this size? Second it’s just the wrong aircraft for the mission and third, I’m probably beating a dead horse with these comments. It’s like throwing money in a trash can trying to fix a problem that isn’t going to work. Much like the F35 fighter that the US has wasted billions on.

    Erickson would have been better off buying Aero Unions P-3’s and put them back in service then tackling this conversion that isn’t going to work. I sure hope that no one gets hurt flying this mission with this aircraft. Just an opinion!

    1. Who said anything about the MD-87 having a 1,000 gal tank? If you read the article the external tank only serves to make a drop below the aircrafts slipstream…4,000 total capacity that’s slightly gimped, but not even close to as low as 1,000.

    2. You’ve obviously never flown the MD-87 on a fire. They’re a great tool for the job and can make more trips to a fire between fuel stops, while delivering more retardant per load than the comparable BAe-146 or Avro RJ. Also, it’s still a 4000 gallon tank. Considering the shroud below the tank as a “second tank” is a misnomer.

      If the P3 had been cost effective to return to service, Don’t you think someone would have done exactly that?

  4. On the subject of air tankers, what is up (down) with the Global Supertanker’s 747? Externally tanked airplanes have a proven track record of good performance. When the R5D (C-54, DC4) were being flown (development period) in the experimental category at Aero Union it was discovered that the Aero Union tank (3410 gallons) was a lifting body. Increased airspeed at the same power settings three to five knots depending on how the air tanker was rigged. Instead of adding parasite drag it generated lift to reduce wing loading. Erickson is on the right track.

  5. The 1,000 gallon statement was based on what has been stated that the MD87 is restricted to fly with that amount until the problem is fixed. The concept of adding an external tank with the internal tank may or may not work, time will tell. The fact is that the engine will probably ingest still some retardant no matter how you configure the tanks in there present location. Another option would be use wider but shorter doors and locate them further back then they are, or just behind the wing. Again, it may or may not work, CG being the primary issue. The concept of having the retardant drop into the airstream might work with the flaps up, not down. Once the retardant hits the flaps, it’s a mute point on where it is going to go. No matter it’s going to take a major redesign to fix the problem.

    The P3 comment might be right about the cost and issues of putting them back in the air, I truly don’t know all the issues involved in that happening. It was greed that put them on the ground and a loss of a great tanker for the aerial fire fighting industry. Though they seem to be doing very well with the jet tankers currently on line.

    No I’m not a structural engineer, but I don’t think that the current design was that from one either. Also no, I haven’t flown the MD87 on a fire, nor am I qualified in the airframe, but even if I was I don’t think I would given the chance. I just believe that it’s the wrong aircraft for the mission, based on my 40 years in aviation. The concept of dropping retardant isn’t rocket science! It’s only figuring out how to get a load of liquid to a give spot on the ground. Again, this was just an opinion, nothing more. It’s your aircraft and money do what you will.

    1. Joe, you completely made up the 1000 limit factor. Re-read the article, nowhere does it say limited to 1000. As for ‘no matter it’s going to need a major redesign to fix the problem’, well sir, your commenting on the article that’s trying to explain to you that they have done just that – by adding an external tank to fix the problem. And don’t you worry about armchair engineering if adding a tank will work or not, they’ve got you covered. You see, maybe not so obvious from the way the article was written but this isn’t the start of a redesign. It’s the conclusion. It’s the engineered solution. Done. Already solved. Now it’s time for implimentation. That’s the news. Erickson Aero has finally settled on a workable solution and will be adding a external tank to their fleet, and will get them re-certified.

  6. Carl, I wish you the best and look forward to seeing a tank on the belly of the MD87. I’m sure you wouldn’t have ventured into the project knowing there might not be problems. Good to hear you’ve figured it out and the new system should be operational soon.

  7. This is why you will not see the P-3’s again. to sum it up in plain English “replace the wings and the tail” and you can fly your airplanes again.
    Part 39 Airworthiness Directives
    1. The authority citation for part 39 continues to read as follows:
    Authority:
    49 U.S.C. 106(g), 40113, 44701.
    § 39.13 [Amended]
    2. The FAA amends § 39.13 by adding the following new airworthiness directive (AD):

    2014-11-06Lockheed (Original Manufacturer):Amendment 39-17856; Docket No. FAA-2013-1073; Directorate Identifier 2012-NM-039-AD.

