Video of Tanker 489 dropping on a fire in B.C.

The video shows multiple retardant drops by Air Spray’s Tanker 489, a Lockheed Electra, on a fire in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park in British Columbia (map).

Here is the description provided by the videographer:

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“Published on 4 Jul 2015
Fire season has arrived in the Kootenays! This video was taken July 3rd, 2015 showing the new small forest fire near Kokanee Creek Provincial Park towards Kokanee Glacier. This video features many of the aircraft involved in battling the blaze including water bombers, air tankers and helicopters with bambi buckets.

–The aircraft featured in this video include:
–Air Spray Lockheed L-188 Electra Airtanker
–Air Spray Twin Commander 690 Birddog C-FZRQ
–Cessna Caravan Birddog
–Selkirk Mountain Helicopters Aerospatiale AS 350 B-2 C-GSKL with water bucket
–Air Spray Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss Amphibious Tanker Plane

This was my first time ever seeing aircraft fighting a wildfire in person and it was truly an impressive sight. It was especially cool seeing the massive Electra turboprop diving down into the valley near Kokanee Creek Park and dumping fire retardant onto the flames.”

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BONUS VIDEO

This video of an MD-87 dropping on a fire in Laguna Canyon in southern California on July 3, 2015 is shot from pretty far away but you can clearly see the retardant and after the drop, the air tanker as it exits the area closer to the camera. It looked like an excellent drop. I could not make out the tanker number.

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BONUS VIDEO #2, added July 9, 2015

I found this video today, and it looks like the same air tanker, the MD-87, making another drop on the fire in Laguna Canyon. It’s interesting how at 0:48 it disappears into a canyon while making the drop.

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New paint for Tanker 66

T-66 new paint

New paint for Tanker 66. Photo on March 19, 2015 at Medford, Oregon. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin sent us the photo above of Erickson’s Tanker 66, saying it just returned to Medford, Oregon after getting a new paint job at Phoenix Goodyear Airport.

The photo below is what it looked like a year ago. It is our understanding that Tanker 60 will get the same paint scheme very soon.

DC-7 air tankers at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base

Two DC-7 air tankers and an S-2T air tanker at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base, January 19, 2014. CAL FIRE photo.

The paint is similar to the three Erickson MD-87s:

Tanker 101, an MD-87

Tanker 101, an MD-87, during the grid retardant test, January 15, 2014. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. (click to enlarge)

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Projected federal air tanker fleet for the United States

Now that we have summarized the evolution of the federal large air tanker fleet over the course of 2014, it’s time to look at what is in store for 2015. There could be between 14 and 21 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts this year. Jennifer Jones, a Public Affairs Specialist with the U. S. Forest Service in Boise, told us that the list should include these aircraft:

  • 1 DC-10, 10 Tanker Air Carrier
  • 1 C-130Q, Coulson
  • 2 RJ-85s, Aero-Flite
  • 2 MD-87s, Erickson Aero Air
  • 1 BAe-146, Neptune
  • 6 P2Vs, Neptune
  • 1 C-130H, U.S. Forest  Service

In 2014 a DC-10 and three more BAe-146s were brought into service as “additional equipment” on a 1-year temporary basis under exclusive use contracts awarded in 2013. Due to a change in Department of the Interior procurement policies, this will not be done again in 2015.

The USFS expects to award another “next generation” contract for up to 7 more air tankers in 2015. We will be watching to see how long it takes the agency to advertise and award the contracts. Last time it took 555 days.

The USFS will also have one CL-415 water scooping air tanker on contract this year. And, eight military C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) are expected to be available if needed.

Last year the Department of the Interior funded 33 exclusive use Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) as national shared resources. Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, said their contracts are not firmed up yet for 2015, but they expect to have about the same number of SEATs as last year.

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Air tanker vs. garbage truck

Tankers 105, 06, and 101

Tankers 105, 06, and 101 (L to R) at Redmond Oregon, June 8, 2014. Photo by Jeff Ingelse.

