During the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week I interviewed Mikey McBryan, the General Manager of Buffalo Airways in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories which was founded by his father,”Buffalo” Joe McBryan. He talked about the company’s P3 air tanker, their numerous other air tankers, their 11 DC-3’s, his father’s 10,000 flight hours in a single DC-3, the history of Buffalo Airways, and the additional aircraft in their fleet. And he gets in a plug for “Ice Pilots” on Netflix.
The P-3’s formerly operated by Aero Union are slowly being brought back to life.
Above: Tanker 22 at Sacramento McClellan Airport, February, 2018.
(Originally published at 2:20 p.m. MT February 20, 2018)
Two companies expect to bring some of the Lockheed P-3 Orions formerly owned by Aero Union back into the aerial firefighting fleet. Buffalo Airways and Airstrike Firefighters are both actively working on aircraft, putting them through an “intensive and expensive inspection program”, according to Bill Douglass, President of Airstrike.
One of the reasons the U.S. Forest Service cancelled the air tanker contract with Aero Union was that certain required inspections were not being done. Mr. Douglass said the company that wrote the original structural integrity inspection program for the P-3 air tankers, Avenger Engineering, is carrying out the inspections now on their P-3, Tanker 23. Most of those are now complete, the FAA is satisfied, and he expects the aircraft will be ready to fight fire later this Spring. Avenger has had a hand in the development, design, and maintenance of many water and retardant delivery systems and type certificates for firefighting aircraft including the P3.
When they finish T-23 Airstrike plans to begin work on another P-3, Tanker 17, and later take on others as they have time.
Buffalo Airways and Airstrike are cooperating in some ways as they both work on their respective air tankers. Buffalo’s main headquarters is in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Canada, but their P-3 is registered to one of their offices in Hawthorne, Florida. The aircraft, Tanker 22, is still using the same “N” number as when it was flown by Aero Union, N922AU. Buffalo purchased T-22 in 2014. The company operates at least one Lockheed L-188 in Canada, Tanker 416, which is very similar to the P-3. In 2016 they received a five-year contract to operate eight new Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers owned by Northwest Territories.
In April of 2011 Aero Union, which had recently been bought by new owners, had eight P-3 air tankers under contract. By late July that number had been reduced to six when the Federal Aviation Administration found the company was not in compliance with the Fatigue and Damage Tolerance Evaluation and structural inspection program that was mandated by the company’s contract with the U.S. Forest Service.
At that time Tom Harbour, director of the Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management program, cancelled the contract, saying, “Our main priority is protecting and saving lives, and we can’t in good conscience maintain an aviation contract where we feel lives may be put at risk due to inadequate safety practices”. Some people described Aero Union as having been run into the ground by the new owners.
Northwest Territories has awarded a contract to Buffalo Airways to operate their eight new Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers. The government of the NWT inherited six CL-215 piston-powered scooper air tankers. They are being replaced by the FireBoss scoopers at a cost of about $26 million. Buffalo Airways scored a five-year contract to operate the new turbine-powered SEATs.
The FireBoss is amphibious, able to take off from a runway and land or scoop water on a lake.
Buffalo Airways previously operated the CL-215s for NWT. In their own fleet the company has eight air tankers: a Lockheed Electra, three Douglas DC-4s, and four CL-215s. As far as we know they have not yet starting operating the P3 they bought in 2014 as an air tanker. The last we heard it was receiving some maintenance in Florida.
Two large air tankers in Canada were recently certified and are ready for fire assignments.
Buffalo Airways has a newly certified L-188, Tanker 416. We asked Raquel Downey of Buffalo about the smoke or dust visible in the picture under and behind the aircraft. She said it was “just dust and dirt being blown back”. It must have been on a dirt or gravel runway.
We also asked Ms. Downey about the status of the P3 they purchased two years ago, but she said Joe McBryan is not answering any questions about the aircraft. We heard from a reliable source in March that it was in Florida getting some maintenance done.
And Air Spray’s Tanker 492 received the last of its FAA and Transport Canada certifications over the weekend. It rolled out of the hangar today and straight into service in Alberta, Canada. It has an updated RADS II tank and a new paint job.
Breaking news from the Aerial Firefighting conference. Buffalo Airways just purchased Tanker 22, one of the P3s formerly owned by Aero Union. They intend to use it as an air tanker. This was confirmed by Joe McBryan of Buffalo, who was pleased to say the P3 will live on.
They purchased it from Blue Aerospace/United Aeronautical Corporation.
You might recognize Mr. McBryan from the Ice Pilots reality show on the History Channel.