A DC-10 engine on the highway

DC-10 engine

10 Tanker Air Carrier describes their photo, taken in the Albuquerque area:

“Today we loaded one of our General Electric CF6 engines on a trailer and trucked it across town to Central New Mexico Community College School of Applied Technologies. We donated the engine with the hope that it will enhance their large aircraft maintenance program…… and continue to send us good employees! No denying its large, and looks even larger driving down the road! BTW…….this is an engine for a DC10-10, and all of our airplanes will now be DC10-30’s.”

Three DC-10 air tankers at Castle

Tankers 919, 911, 912 at Merced 8-30-2014
Tankers 910, 911, and 912 at Castle Airport, 8-30-2014. Photo by 10 Tanker.

On August 30 the latest DC-10 air tanker to be retrofitted, Tanker 912, joined its’ sisters, T-910 and T-911 at Castle Airport near Merced, California. It has been carded by the U.S. Forest Service and is ready to go, according to 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

A third DC-10 air tanker to become available

Tanker 912, DC-10
T-912 after arrival at Albuquerque. Photo by 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

A third DC-10 air tanker is expected to become available in the very near future. 10 Tanker Air Carrier has announced that the conversion of their third Very Large Air Tanker is complete and they expect to receive it at their company headquarters this week in Albuquerque. The final step will be certification by the Forest Service, after which it will be dispatched where requested by fire managers. It will be designated as Tanker 912.

The DC-10s always carry 11,600 gallons of fire retardant unless a smaller load is requested by fire managers. That is three to six times more than conventional air tankers.

Updated: MD-87 and DC-10 back in the air

(Originally published at 11:24 a.m. MDT, August 3, 2014; revised August 4, 2014)

The issues that kept one of the DC-10s and all three of the MD-87 air tankers grounded for a while have been partially mitigated for the MD-87s, and totally fixed in the case of the DC-10.

DC-10

Tanker 910, a DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, suffered some damage to a wing on July 19 as it was taxiing at the air tanker base at Moses Lake, Washington. While relocating in the loading pit area the aircraft struck a portable “air stair”, a structure that can be pushed up to the aircraft door. Two people on the ground were marshaling the DC-10 as it slowly moved, directing it where to go and supposedly watching for obstructions. Rick Hatton, President of 10 Tanker, told us that the air tanker was back in service on July 28.

Mr. Hatton said their second DC-10, Tanker 911, has been busy on fires. The third one being built now, Tanker 912, was test flown on August 2. It will enter service later this month, perhaps as early as August 11.

MD-87s

On June 27 Erickson Aero Tanker recalled the three MD-87s they were operating, tanker numbers 101, 103, and 105, “due to intermittent engine surges when dropping [retardant at] high coverage levels”, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The Oregonian later reported that retardant was being ingested into the engines. On June 30 Tanker 101 returned to service, but with restrictions. Tanker 105 should be in service the week of August 4, but with same restrictions.

We have confirmed that the air tanker is limited to no more than coverage level four, which is four gallons per 100 square feet — about half of the maximum coverage level for fully capable air tankers. Our understanding of the issue is that the MD-87s have two retardant openings on the belly. On most air tankers they are called “doors”, since they operate much like a door on a hinge, swinging down on some air tankers. But the MD-87 has two “spades”, which function like a stopper in a bathtub. The spade in the aircraft normally plugs the hole, but raises, in a constant-flow manner, to allow retardant to flow around it and exit the aircraft.

Tanker 101 is using just the left spade instead of both. That spade now has half a funnel at the leading edge to get the retardant moving backwards as it comes out. There is a report that a slight mist was still contacting the wing but it appears that retardant is no longer going into the engines. The leading edge slats make that small amount of retardant that touches the wing look worse than it is.

One of the MD-87 pilots is qualified for initial attack.

Phone calls to Erickson Aero Tanker requesting comments on this issue were not returned.

UPDATED: DC-10 damages wing while taxiing at Moses Lake

Wing damage on Tanker 910.
Wing damage on Tanker 910.

(UPDATED, July 25, 2014: excerpts from SAFECOMS are at the end of the article. UPDATED September 3, 2014: a lessons learned report can be found HERE.)

One of the DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers incurred some damage to a wing July 19, 2014 while it was taxiing at the air tanker base at Moses Lake, Washington. While relocating in the loading pit area Tanker 910 struck a portable “air stair”, a structure that can be pushed up to the aircraft door. Two people on the ground were marshaling the DC-10 as it slowly moved, directing it where to go and supposedly watching for obstructions.

air stair
The “air stair” that was struck by the wing.