According to an FAA report, one of Erickson Aero Tanker’s aircraft was struck by a garbage truck while parked at San Antonio, Texas January 5, 2015. There were no injuries, and the amount of damage to Tanker 105 is unknown.

The aircraft is an MD-87, N295EA, first certified by the Interagency Airtanker Board in 2014. One of its sister air tankers, T-101, made the first drop on a fire by an MD-87 June 7 on the Two Bulls Fire west of Bend, Oregon.

The aircraft is off contract now and the start date for 2015 hasn’t been determined.

A phone call to Erickson Aero Tanker was not returned.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Isaac.

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Air tankers at Medford

Medford Tankers by Kristin Biechler (1)

DC-10s, Tankers 910 and 911, at Medford. Photo by Kristin Biechler.

Kristin Biechler sent us these photos that she and Dave Clemens shot at the Medford, Oregon Airport (map) over the last few days. She said her house is directly under the tankers’ flight path to the Happy Camp and Beaver Fires in northwest California. The planes depart MFR, she explained, bank west, and mostly follow Highway 238 toward Jacksonville and out to Applegate Reservoir and into California.

Medford Tankers by Kristin Biechler (2)

A P2V (Tanker 07) and a DC-10 at Medford. Photo by Kristin Biechler.

Neptune 01-10 by Kristin Biechler

Neptune’s BAe-146s, Tankers 01 and 10, at Medford. Photo by Kristin Biechler.

Medford tankers by Dave Clemens (1)

Tanker 910, a DC-10, at Medford. Photo by Dave Clemens.

Medford tankers by Dave Clemens (5)

Tanker 101, an MD-87, at Medford. Photo by Dave Clemens.

Medford tankers by Dave Clemens (4)

Tanker 101, an MD-87, at Medford. Photo by Dave Clemens.

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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.

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Report: One MD-87 air tanker to resume service next week

MD-87 at Redmond, June 9, 2014

MD-87 at Redmond, June 9, 2014, showing what appears to be retardant on the fuselage on and above the wing in front of an engine. Photo by Jeff Ingelse.

The Oregonian is reporting that one of Erickson Aero Tanker’s MD-87 air tankers will return to service the week of July 27 with a second to return the following week.

On June 27 the company 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 reported today that Glen Newton, the air tanker operations manager for Erickson, said the aircraft were shut down because retardant was being ingested into the engines. Engineers are making modifications at the drop doors which they expect will solve the problem.

Erickson bought seven MD-87 airliners, planning to convert them into air tankers. The first two, Tankers 101 and 105, began working for the first time on contract to the U.S. Forest Service on June 4 and June 8, respectively. Soon thereafter, a third, Tanker 103, reported for duty.

We ran a story (with the photo at the top of this article) on June 9 which raised the possibility of retardant being ingested into the engines.

The way the U.S. Forest Service runs the air tanker program, most of the responsibility and costs for research and development for the airborne tools that ground-based firefighters need is left on the shoulders and at the discretion of private companies. It can cost millions of dollars to convert an airliner into a firefighting machine, and even more if the wheel has to be invented again for a new model of aircraft which requires a custom-engineered retardant system. It is inevitable that as these new designs are integrated into the fleet, bugs will be discovered. Engineers will have to go back to the drawing board and tweak certain systems. Neptune is on Version 3.0 of the retardant system in the five BAe-146 airliners they have converted.

Building an air tanker from an aircraft designed to carry a hundred passengers is a risky undertaking for a private company. They have to invest millions, and then hope that the U.S. Forest Service will give them contracts to operate it for 10 or 15 years so that they can recoup their investment. Some of the next-generation air tankers that have entered service for the first time over the last year are working on a five-year contract. When the companies have been allowed to bring on a second or third aircraft, in most cases those are on a one-year “additional equipment” contract, with no certainty that they will be used after that.

A banker evaluating a loan application for a company with a business model having such an uncertain future probably has some sleepless nights.

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