Smokejumper aircraft at Missoula

I was able to get some photos of some smokejumper aircraft at Missoula International Airport last week while attending the Fire Continuum conference. Parked, were two Twin Otters and two C23B Sherpas, and a third Sherpa taxied in while I was there.

Previously I had seen a Sherpa flying through the hills north of the airport. The Sherpa that just landed may have been dropping jumpers for training. The U.S. Forest Service has authorization to obtain 15 of the Sherpas from the U.S Army. So far six have been refurbished and Neptune Aviation is working on a seventh with an eighth soon to follow. It is possible that the remaining seven will be used for parts.

C23B Sherpas twin otter
A Sherpa taxis in after landing at Missoula.

C23B Sherpas

C23B Sherpas
Two C23B Sherpas at Missoula, May 25, 2018.
C23B Sherpa twin otter
Twin Otters have served smokejumpers for many years.

Tanker 10 is the gate guard at Missoula International Airport

While in Missoula this week I got a couple of photos of Tanker 10, the retired P2V that is now the “gate guard” at the airport.

When it was placed in that position in June of 2017, Kevin Condit, Neptune’s Marketing Manager said, “Neptune and the Missoula aviation community have a very long history, and with the Smokejumpers and the Forest Service in Missoula, they asked Neptune Aviation if Tanker 10 could be the gate guard.”

All of the P2V air tankers with their two 18-cylinder radial engines and two small jet engines are now retired, and most will find homes in museums.

P2V air tanker 10 gate guard missoula airport

Four of Neptune’s BAe-146 air tankers are deployed

Another five are at Missoula, MT and Alamagordo, NM

Above: Three of Neptune Aviation’s BAe-146’s at Missoula, May 25, 2018.

Like the other operators of large air tankers, Neptune Aviation is finishing the necessary off-season work on their fleet and are putting some of them to work. The company has a total of nine BAe-146 jet-powered air tankers. The conversions from airliners to air tankers is complete and they have no others waiting to be transformed.

When I visited Neptune’s facilities at Missoula Friday, marketing manager Kevin Condit said four of their tankers are actively working. The company only has four on exclusive use (EU) contracts this year, which is a reduction from 2017 when they had seven BAe-146’s and four P2V’s on EU. All of the P2V air tankers with their two 18-cylinder radial engines and two small jet engines are now retired, and most will find homes in museums. The U.S. Forest Service reduced the number of large air tankers on EU contracts from 20 in 2017 to 13 in 2018.

t-10 Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire
Tanker 10 on the ramp outside Neptune’s hangar, May 25, 2018.

Neptune air tankers on EU contract this year are numbers 1, 3, 16, and 41. On call when needed (CWN) contracts they have tankers 2, 10, 15, and 40, and one additional BAe-146 without a contract (T-12) according to information provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

Friday two BAe-146’s were parked on the ramp at Missoula, 10 and 12, while two others, 02 and 15, were in the hangar for heavy maintenance.

air brake bae-146 Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire
The air brake extended on T-12 outside Neptune’s hangar, May 25, 2018.

For years I have wondered why Neptune’s aircraft are adorned with the state flag for Montana, but have no American flag. Mr. Condit explained that the company is proud of Montana, most of their 250 employees live in the state, and, it’s “tradition” for the company to only display the state flag on their aircraft. However inside their main hangar they have both hanging from the ceiling.

Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire hangar
Tankers 02 and 15 in Neptune’s hangar for heavy maintenance, May 25, 2018.

Neptune has a contract to refurbish the C-23B Sherpa aircraft that the U.S. Forest Service acquired from the U.S. Army. Up to 15 were authorized to be transferred and as of today Neptune is working on their seventh, with the eighth soon to follow. It is possible that the remaining Sherpas may only be used for parts, Mr. Condit said.

Sherpa Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire
One of the Sherpas that Neptune is refurbishing for the U.S. Forest Service.

This year we are attempting to get photos of the maintenance support vehicles that follow air tankers around from base to base. Neptune is changing their thinking, and is moving from trailers pulled by trucks to large van-type vehicles without a trailer. Mr. Condit said the maintenance personnel like them better because they are more nimble and easier to maneuver at tanker bases and motel parking lots. I asked if they ever carried a spare engine and he said no. If an engine suffers a bird strike, for example, which is more common than you’d think, they can ferry the BAe-146 back to Missoula on three engines, replace it overnight, and get the tanker back to its base the next day.

Mercedes support truck Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire
Two of Neptune’s maintenance support trucks.

Continue reading “Four of Neptune’s BAe-146 air tankers are deployed”

Tanker 10 assumes a place of honor at Missoula Airport

Neptune’s Tanker 10 set up at it’s new home at the entrance of Missoula Airport. Neptune photo.

Today Neptune Aviation moved their retired Tanker 10, a P2V, to a place of honor at the Missoula International Airport.

“Tanker 10 is a firefighting tanker that we retired,” Neptune spokesperson Kevin Condit said. “It will now be the gate guard at the Missoula International Airport. Neptune and the Missoula aviation community have a very long history, and with the Smokejumpers and the Forest Service in Missoula, they asked Neptune Aviation if Tanker 10 could be the gate guard.”

Neptune's Tanker 10 entrance Missoula airport
Neptune’s Tanker 10 in the process of being moved to the entrance of Missoula Airport. Neptune photo.

The retiree was towed by a tug today from Neptune’s ramp to a spot at the airport entrance.

The staff at Neptune has been preparing the aircraft for several months, refurbishing it, removing the reusable avionics, giving it a new paint job, and making it animal and wind resistant.

It was built in 1957 and served in the U.S. Navy with other P2V’s as a maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The P2V’s were eventually replaced by the Lockheed P-3 Orion.

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