The wing was damaged on the front and back sides –the aileron and the slats. Rick Hatton, the President of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said on Sunday that parts to repair the damage were en route to Moses Lake. The company’s other DC-10, Tanker 911, was also at the tanker base when the accident happened.

Mr. Hatton said retardant systems tests on their third DC-10 which is being converted now into an air tanker will begin the week of July 28. In a month or two they hope to have it fully operational. It will be designated as Tanker 912.

Below is a copy of a portion of SAFECOM 14-0491 about the incident. Click on the image to see a larger version.

SAFECOM 14-0491

Below is a copy of a portion of SAFECOM 14-0446 about the incident. Click on the image to see a larger version.:

SAFECOM 14-0446

Number of air tankers increases for the first time since 2007

Conair RJ85 first flight
The first flight of Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85 in September, 2013, built for Aero-Flite. Conair photo by Jeff Bough.

The large air tanker fleet in the United States is on track to have more than double the number that were flying at the beginning of the summer in 2013. Last year there were nine large air tankers available near the beginning of the western fire season, and by mid-July this year there are expected to be 20 on contract that are fully certified, flyable, and ready to assist firefighters on the ground. Air tanker UTF In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts, but that number as been generally in a downward spiral since then until it reached the low point of nine in 2013. Thanks to the the U.S. Forest Service adding three additional jet-powered BAe-146s to the “legacy contract” temporarily this year, and with nine other air tankers being on five-year or temporary one-year “next generation” contracts, we expect the air tanker fleet to be the largest since 2009.

Large air tankers-2014

Five of the 20 air tankers are on temporary one-year contracts added under the “additional equipment” provisions of the contracts that Neptune and 10 Tanker Air Carrier have for their BAe-146s and DC-10s. Unless the USFS decides again next year to award them another one-year contract (if they have the funds to do so) those five may disappear and the total number could decrease to 15.

Within the next week or so 16 large air tankers should be fully activated and on duty. There are still four that have contracts but are still going through the final stages of conversion, live drop tests, or approval of a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In addition to the 20 large air tankers, there will be 33 single engine air tankers (SEATs) on exclusive use national contracts.

10 Tanker Air Carrier is converting their third DC-10. It has all of the necessary approvals and is expected to be ready to fight fire in July.

Aero-Flite has the approval of the Interagency AirTanker Board and is waiting on the STC before their two RJ85s can begin work. They hope to have everything all squared away by mid- to late June.

Minden has been working on their BAe-146 for several years and has scheduled their airborne drop tests, the “grid test”, to begin the week of June 16. They are waiting for the FAA to issue their STC. The FAA representative who was working on it had to leave the country on an assignment, slowing down the process.

By mid-summer there will be three additional air tankers that that the U.S. Forest service could activate on one-year additional equipment contracts. Neptune, Erickson Aero Tanker, and Aero-Flite will each have one additional approved air tanker sitting on their ramps.

The U.S. Forest Service could have, with the stroke of a pen, a total of 23 large air tankers flying this summer. The states in the far west are expected to have an above normal wildfire potential this summer. If that turns out to be accurate and houses are burning and residents are being killed, some questions will be asked if those three recently converted next generation air tankers are still cooling their wheels on an airport ramp because a bureaucrat in the Department of Agriculture decided to look the other way.

Tanker 41
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, flyover May 21, 2014 at the University of Montana during the Large Fire Conference at Missoula. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A second DC-10 now on contract

Tanker 910, a DC-10,
Tanker 910, a DC-10, at Rapid City, April 23, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The U.S. Forest Service has added a second DC-10 on the exclusive use “next-gen” air tanker contract. Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, told Fire Aviation that their second DC-10 very large air tanker, Tanker 911, has been added to the exclusive use fleet. It had been on a call when needed contract, and would only be activated occasionally, and only if it was available.

Mr. Hatton said their third DC-10 which is being converted now, Tanker 912, should be airborne “by mid-season”, and it is also is being added to the exclusive use contract. So by sometime this summer, there will be three DC-10s available to fight fire.

10 Tanker owns three other DC-10s that are awaiting modification, Mr. Hatton said.

GAO releases details of air tanker contract protest decision

GAOThe General Accountability Office has released their 23-page decision documenting why the agency sustained the protest filed by three companies over the sole source air tanker contract that the U.S. Forest Service awarded to Neptune Aviation December 12, 2013. The non-competitive contract, worth $141 million to $496 million, specified that Neptune would supply two or more next-generation air tankers, BAe-146s, for the next four to nine years beginning in 2014.

In our previous article about the decision we included the text of a press release issued by the GAO, but this 23-page document provides much more detail.