Air tankers drop on the Sherpa Fire

The Sherpa Fire has burned about 1,200 acres in Santa Barbara County in southern California.

And, let’s not forget the ground-based firefighters:

BAe-146 works the Varsity Fire in Oklahoma

T-03 Varsity Fire OK
T-03 on the Varsity Fire south of Bristow, OK April 7, 2016. Screen grab from the Matt Mcspadden video below.

You can’t see the actual retardant drop behind the trees, but in the video there is a decent shot of Tanker 03, a BAe-146, exiting the drop area at the Varsity Fire south of Bristow, Oklahoma on April 7, 2016. It was recorded by Matt Mcspadden.

Neptune trained with their air tankers in New Mexico

Some of the aircraft that were at Missoula were relocated to Alamogordo-White Sands Regional Airport.

Above: A Neptune Aviation BAe-146 landing at Redding August 7, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Neptune Aviation used seven air tankers in New Mexico for the company’s annual training according to a story in the Alamogordo Daily News. Crews used the opportunity to practice dropping on simulated fires and to perform maintenance on the piston engine planes. The company had seven BAe-146 jets and seven radial-engine P2Vs in the warmer climate for about two weeks.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

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“…Neptune’s Chief Operating Officer Dan Snyder said the company brings their operations down to Alamogordo for about two weeks in February because of the warm weather is more amenably for their aircraft.

“We do all of our aircraft and ground training for the P2V aircraft down here,” Snyder said. “We also bring all of our flight crew for all of our company flight and ground schools here. Missoula is a lot colder. The weather is not as inclusive.”

He said with the P2V aircraft it needs a lot more preheating or warming up before a flight.

“Here it allows us not to have to do a lot of preheating,” Snyder said. “We can fly more. The airspace here is not as congested like up in Missoula. Down here we do have military air traffic but Holloman has been very accommodating for us. They’ve helped us out a lot.”

He said Neptune trains between Alamogordo and Roswell airport.

“It works out well for us because we have mountainous and flat terrain so we can do all of our drop training here,” Snyder said. “Our training includes using water with our drop training. We use retardant on fires but when we’re training, its water. We fill with water because it’s cheaper. We’re not fighting a fire during training so we use water.”

In Alamogordo Neptune houses the P2V Neptune’s while the BAe-146’s are housed in Missoula. Neptune does all of their heavy duty maintenance at Alamogordo-White Sands Regional Airport on the P2V aircraft.

“We have about 15 full time personnel that live here in Alamogordo,” Snyder said….”

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UPDATE March 24, 2016: The newspaper article said Neptune moved seven BAe-146 air tankers from Missoula to New Mexico for the training. We checked with Dan Snyder of Neptune this week at the Aerial Firefighting conference, and he confirmed that the BAe’s remained in Montana, and did not go to New Mexico.

BAe-146 flyover UM
This is a screen shot from a very low resolution video of a Neptune BAe-146 flyover at the 2015 University of Montana homecoming game in Missoula.

Conair to train in local RJ85 simulator

Conair pilots will use an RJ85 flight simulator that will display forest fires on the ground.

RJ85 at La Grande
An RJ85 at La Grande, OR, July, 2015. Photo by Josh Annas.

Conair has converted several Avro RJ85 airlines into air tankers by adding an external fire retardant tank holding 3,000 gallons. In order to train in a flight simulator the pilots went to Switzerland.

The RJ85 is a variant of the BAe-146, with an 8-foot longer fuselage and more efficient engines. Until air tanker companies in the United States and Canada started converting the two models a few years ago, none have been operated in North America for quite some time, so there was no need for simulators.

Neptune has sent their BAe-146 pilots to train with simulators in the United Kingdom while Minden, when they were working on a BAe-146, had their personnel travel to Australia. But starting in 2017 Conair pilots will be able to train near their own facilities in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

On February 19, Conair announced that they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CAE to develop a Wildfire Training and Simulation Centre in Abbotsford.

