Tanker 910 is retiring

The Castle Airport Fire Department gave a final farewell to T-910 as it taxied out for the final time November 15. Photo via 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

10 Tanker Air Carrier is retiring one of their three DC-10 air tankers, Tanker 910, the first DC-10 to be converted.

Its final flight after serving for 10 years was this Saturday when it flew from Castle Airport, 910’s base since last summer, to Oscota Michigan for dismantling. To honor the work the airplane has done on California fires, officials at Castle saluted the airplane as it took off for the last time.

The aircraft was converted to an air tanker in 2004, and began working in California under a CAL FIRE contract in 2006. Since that time Tanker 910 has dropped on over 500 fire missions in California, and over 750 across the country. It has been joined by two other converted DC-10s, with the third one being introduced to the fleet on August 30.

10 Tanker Air Carrier will replace Tanker 910 with a newer air frame that will carry the same “910” designation as the plane being retired this fall. The work on the replacement began in early September and now the aircraft is going through a “C” check at Kalitta Air in Oscoda, Michigan.

10 Tanker expects to have Tanker 910 Version 2.0 ready to go by April, 2015.

Tanker 910 DC-10

Air tankers 911, 912, and 910 (L to R) at Castle Airport near Merced, California, August 30, 2014. (click to enlarge)

Updated November 16 with the photo of T-910 being saluted as it took off for the last time from Castle Airport.


Documentary on the Martin Mars air tankers

This seven-minute documentary on the Martin Mars air tankers appears to have been produced years ago, but it is very well done.

Philippine Mars

Philippine Mars after being repainted with the original design, July 17, 2014. (Screen grab from Coulson video.)

The two Martin Mars aircraft, the Philippine Mars and the Hawaii Mars now owned by Coulson, were converted to water scooping air tankers and are not amphibious like the CL-215/415 — they always have to land on water. The huge aircraft, which no longer have contracts to fight fires, can carry 7,200 gallons of water which can be mixed with gel concentrate to drop on fires.

The Philippine Mars is being traded to the Pensacola Naval Museum located in Florida in exchange for two C-130 Hercules aircraft currently located at the Museum, which will become a significant parts supply for the company’s firefighting C-130Q, according to an article Wayne Coulson wrote in a May, 2014 newsletter.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jim.


A fire you didn’t hear about

Mesa Fire Cajon Pass

Night flying helicopter dropping on the Mesa Fire in Cajon Pass, Saturday night. Photo by San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Firefighters on the ground and in the air routinely put out fires when they are small, but only the large fires that threaten private property get the extensive news coverage. The Mesa Fire was knocked down Saturday at about 7 p.m. after burning two acres in Cajon Pass in southern California near Interstate 15. Helicopter 531, Air Attack 51, and firefighters on the ground made the stop.


Photos of air tankers on Oregon fires

Tanker 27, a P-3

Tanker 27, a P-3, on the Middle Fork Fire, Oregon, 2009. Todd McKinley.

Todd McKinley sent us these photos from fires in Oregon. Thanks Todd!

Tanker 01, a BAe-146

Tanker 01, a BAe-146, on the Sunflower Fire, Oregon, 2014 Todd McKinley.

The photo above of the BAe-146 clearly shows the second group of drop doors or nozzles that were added in front of the others to improve the release of the last 600 gallons or so of retardant, especially when dropping downhill.

Tanker 882

Tanker 882 on the South Fork Complex in Oregon, 2014. Todd McKinley.

Tanker 892

Tanker 892 on the South Fork Complex in Oregon, 2014. Todd McKinley.


Alaska state troopers helicopter crash caused by flight into bad weather and department’s “punitive culture”

I would be interested in hearing from our readers about how any lessons learned from this accident (summarized by the NTSB below) might be applicable to fire aviation. Often, the weather that allows for large wildfires is not in the form of rain, snow, and icing, however it can involve strong winds, turbulence, thunderstorms, and high density altitude conditions. Add the hazards of flying into canyons low and slow at 150 AGL and it can be a challenging, unforgiving environment.

One fatal accident that comes to mind is the MAFFS 7 crash that occurred July 1, 2012 as the aircraft was attempting to drop retardant on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota, killing four on board. It was basically blown into the ground by a downburst out of a thunderstorm as it was attempting to drop on the fire.

Below is the NTSB’s very brief summary of a helicopter crash in Alaska that killed three people.


“WASHINGTON –The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the March 30, 2013 crash of an Alaska Department of Public Safety helicopter was caused by the pilot’s decision to continue flying into deteriorating weather conditions as well as the department’s “punitive culture and inadequate safety management.”

The crash occurred on a mission to rescue a stranded snowmobiler near Talkeetna, Alaska. The pilot, another state trooper and the snowmobiler were all fatally injured. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s “exceptionally high motivation to complete search and rescue missions,” which increased his risk tolerance and adversely affected his decision-making, the Board found.

