Air Spray looks toward the end of the year for their BAe-146 tankers

Air Spray executives
Ravi Saip and Paul Lane, in front of one of their Electras at Chico, California, that is under a CWN contract with CAL FIRE.

The folks at Air Spray continue to work on the two BAe-146 aircraft that they are converting into air tankers. I found myself at the Chico, California airport yesterday and stopped by their hangar and talked with Ravi Saip (Director of Maintenance/General Manager) and Paul Lane (Vice President and Chief Financial Officer). The tanks they will install will employ some of the same principles as the gravity-based Aero Union RADS I tanks. They are being built now by Air Spray’s staff, which includes some former Aero Union employees. Mr. Saip also worked for Aero Union before they went out of business.

I looked inside one of the BAe-146s and observed some of the work that has been completed, including the gutting of the flight deck and the former passenger area. Before they install the tank in the interior they will cut a hole in the belly through which the retardant will exit.

They hope to have most of the work done by the end of the summer, then they will begin the testing, tweaking, improving, and certification phases.

They don’t have a contract for the BAe-146s, but are hopeful that they will find work for the air tankers after they are ready to fight fire.

“It’s not your average video game”

A reporter for Shaw TV in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada conducted two interviews with Perry Dancause, Director of Flight Operations for Air Spray about their air tanker business. The first one covers general information about the company and their operations at the Red Deer facility.

The second video is about their flight simulators. The reporter who looks like he is about 14 years old begins by saying “You know, it’s not your average video game”.

Air Spray has a fleet of Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprop air tankers and has established a US base at Chico, California. They are converting two BAe 146s into air tankers and in September received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra.

Air Spray to begin converting a second BAe-146

Air Spray's Tanker 482
Air Spray’s Tanker 482 At their Chico, California facility, September 11, 2013. Air Spray photo.

Following up on the development that Air Spray has received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra, we checked with Ravi Saip, Air Spray’s Director of Maintenance and General Manager at their new Chico facility in California to get an update on their conversion of a BAe-146 into an air tanker. Like some of the aviation companies, they are keeping their cards close to the vest, but he told us that the project is “moving along well”, and they “anticipate being available for the 2014 fire season”. They have a second BAe-146 that will be “arriving soon” which will also will be converted.

Mr. Saip said, “The long term goal for Air Spray is to facilitate the needs of both the US and Canadian wildfire management teams with as many tools as they need.”

Air Spray signs contract with CAL FIRE

Air Spray Tanker 482, an L-188, at Chico, California. September 13, 2013.
Air Spray Tanker 482, an L-188, at Chico, California. September 13, 2013.

Air Spray, an air tanker company with headquarters in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, has received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra “Long Liner” air tanker. The company flew Tanker 482 down to California last week, Chico and later McClennan, to get the aircraft and pilots carded by CAL FIRE. The flight crew will be evaluated by CAL FIRE this week.

Air Spray will leave the L-188 at Chico until the weather turns, and when activated on the CWN contract, they will fly a crew down from Red Deer. They may add up to three more L-188s to the contract when the air tankers are released from their Canadian contracts.

Air Spray also operates Turbo Commander 690 “Bird Dogs” or lead planes, as well as some charter aircraft.

The L-188’s air frame is virtually the same as the P-3, a maritime patrol aircraft which has also seen service in its later years as an air tanker; the L-188 has been called a P-3 with windows. Both of them carry about 3,000 gallons of retardant.

Last year Air Spray established a new United States base at Chico and announced that they had acquired a BAe-146 airliner which they would convert into an air tanker in the new facility.

They hired several workers who had previously worked for the now bankrupt Aero Union. Seven of Aero Union’s P-3 air tankers have been parked at McClellan for over a year, with an eighth in Canada. They are still owned by the bank, unsold, due to the very high cost of putting them back into flyable shape. The rumors that the P-3s have been scrapped are not true.

 

Thanks go out to Johnny, Walt, and Jerome.

Another BAe air tanker takes flight

Conair RJ85 first flight
The first flight of Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85, which is being built for Aero Flite. Conair photo by Jeff Bough.

Conair Group of Abbotsford, British Columbia has started flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85, identified as Tanker 160, which is being converted from a jet-powered airliner into an air tanker. Conair is building two of them for Aero Flite. The RJ85 is a derivative of the BAe-146, but with improved engines. The 146 first flew in 1981 while the RJ85 was first delivered in 1993. Conair is the largest air tanker operator in the world with a fleet of around 50 fixed-wing special mission aircraft, including Convair 580s, Conair Firecats, Douglas DC-6s, and Lockheed Electra air tankers.

Tanker 160 first flight
Conair’s Tanker 160, a BAe Avro RJ85 after first flight, August 21, 2013. Photo by Coastal Pacific Aviation.

Tanker 160 reminds me of one of the “Guppy” type aircraft heavily modified to carry large cargo items. Aero Union sold the Mini Guppy below to Erickson in 1988 who then used it to haul heavy equipment until 1995, when it was retired to the Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon, where it resides today.

Erickson Air Crane Mini Guppy
Erickson Air Crane’s Mini Guppy

BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is making specialist engineering contributions to Conair and three other aircraft conversion programs underway in North America.

Neptune has acquired two BAe-146s which were converted by Tronos in Canada. Tronos has four more in progress for Neptune.

Minden Air Corp. has been working on their conversion of a BAe-146 for several years and began flight testing it this summer. A second BAe is under development and eventually these aircraft will replace the venerable P2V Neptune currently in service with Minden.

Air Spray Aviation Services of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada which currently has a fleet of Lockheed Electra turboprop air tankers has established a US base at Chico, California and has acquired a BAe 146-200 for conversion.