This year will likely be the farewell tour for P2V air tankers

P2V Redding

Above: A P2V air tanker on final approach at Redding, California, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Updated at 8:50 a.m. MST January 12, 2016)

The U.S. Forest Service expects to issue a new round of Exclusive Use and Call When Needed air tanker contracts in the “near future”. Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the agency, said they plan to solicit proposals for Next Generation 3.0 Exclusive Use and 2.0 Call When Needed air tankers. Next Generation 3.0 is intended for operations in 2018 and Call When Needed 2.0 is for this fire season.

It is very unusual for the USFS to begin a contracting process more than a year before the expected mandatory availability period (MAP). In recent years they have attempted to award the contracts only a few months before the aircraft are needed to begin work. The first Next Gen contract, V1.0, was awarded 550 days after being advertised.

In 2015 we wrote:

The USFS should get their [stuff] together and advertise the solicitation, not the Request for Information, at least one year before the mandatory availability period. Top quality air tankers, crews, and maintenance personnel can’t be magically produced out of thin air.

So this Next Gen 3.0 being advertised about 14 months before the expected MAP is a huge step in the right direction — but only if it takes much less than 550 days to make the awards.

The current “Legacy” Exclusive Use contract issued in March, 2013 under which seven air tankers operated by Neptune Aviation are working includes six P2Vs and one BAe-146. It expires at the end of this year. Dan Snyder, President of the company, told us that as far as he knows there are no plans for the USFS to issue any more contracts for which the Korean War vintage aircraft could qualify — the P2Vs can’t meet the specifications for Next Gen air tankers.

So this year will likely be the farewell tour for the P2Vs. Take pictures while you still can.

The last CWN and Exclusive Use contracts allowed very large air tankers such as the DC-10 to qualify. If that continues to be the case in this next round of contracts there could be a 747 and possibly more DC-10s in the sky. Currently two DC-10s are on Exclusive Use contracts and third on CWN worked for much of the 2016 fire season. Last week the 747 SuperTanker received interim approval from the Interagency Airtanker Board.

And speaking of Neptune, Mr. Snyder said that by the time the Next Gen 3.0 contract is in effect next year they will have a total of nine BAe-146s fully converted and available. The ninth one arrived at their facility in Missoula on November 20, 2016.

In addition to their air tanker business, Neptune Aviation has the contract for maintenance of the C-23B Sherpas the USFS received from the U.S. Army which includes modifying them to be eligible to be certificated as civilian SD3-60’s. Their work was at first done in Ogden, Utah, but has been relocated to Missoula.  Field Aviation in Oklahoma City received a contract for installing glass cockpits.

Neptune has completed the work on three Sherpas and has started on a fourth. They “woke up” or serviced an additional seven that were in long term storage to make them flyable again.  A timetable for converting those seven will be determined by the USFS, who expects to use the Sherpas to haul smokejumpers, personnel, and cargo.

4 thoughts on “This year will likely be the farewell tour for P2V air tankers”

  1. This will be a sad year for a lot of people seeing this is the last run for the P2s. Over the years they have served us well and delivered mud to many ground crews in need. For me personally it will be extremely hard. The P2 was the first air tanker I parked my very first season in fire, I started my career at a tanker base. They carried the load in 2011 when AU went away and made sure the mud kept getting to our guys on the ground. Nothing beats the sound of a P2 firing up early in the morning all that smoke from the oil and the smell of avgas. I will truly miss them they are an awesome aircraft and have awesome crews who know a lot of history of the aircraft.

  2. Great picture. The first thing that caught my eye was how clean the nacelles, flaps and gear assembly are, free of oil stains and exhaust tracks. One thing radial engines like to do is slobber oil, which end up on everything aft of the power section. This picture reflects the outstanding maintenance that Neptune provides.

  3. Great airplane. Very dependable. While with VP-19 I flew the p2v-7 with tours in Japan & Alaska. I also flew the last p2v-7 in 1976 that Lockheed built. Unfortunately this plane & crew perished a few yrs back. Neptunes for ever.

  4. Sad to see them go, I worked with one in 97′ as TBM at the Helena Air Attack base. Great history and a long safe service record.

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