MD-87 back in action

T-105 MC-87 fire tanker
(Last Updated On: July 13, 2017)

Above: One of Erickson Aero Tanker’s MD-87’s, Tanker 105, makes a drop on the Whittier Fire northwest of Goleta, California. Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo.

Originally published at 11 p.m. MDT July 13, 2017

We have not seen the MD-87 air tankers over fires for a while, but the photo above and the video below were posted on Twitter July 13, 2017 by Mike Eliason of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

As we reported in March, we talked with Kevin McLoughlin, the Director of Air Tanker Operations for Erickson Aero Tanker, who told us that they have fixed the problem with their recently converted MD-87 air tankers and expect to have five of them available this summer. Two are on exclusive use contracts and they hope to have the others on call when needed contracts. The issue involved retardant dispersing over the wing which left open the possibility of it being ingested into the engines. They had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowers the release point by 46 inches, mitigating the problem, Mr. McLoughlin said. In November the aircraft took and passed the grid test again, certifying it for coverage levels one through eight.

Check out the video below of a drop on the Whittier Fire northwest of Goleta, California.

In September of 2015 an Erickson MD-87 experienced an engine failure after departing from Fresno Airport. Pieces of the engine fell into a neighborhood, with at least one fragment shattering the rear window in a car. The aircraft returned to the airport.

9 thoughts on “MD-87 back in action”

  1. Interesting that the landing gear is down, or was that an oversight from the crew?
    Time will tell if the phoscheck is still being injested.
    In the video, it looks pretty turbulent behind that wing in front of the engine.
    Perhaps not the best platform.

    1. It used to be more common to see air tankers with the landing gear down while making a drop. They did it to reduce the air speed. Maybe some of our pilots can expand on this issue.

  2. Gear down increases drag and allows a steeper approach angle without an increase in airspeed [a substitute for speed brakes].

    It also keeps the landing gear warning horn from activating. [unless the gear warning horn has been disabled in the tanker versions].

    1. As I eluded to above..perhaps there are better platforms that will suit drop profiles. Why do you need a “steeper” approach angle? The drop did not appear to be a downhill drop.

      1. That was definitely a downhill run. Looking at the terrain and the exit and what not, they probably wanted the extra safety margin going down hill.
        It may also be possible that with the new system they need the gear down to make the drop at a slower speed to keep the retardant down.
        Air behind the wings is always going to be turbulent, no matter what, the original problem was getting large amounts of retardant over the top of the wing, which doesn’t seem to be the case. This video would be the perfect scenario for that situation to present itself, and it doesn’t look like there was much if any ingestion.

  3. when the F4U/FG Corsairs when used for ground attack (rockets or bombs) in the PTO during WWII,they always made the attack run gear down…i know that has nothing to do with fire fighting,but still……

  4. Why do you lower the gear on some drops? Think of an air tanker as a loaded freight train descending a steep grade. Once you lower the aircraft’s nose the airspeed starts to build rapidly. It is important to never exceed the maximum flap extension or extended speed (Vfe). To manage the airspeed in addition to full flaps, speed brakes (if equipped) you lower the gear for effective drop coverage and to keep within the aircrafts structural limits Vfe. Not an uncommon practice in the older air tankers like the DC 7’s with their low drag wings on those lower slope drops with long decent runs. David never exceed you Vfe. j.c.

  5. Ah the DC-7, the main landing gear are the speed brakes on that airplane, you can see in some photos of the DC-7 dropping with the mains extended and the nose gear still retracted.

  6. Without some really detailed close up images it’s hard to tell what improvements were made over the totally internal system the aircraft had before, to what appears to be some sort of external tank / door system. It just doesn’t look right and appears that the engines could still be ingesting retardant. So, what is the price of safety?

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