    (a) Effective Date

    This AD is effective July 8, 2014.

    (b) Affected ADs

    None.

    (c) Applicability

    This AD applies to all Model P-3A or P3A airplanes originally manufactured by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company for the military, as identified in paragraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2) of this AD, certificated in any category:

    (1) Aero Union Corporation Model P3A airplanes; and

    (2) USDA Forest Service Model P-3A airplanes.

    (d) Subject

    Air Transport Association (ATA) of America Code 55, Stabilizers; 57, Wings.

    (e) Unsafe Condition

    This AD was prompted by a determination that the existing maintenance or inspection program must be revised to address fatigue cracking of the airplane. We are issuing this AD to detect and correct fatigue cracking, which could result in reduced structural integrity of the airplane.

    (f) Compliance

    Comply with this AD within the compliance times specified, unless already done.

    (g) Maintenance or Inspection Program Revision

    Within 12 months after the effective date of this AD, revise the maintenance or inspection program, as applicable, by incorporating airworthiness limitations specified in Avenger Aircraft and Services P3A Airworthiness Limitations Section—FAA TCDS A32NM & TCDS T00006LA, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Usage (Includes Aerial Dispensing of Liquids), AAS-ALS-07-001, Revision D, dated August 2, 2010.

    (h) Compliance Times for Modifications, Replacements, and Inspections

    For the tasks specified in Part-I, Sections B. through E., of Procedure 01-00-005, of Avenger Aircraft and Services P3A Airworthiness Limitations Section—FAA TCDS A32NM & TCDS T00006LA, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Usage (Includes Aerial Dispensing of Liquids), AAS-ALS-07-001, Revision D, dated August 2, 2010, the compliance times are specified in paragraphs (h)(1) through (h)(4) of this AD. For airplanes with combined baseline and aerial dispensing usage accumulated, the total remaining life and the total remaining hours or flights until inspection is due for the principle structural element (PSE) inspection requirements is determined by combining the fatigue damage accumulated during the baseline and the aerial dispensing of liquids usage. The usage must be combined in accordance with a method approved by the Manager, Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office (ACO), FAA.

    (1) For the baseline life limits, the compliance time is: At the applicable “flight hours” or “flights,” whichever occurs first, specified in Part-I, Section B, “Life Limitations Baseline Usage,” of Procedure 01-00-005, of Avenger Aircraft and Services P3A Airworthiness Limitations Section—FAA TCDS A32NM & TCDS T00006LA, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Usage (Includes Aerial Dispensing of Liquids), AAS-ALS-07-001, Revision D, dated August 2, 2010; or within 12 months after the effective date of this AD; whichever occurs later.

    (2) For the baseline PSE inspection requirements, the compliance time is: At the applicable “threshold interval hours” or “threshold interval flights” since new, whichever occurs first, as specified in Tables C.1, C.2, and C.3, of Part-I, Section C, “Principle Structural Element Inspection Requirements—Baseline Usage,” ofProcedure 01-00-005, of Avenger Aircraft and Services P3A Airworthiness Limitations Section—FAA TCDS A32NM & TCDS T00006LA, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Usage (Includes Aerial Dispensing of Liquids), AAS-ALS-07-001, Revision D, dated August 2, 2010; or within 12 months after the effective date of this AD; whichever occurs later. Where compliance times are specified as “threshold interval hours,” those compliance times are total flight hours. Where the compliance times are specified as “threshold interval flights,” those compliance times are total flight cycles.

    (3) For the aerial dispensing of liquids life limits, the compliance time is: At the applicable “flight hours” or “flights,” whichever occurs first, specified in Part-I, Section D, “Life Limitations—Aerial Dispensing of Liquids Usage” of Procedure 01-00-005, of Avenger Aircraft and Services P3A Airworthiness Limitations Section—FAA TCDS A32NM & TCDS T00006LA, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Usage (Includes Aerial Dispensing of Liquids), AAS-ALS-07-001, Revision D, dated August 2, 2010; or within 12 months after the effective date of this AD; whichever occurs later.

