Air tankers at Rapid City

An MD-87 and an RJ85 were at Rapid City for the Legion Lake Fire in the Black Hills

Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, at Rapid City December 12, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:15 p.m. MST December 13, 2017)

When the Legion Lake Fire broke out in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota December 11 it grew quickly in strong winds. The Incident Commander didn’t hesitate to order additional resources, including two large air tankers. Tankers 101, an MD-87, and 163, an RJ85, responded from Southern California, arriving late in the afternoon. They were not used that day since the lead plane did not arrive until much later. The tankers also were not used the following day. But the fire blew up the night of the 12th, expanding from 4,000 acres to over 40, 000 acres. As this is written around noon on December 13, the Incident Management Team said they will be used if needed.

On December 12 we visited the Rapid City Air Tanker base while the tankers were parked there. We talked with MD-87 pilot Brent Connor who told us Erickson Aero Tanker expects to have their fifth MD-87 in service by the 2018 fire season. Tanker 101 was the first they built; the others are 102, 103, 105, and 107.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the Legion Lake Fire are tagged “Legion Lake Fire”.

Each of the recently developed jet-powered air tankers have unique retardant delivery systems, and the MD-87 is no exception. As you can see in the photo gallery (click on the photos to see larger versions) it has two imposing tubes (for lack of a better term) in addition to a tank under the cabin floor and a pod under the plane’s belly. Those three reservoirs hold 3,000, 1,000, and 700 gallons, respectively, for a total of 4,700 gallons.

To mitigate the issue of retardant dispersing over the wing, which introduced the possibility of it being ingested into the engines, they had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, lowering the release point by 46 inches.

Mr. Connor said that at this time they are limited to dropping 3,100 gallons, and they never have to download due to density altitude. After modifications are made to the system, they expect to be cleared to carry 4,000 gallons. He said that to get to the present stage of development the FAA required 80 hours of  flight testing.

Firefighting aircraft on Twitter

Isaac notified us about these videos and photos. Thanks Isaac!

RJ85 on the Edwards Fire

RJ85 Edwards Fire in Alameda County, California
An RJ85 drops on the Edwards Fire in Alameda County, California, September 26, 2017. Photo by Joel V.

Joel sent us this photo of an RJ85 dropping on the Edwards Fire near Oakland, California. Thanks Joel.

As a bonus, here’s a video of an MD-87 dropping on the same fire, shot by Darryl Poe.

The fire burned about 22 acres near Edwards Avenue and Mountain Blvd, six miles southeast of Oakland.

Excellent photo of MD-87 on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire

(Originally published at 11 a.m. MDT September 25, 2017)

Jeff Wilson sent us the photo above taken September 19 of an MD-87 dropping on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire east of Dillon, Colorado. Thanks Jeff!

The fire was reported above Dillon Reservoir at 5 p.m. MDT September 18 and burned 21 acres on a steep slope before firefighters contained it, aided by two large air tankers and two helicopters dropping water and retardant September 18 and 19.

Resources working on the fire included Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue crews, one U.S. Forest Service engine crew, a 20-person hand crew from Rifle, and a 22-person initial-attack hand crew from the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit.

The fire was caused by sparks from a blown insulator cap on a power line that subsequently ignited nearby grasses.

MD-87 air tanker drops Tenderfoot 2 Fire
An MD-87 air tanker drops on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire September 18, 2017. Inciweb photo.

Jeff Wilson runs a professional photography studio out of Dillon, Colorado.

MD-87 makes water drops in South Dakota

In these videos by Terry Nelsen, Erickson’s MD-87 air tankers are seen dropping water on the Rankin Fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Both Tankers 101 and 103 were used on the fires in the area.

One of the firefighters told us that after the Rankin Fire had been burning for a while an MD-87 en route to drop water on the fire in the park was diverted to a new fire just starting, the Beaver Fire between Wind Cave NP and Pringle, South Dakota

Wind Cave NP has a policy that the Park Superintendent can on a case by case basis decide if retardant will be banned on individual wildfires. In the case of the Rankin Fire, he decided he did not want retardant used, so the air tankers were using plain water.

Fire engines are allowed to drive off the road to suppress fires in Wind Cave National Park but in some cases retardant is banned.

The FAA requires Erickson’s MD-87’s to drop retardant with landing gear down

It is specified in their Supplemental Type Certificate.

There have been several questions and comments from the readers on this website about why Erickson Aero Tanker’s MD-87 air tankers drop retardant with the landing gear down. The most commonly accepted explanation was to reduce airspeed, especially when making a downhill drop. This was why some older air tankers, like the DC-7 according to “Johnny”, kept the gear down.

But Erickson’s MD-87’s are required by the FAA to lower the gear while dropping — in fact it is specified in their Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) issued by the FAA. The reason is the prevention of stalling.

Beaver Fire, MD-87, T-103, South Dakota,
An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

Earlier this year Ericson petitioned the FAA for an exemption from this requirement, and requested a “Flaps 40/Landing Gear Up” configuration while dropping, but on June 28, 2017 that exemption was denied.

Below is an excerpt from the decision which was signed by Michael Kaszycki of the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service:

I deny Erickson Aero Tanker, LLC’s, petition for an exemption from 14 CFR 25.201(b)(1), that would have allowed aerial firefighting retardant drops in a configuration that does not fully meet the stall characteristics requirements on the modified DC-9-87 (MD-87) airplanes.

Aircraft used on the Beaver Fire in South Dakota

Incident Commander Todd Hoover provided information about the Beaver Fire east of Pringle, South Dakota, September 14, 2017. We asked him about how aircraft were used, and we also have video and still photos of firefighters, air tankers, and helicopters.

The fire has burned approximately 400 acres between Wind Cave National Park and Pringle, South Dakota. On Friday, September 15, it was slowed by rain in the area.

We apologize for wind noise in the recording.

Articles tagged Beaver Fire and the Rankin Fire on Wildfire Today.

Excellent photo of MD-87 dropping on the Beaver Fire

Above: An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

(Originally published at 10:46 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017)

Herb Ryan of the Custer Free Press gave us permission to use these excellent photos he took September 13 at the Beaver Fire which is burning west of Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota.

(More information about the Beaver Fire and the nearby Rankin Fire.)

The photo above is spectacular. It is a close-up of one of the most recently converted air tankers, an MD-87, dropping on the fire.

This is how he described getting the shot:

I was waiting for this and it broke out [of the] heavy smoke and this is the one full image I shot. Was on the back side of the fire with a Canon 7D and a 70-200 f2.8 on the camera cranked all the way down to 70mm.

The photo below of a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter on the Beaver Fire is also courtesy of Mr. Ryan.