Air tanker status update, August 20, 2013

As we move into national Preparedness Level 5 today for the first time since 2008, and we have more than 48 uncontained large fires, it’s a good time to see what air tankers are available. These numbers are provided by Mike Ferris, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.

Today, not counting 2 air tankers that are on their days off and five that are down for maintenance, there are 13 in service.

Overall, if none were on days off or down for maintenance, we would have:

  • 7 P2Vs on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 2 BAe-146s on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 2 DC-10s on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 4 CV-580s borrowed from Canada and Alaska
  • 5 MAFFS borrowed from the military

This amounts to 11 that are on federal contract and 9 that are borrowed, for a total of 20.

Six of the seven air tankers that received “next generation” contracts, and the 747 that will be under a CWN contract, are weeks or months away from being physically ready and fully certified. However, these are counted when the USFS distributes misleading stats claiming, “Overall, we could have up to 26 airtankers available for wildfire suppression.”

Video of MAFFS drop

This is a video of MAFFS 4 from the 146 Air Wing of the California Air National Guard making a drop on the American Fire, August 17, 2013 in northern California. The audible gear and altitude warnings are normal for MAFFS drops. The MAFFS folks are working with Lockheed on a fix so that they can disable them while dropping retardant.

Engine failure on Tanker 910

Tanker 910 flight crew
The Crew on Tanker 910 at Rapid City, April 23, 2013. L to R: Flight Engineer Brad Pace, Captain Kevin Hopf, and Captain Jack Maxey

Tanker 910, a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, experienced an engine failure coming off of a drop on the Beaver Creek Fire in Idaho on Thursday, August 15. The pilots flew the tanker back to their reload base at Pocotello, Idaho, making a non-emergency landing, said Rick Hatton, CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier. The engine, the number two engine which is in the tail, is being replaced and the aircraft should be back in service today or Monday.

Losing an engine is not unheard of, especially in the P2Vs air tankers which have 16 18-cylinder radial engines with many moving parts. For example in 2012 there were two engine failures in a two day period. One occurred in a P2V just after takeoff from Rapid City. Tanker 43 had to jettison their retardant onto the runway, which required its’ closure, diverting at least one commercial flight to another airport.

10 Tanker’s two DC-10s have both been very busy on fires for the last couple of months. Tanker 911 received a multi-year exclusive use contract on June 7 during the next generation award process. Mr. Hatton told us that on June 14 their other DC-10, Tanker 910, received a 60-day exclusive use contract. We had been told by a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service that it was a Call When Needed contract like the one awarded to Evergreen’s 747 on June 14. Mr. Hatton said that at the end of the 60 day period the contract will revert to CWN for Tanker 910. He, of course, is bullish on the capability of the DC-10s, and said:

Any future national fleet composition would be significantly enhanced across all the relevant metrics by having six to nine Next Gen DC-10s on long term exclusive use contracts.

 

Thanks go out to Clyde

Minden tests their BAe-146

Minden Air Corp has made a video available of the takeoff for the first flight test of their Tanker 46, a converted BAe-146, which occurred June 9, 2013.

The company has been busy lately with other things too. They named the aircraft, now known as “Fireliner”, and they redesigned their logo and their web page. Check out the new site.

VLAT vs. P2V: comparison of cost and effectiveness

DC-10
DC-10 dropping on the Falls Fire at Lake Elsinore, CA, August 5, 2013

An Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) has completed a detailed comparison of the use of a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) and P2V Large Air Tankers to complete the same task of creating 4.6 miles of retardant line on the Colockum Tarps Fire, which is what Tanker 911, a DC-10, accomplished during 3.12 flight hours on July 30, 2013.

The DC-10 made eleven drops from five-11,600 gallon loads of retardant. The writer figured it would take 41 drops from P2Vs to construct the same amount of retardant line. Two P2Vs could do it in two days, or four P2Vs could do it one day. Depending on which scenario was used, a DC-10 would result in a cost savings of $122,078 or $136,578.

Other advantages pointed out were that the VLAT could accomplish the objective much more quickly with a wider and more consistent retardant line, and “the eleven individual drops with the VLAT significantly reduced the number of ‘pilot drop exposures’ as compared to the number of drops/passes that would have been required with heavy airtankers”.

The DC-10 was tied up for just over three hours, but it would have taken four aircraft-days if P2Vs were used. The VLAT freed up air tankers, ASM/Bravos, and lead planes for other fires. If we had 44 air tankers like we did in 2002, that would not be as critical as the present situation, where we only have about 10 large air tankers plus one VLAT on exclusive use contracts, and one VLAT on a call when needed contract.

The 747 VLAT may become available by the end of September on a call when needed contract and we may have one or two “next generation” large air tankers in the fleet within the next few weeks.

 

Air tankers at La Grande August 14, 2013

Tanker 5 at Grande, August 14, 2013
Tanker 5 at Grande, August 14, 2013. Photo by Tim McCoy

Tim McCoy was kind enough to send us some photos he took yesterday at the La Grande, Oregon air tanker base. He said there were two fires in the area.

Tanker 60 and a SEAT at La Grande
Tanker 60 and a SEAT at La Grande, August 14, 2013. Both aircraft are under contract to the state of Oregon. Photo by Tim McCoy.
Tanker 41 at Grande, August 14, 2013
Tanker 41 at Grande, August 14, 2013. Photo by Tim McCoy

First drop from T-131

T-130 first partial drop test
T-131’s first partial drop test, San Bernardino, August 15, 2013

Coulson completed their static tests and door calibration for Tanker 131, a C-130Q, and today did their first partial drop. They are also working on the FAA Type Certificate.

A video of the drop is below.

HERE is a link to a video of the aircraft taking off for the first time after the conversion and maintenance that has been underway for the last several months.

And below is a video of the doors opening and closing. (I know, but if you’re at home on a Thursday night, you might as well spend 18 seconds watching this.)