Neptune retires their P2V air tankers

Spectators in Missoula enjoyed seeing water drops and flyovers.

Above: Neptune’s Tanker 05, a P2V, makes a red, white, and blue water drop at Missoula, September 30, 2017. Photo by Terry Cook.

(Originally published at 5:30 p.m. MDT October 1, 2017)

Yesterday Neptune Aviation Services officially retired the last of their P2V air tankers in a ceremony at the Missoula airport. This year the company had four of the former submarine hunters on contract that were built between 1954 and 1957 — Tankers 05, 06, 14 and 44. In 2012 ten P2Vs were on contract with the U.S. Forest Service operated by Neptune and Minden.

Neptune planned a fairly elaborate program Saturday with prize drawings, several water drops, numerous food trucks, a water drop from successive tanks with red, white, and blue water, and a formation flyover of their last four P2Vs on contract.

Neptune has been operating the P2V air tankers for 24 years. Many pilots and warbird fans enjoy flying, seeing, or hearing the aircraft and the throaty roar of its two 18-cylinder radial engines. When extra power is needed during takeoff or after a 2,000-gallon drop to climb out of a canyon it can enlist the help of two small jet engines farther out on the wings.

In 2012 the company started its retirement program for the P2Vs when they pulled two of their seven operational P2Vs from regular service.

Greg Jones, Program Manager for Neptune Aviation,  said the tankers will be taken to museums across America.

The planes are going to be stored short term in Alma Gorda, New Mexico. We will ferry them down the next couple weeks and then they will be dispersed throughout museums across the United States.

Art Prints

In 2009, working with Tronos, Neptune began converting jet airliners, BAe-146-200s, into air tankers, adding a 3,000-gallon retardant tank. In 2017 they had seven of them on exclusive use contract.

BAe-146-200 makes first drop
BAe-146-200 makes its first drop October 28, 2009 over Prince Edward island in Canada. Tronos photo.

To our knowledge the jets have not suffered any catastrophic failures or major incidents since they began dropping on wildfires. In the first half of this decade P2Vs were involved in a number of troublesome landings and in one case a crash while dropping on the White Rock Fire near the Utah/Nevada state line, killing all three crewmembers. Two P2Vs operated by Minden encountered landing gear failures, and those aircraft have not been seen over a fire since the incidents. Other fatal crashes occurred in 2008 and 2009.

T-41 Redding
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, lands at Redding August 7, 2014 after dropping on a fire in northwest California.

RJ85 on the Edwards Fire

RJ85 Edwards Fire in Alameda County, California
An RJ85 drops on the Edwards Fire in Alameda County, California, September 26, 2017. Photo by Joel V.

Joel sent us this photo of an RJ85 dropping on the Edwards Fire near Oakland, California. Thanks Joel.

As a bonus, here’s a video of an MD-87 dropping on the same fire, shot by Darryl Poe.

The fire burned about 22 acres near Edwards Avenue and Mountain Blvd, six miles southeast of Oakland.

LA Times photo of DC-10 dropping on Canyon Fire

By LA Times Staff Photographer Irfan Khan.

Very impressive photo by LA Times Staff Photographer Irfan Khan. (Click on the photo twice to see a larger version.)

More information about the 2,500-acre Canyon Fire near Corona, California.

Excellent photo of MD-87 on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire

(Originally published at 11 a.m. MDT September 25, 2017)

Jeff Wilson sent us the photo above taken September 19 of an MD-87 dropping on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire east of Dillon, Colorado. Thanks Jeff!

The fire was reported above Dillon Reservoir at 5 p.m. MDT September 18 and burned 21 acres on a steep slope before firefighters contained it, aided by two large air tankers and two helicopters dropping water and retardant September 18 and 19.

Resources working on the fire included Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue crews, one U.S. Forest Service engine crew, a 20-person hand crew from Rifle, and a 22-person initial-attack hand crew from the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit.

The fire was caused by sparks from a blown insulator cap on a power line that subsequently ignited nearby grasses.

MD-87 air tanker drops Tenderfoot 2 Fire
An MD-87 air tanker drops on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire September 18, 2017. Inciweb photo.

Jeff Wilson runs a professional photography studio out of Dillon, Colorado.

Perfect photography of an air tanker drop

The DC-10 was dropping on the La Tuna Fire in Southern California on September 2, 2017.

Helicopter photographer Kevin Takumi shows the perfect technique for filming an air tanker drop. He zooms in close at first on Air Tanker 910, a DC-10, then at the completion of the drop zooms out so you can see where the retardant lands.

Here’s a few more aerial firefighting videos:

Continue reading “Perfect photography of an air tanker drop”

MD-87 makes water drops in South Dakota

In these videos by Terry Nelsen, Erickson’s MD-87 air tankers are seen dropping water on the Rankin Fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Both Tankers 101 and 103 were used on the fires in the area.

One of the firefighters told us that after the Rankin Fire had been burning for a while an MD-87 en route to drop water on the fire in the park was diverted to a new fire just starting, the Beaver Fire between Wind Cave NP and Pringle, South Dakota

Wind Cave NP has a policy that the Park Superintendent can on a case by case basis decide if retardant will be banned on individual wildfires. In the case of the Rankin Fire, he decided he did not want retardant used, so the air tankers were using plain water.

Fire engines are allowed to drive off the road to suppress fires in Wind Cave National Park but in some cases retardant is banned.

Tanker 72 at Fox Field

Above: CAL FIRE Tanker 72, an S-2T, at Fox Field September 2, 2017. Photo by BT Nutter.

(Originally published at 6:18 a.m. MDT September 16, 2017)

BT Nutter took these photos of Tanker 72 at Fox Field near Lancaster, California earlier this month.

Thanks BT!

S-2 T-72 Fox Field
CAL FIRE Tanker 72, an S-2T, at Fox Field September 2, 2017. Photo by BT Nutter.
S-2 T-72 Fox Field
CAL FIRE Tanker 72, an S-2T, at Fox Field September 2, 2017. Photo by BT Nutter.

The FAA requires Erickson’s MD-87’s to drop retardant with landing gear down

It is specified in their Supplemental Type Certificate.

There have been several questions and comments from the readers on this website about why Erickson Aero Tanker’s MD-87 air tankers drop retardant with the landing gear down. The most commonly accepted explanation was to reduce airspeed, especially when making a downhill drop. This was why some older air tankers, like the DC-7 according to “Johnny”, kept the gear down.

But Erickson’s MD-87’s are required by the FAA to lower the gear while dropping — in fact it is specified in their Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) issued by the FAA. The reason is the prevention of stalling.

Beaver Fire, MD-87, T-103, South Dakota,
An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

Earlier this year Ericson petitioned the FAA for an exemption from this requirement, and requested a “Flaps 40/Landing Gear Up” configuration while dropping, but on June 28, 2017 that exemption was denied.

Below is an excerpt from the decision which was signed by Michael Kaszycki of the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service:

I deny Erickson Aero Tanker, LLC’s, petition for an exemption from 14 CFR 25.201(b)(1), that would have allowed aerial firefighting retardant drops in a configuration that does not fully meet the stall characteristics requirements on the modified DC-9-87 (MD-87) airplanes.