Among the recommendations the NTSB made today as a result of the investigation was for Alaska and other states to develop and implement a flight risk evaluation program.

“These brave few take great risks to save those in harm’s way,’’ said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “There needs to be a safety net for them as well.”

Among the Board’s findings was that the Alaska Department of Public Safety (DPS) lacked policies and procedures to ensure that risk was managed, such as formal weather minimums, formal training in night vision goggle operations and having a second person familiar with helicopter rescue operations involved in the go/no-go decision.

During the investigation of this accident, the Board found that the pilot had been involved in a previous accident. The Board found that the DPS’s internal investigation of the earlier accident was too narrowly focused on the pilot and not enough on underlying risks that could have been better managed by the organization.

The Board concluded that DPS had a “punitive culture that impeded the free flow of safety-related information and impaired the organization’s ability to address underlying safety deficiencies relevant to this accident.”

Since 2004, the NTSB has investigated the crashes of 71 public helicopters responsible for 27 deaths and 22 serious injuries.

“Public agencies are not learning the lessons from each other’s accidents,” Hart said. “And the tragic result is that we have seen far too many accidents in public helicopter operations.”

As a result of the investigation, the Board made recommendations to Alaska, 44 additional states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Federal Aviation Administration.”


The complete NTSB reports on the Alaska accident.


Analysis of the poll to design an air tanker

Now that over 350 readers of Fire Aviation have expressed their opinions in the poll about the characteristics of an ideal purpose-built air tanker, we can sit back and analyze the results.

Bean, who is a frequent participant here, and the person who originally suggested the idea of asking our readers for their thoughts on the subject, has contributed his interpretation of the polls, and beyond that, looked at existing aircraft that may have some features we would like to have in an air tanker.

Bean’s thoughts as of November 2, 2014:


“Looks like the jury is pretty much in:

3000+ gal, twin engine turboprop, multi pilot, probably not amphibious, gravity feed tank.

Looked over a fairly long list of cargo and medium attack aircraft: Here’s a site with a comprehensive list of aircraft designs and specs. http://www.flugzeuginfo.net/acdata_en.php

Hard to carry the load with two turboprops … need two 5000+ hp class engines [really thins out existing aircraft designs]. Much over 3,500-4,000 gallons and more than two turboprop engines are a really good idea. May as well build something like a C-130 derivative.

Should have a high mounted wing and high mounted 5000+hp engines to enable use of the large radius props required by the big engines. Added bonus is a coanda effect from that configuration that adds lift.

Dual tandem main landing gear to reduce runway / ramp loading. Enables use of tarmac and dirt fields.

Needs medium to low wing loading [aircraft gross weight / wing area] to enable good maneuverability. A high wing loading results in fairly fast drag rise in turns and reduced maneuverability.

Needs good power to weight ratio [engine power / aircraft gross weight] for adequate single engine performance and better load capability at high density altitudes, better short field performance.

“Beefy airframe”.  Ground attack air tanker work is much harder on airframes than passenger and routine cargo hauling.

Of all the aircraft manufactured, the Transall C-160 is as close as existing aircraft designs have come: http://www.flugzeuginfo.net/acdata_php/acdata_c160_en.php
Original cost was around $28M in today’s dollars. Still cheaper than C-130’s. 35,000 lb payload over 900 nm. Has also been modified for surveillance and command and control.

A significant difference in a point design tanker from a cargo aircraft is that 3,500-4,000 gal doesn’t require a lot of cargo bay volume so the fuselage diameter could be smaller and overall length shorter if a multi-purpose aircraft was not desired.


Bean’s aviation experience: Retired Navy fighter pilot, landing signal officer, aviation safety officer, some post grad work in aero and aircraft structures, pilot time in almost every fixed wing the Navy operated including piston and turboprop.  Navy service from 1969 – 2000. Hold commercial flight engineer and ATP ratings, flew for major air carrier for awhile.


Redmond loaded almost a million gallons of retardant in 2014

Much like the air tanker base at Medford, Oregon, the Redmond, Oregon base also had a busy summer this year.

Below is the beginning of an article in The Bulletin:


“Crews at Redmond Air Center’s tanker base loaded nearly 1 million gallons of retardant into air tankers this fire season, contributing to a huge year for the five large tanker bases in the Northwest.

“I think (the amount of retardant used) just shows that it was a really busy year here in Oregon and Washington,” said Maurice Evans, manager at the Redmond Air Center. Located at Redmond Airport, the Redmond Air Center houses a tanker base — where air tankers pick up fuel and retardant — a smokejumper base and the Redmond Hotshots’ home base.

The Redmond Air Center used 950,797 gallons of retardant this year, according to a U.S. Forest Service report detailing retardant use for the fire season. Air tankers dropped the retardant in 362 loads, with a cost of more than $1.9 million. Throughout the Northwest, air tankers dropped 5,491,895 gallons of retardant in 2,028 loads this fire season, costing more than $11 million combined…”