    (4) For the aerial dispensing of liquids PSE inspection requirements, the compliance time is: At the applicable “threshold interval hours” or threshold interval flights,” whichever occurs first, as specified in Tables E.1, E.2, and E.3, of Part-I, Section E, “Principle Structural Element Inspection Requirements—Aerial Dispensing of Liquids Usage,” of Procedure 01-00-005, of Avenger Aircraft and Services P3A Airworthiness Limitations Section—FAA TCDS A32NM & TCDS T00006LA, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Usage (Includes Aerial Dispensing of Liquids), AAS-ALS-07-001, Revision D, dated August 2, 2010; or within 12 months after the effective date of this AD; whichever occurs later.

    (i) No Alternative Actions or Intervals

    After accomplishing the revision required by paragraph (g) of this AD, no alternative actions (e.g., inspections) or intervals may be used unless the actions or intervals are approved as an alternative method of compliance in accordance with the procedures specified in paragraph (j) of this AD.

    (j) Alternative Methods of Compliance (AMOCs)

    (1) The Manager, Los Angeles ACO, FAA, has the authority to approve AMOCs for this AD, if requested using the procedures found in 14 CFR 39.19. In accordance with 14 CFR 39.19, send your request to your principal inspector or local Flight Standards District Office, as appropriate. If sending information directly to the manager of the ACO, send it to the attention of the person identified in paragraph (k) of this AD. Information may be emailed to: 9-ANM-LAACO-AMOC-Requests@faa.gov.

    (2) Before using any approved AMOC, notify your appropriate principal inspector, or lacking a principal inspector, the manager of the local flight standards district office/certificate holding district office.

    (k) Related Information

    For more information about this AD, contact George Garrido, Aerospace Engineer, Airframe Branch, ANM-120L, FAA, Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office, 3960 Paramount Boulevard, Lakewood, CA 90712-4137; phone: 562-627-5357; fax: 562-627-5210; email: george.garrido@faa.gov.

    (l) Material Incorporated by Reference

    (1) The Director of the Federal Register approved the incorporation by reference (IBR) of the service information listed in this paragraph under 5 U.S.C. 552(a) and 1 CFR part 51.

    (2) You must use this service information as applicable to do the actions required by this AD, unless the AD specifies otherwise.

    (i) Avenger Aircraft and Services P3A Airworthiness Limitations Section—FAA TCDS A32NM & TCDS T00006LA, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Usage (Includes Aerial Dispensing of Liquids), AAS-ALS-07-001, Revision D, dated August 2, 2010. (ii) Reserved.

    (3) For service information identified in this AD, contact Avenger Aircraft and Services, 103 N. Main Street, Suite 106, Greenville, SC 29601-4833; telephone: 864-232-8073; fax: 864-232-8074; email: AAS@AvengerAircraft.com.

    (4) You may view this service information at FAA, Transport Airplane Directorate, 1601 Lind Avenue SW., Renton, WA. For information on the availability of this material at the FAA, call 425-227-1221.

    (5) You may view this service information that is incorporated by reference at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). For information on the availability of this material at NARA, call 202-741-6030, or go to: http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/cfr/ibr-locations.html.

    Issued in Renton, Washington, on May 16, 2014.

    Michael Kaszycki,

    Acting Manager, Transport Airplane Directorate, Aircraft Certification Service.

    [FR Doc. 2014-12606 Filed 6-2-14; 8:45 am]

    BILLING CODE 4910-13-P

  8. If you are an airplane owner and get this AD in the mail? “replace the wings and tail”, OUCH! Only the Forest Service has the unlimited check book to accomplish such a feat, C 130’s. Like the C 119 and B 17’s it appears its time move along.

  9. The Dc 7’s continue to give good service and DOLLAR VALUE compared to other 3000 gallon air tankers. Although like all aviation assets it will eventually end, or will the DC 7’s live on? If Erickson has three DC 7’s that continue to meet the needs of “customers”, Cal Fire and State of Oregon would a forth DC 7 be of interest? Binter Canaris Airlines, a regional airline in Spain has converted it fleet to all jet, but has at least one “7” in airworthy condition. Until the MD 87 tank issue is resolved why not go back to the stable and pull out the old fire horses.

  10. Thanks for the information about the Madras Ore, Airport and Erickson’s planes there. I was traveling by on June 12th and could not slow down in traffic to see if the engines were removed.

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