Under the terms of the MOU, CAE will build an Avro RJ85 full-flight simulator qualified to Level D, the highest qualification for flight simulators. Conair will procure long-term pilot training services from CAE to train their pilots who fly the RJ85.

In addition to the training program for RJ85 aerial firefighting pilots, CAE expects the Wildfire Training and Simulation Centre to be part of a distributed simulation network that connects wildfire training and coordination centers throughout Canada for purposes of conducting simulation-based mission rehearsal for wildfire response.

“Conair is pleased to be partnering with CAE to establish a world-class training centre, which will be another great example of the aerospace and wildfire innovations being developed here in British Columbia,” said Barry Marsden, Chief Executive Officer of Conair.  “We are a leading provider of aerial fire control products and services, and as a leader we need our people to be highly skilled and trained.  The new Wildfire Training and Simulation Centre will contribute to the preparation and readiness of our pilots and other professionals.”

New lead plane?

A comment by Bill Blake after we posted this photo on the Wildfire Today Facebook page gave us an idea… about starting a rumor that the Department of the Interior has received ten F-15E surplus fighter jets from the Air Force and will be using them as lead planes in 2016. In return, the Air Force got the 182 DoI drones.

The photo was taken by Colin Moeser as Neptune’s Tanker 02 was paralleling an F15E Strike Eagle landing in Boise in 2015.

Rarely seen together

Neptune Aviation posted this photo on their Facebook page of two aircraft that are rarely captured in the same photo, a BAe-146 air tanker and an F-15E. They wrote:

Colin Moeser captured this jaw dropping shot of Neptune’s T-02 paralleling an F15E Strike Eagle from Mountain Home AFB landing in Boise in 2015. The story behind the story is that Neptune’s T-02 Captain Terry Cullen is the proud father of Ryan, a crew chief on an F15. Good genes run in the family!

Forest Service awards contracts for seven additional air tankers

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

Today the U.S. Forest Service announced contract awards for seven additional large and very large air tankers. The aircraft being added to the exclusive use contracted fleet are four BAe-146s operated by Neptune Aviation, two RJ85s flown by Aero-FLite, and one DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

The contract solicitation, issued November 26, 2015, is for what the USFS calls “next generation” air tankers, which must be turbine or turbofan (jet) powered, can cruise at 300 knots (345 mph), and have a retardant capacity of at least 3,000 gallons. The DC-10 carries 11,600 gallons, while the others can hold up to about 3,000 gallons.

This brings the total number of next-gen air tankers on exclusive use contracts to 14. There are also seven “legacy” air tankers on exclusive use contracts, all operated by Neptune. Six are Korean War vintage P2Vs which usually carry about 2,100 gallons and are powered by two 18-cylinder radial engines. There is also one BAe-146 on the legacy contract.

These new next-gen awards, which begin this year, are for a five-year period with options for five additional years, with at least 160 days of mandatory availability every year.

The daily rates for Neptune’s BAe-146s, which is paid even if the aircraft is not used that day, varies during the possible 10-year period from $29,000 to $32,640 each day, while the hourly flight rate is from $8,000 to $9,274.

The daily rate for Aero-Flite’s Rj85 are from $28,581 to $35,546, and their flight rate is $7,559 to $9,862 per hour. The daily rate for the DC-10, a Very Large Air Tanker, are from $34,000 to $35,000, and the hourly rate is $13,600.

These rates do not include the cost of fuel, which will be paid by the government.

Most of the contracts the U.S. Forest Service has attempted to issue in recent years for large and very large air tankers have been protested, which suspends the activation of the contract until the Government Accountability Office adjudicates the dispute. This contract has already been protested by Coulson Aviation and Erickson Aero Tanker even before the closing date of the solicitation. However, the GAO decided in July to deny the protests. But that does not mean that there will not be additional protests now that the contracts have been awarded.

More information:

Details of the rates awarded under the new contract.