This year will likely be the farewell tour for P2V air tankers

Above: A P2V air tanker on final approach at Redding, California, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Updated at 8:50 a.m. MST January 12, 2016)

The U.S. Forest Service expects to issue a new round of Exclusive Use and Call When Needed air tanker contracts in the “near future”. Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the agency, said they plan to solicit proposals for Next Generation 3.0 Exclusive Use and 2.0 Call When Needed air tankers. Next Generation 3.0 is intended for operations in 2018 and Call When Needed 2.0 is for this fire season.

It is very unusual for the USFS to begin a contracting process more than a year before the expected mandatory availability period (MAP). In recent years they have attempted to award the contracts only a few months before the aircraft are needed to begin work. The first Next Gen contract, V1.0, was awarded 550 days after being advertised.

In 2015 we wrote:

The USFS should get their [stuff] together and advertise the solicitation, not the Request for Information, at least one year before the mandatory availability period. Top quality air tankers, crews, and maintenance personnel can’t be magically produced out of thin air.

So this Next Gen 3.0 being advertised about 14 months before the expected MAP is a huge step in the right direction — but only if it takes much less than 550 days to make the awards.

The current “Legacy” Exclusive Use contract issued in March, 2013 under which seven air tankers operated by Neptune Aviation are working includes six P2Vs and one BAe-146. It expires at the end of this year. Dan Snyder, President of the company, told us that as far as he knows there are no plans for the USFS to issue any more contracts for which the Korean War vintage aircraft could qualify — the P2Vs can’t meet the specifications for Next Gen air tankers.

So this year will likely be the farewell tour for the P2Vs. Take pictures while you still can.

The last CWN and Exclusive Use contracts allowed very large air tankers such as the DC-10 to qualify. If that continues to be the case in this next round of contracts there could be a 747 and possibly more DC-10s in the sky. Currently two DC-10s are on Exclusive Use contracts and third on CWN worked for much of the 2016 fire season. Last week the 747 SuperTanker received interim approval from the Interagency Airtanker Board.

And speaking of Neptune, Mr. Snyder said that by the time the Next Gen 3.0 contract is in effect next year they will have a total of nine BAe-146s fully converted and available. The ninth one arrived at their facility in Missoula on November 20, 2016.

In addition to their air tanker business, Neptune Aviation has the contract for maintenance of the C-23B Sherpas the USFS received from the U.S. Army which includes modifying them to be eligible to be certificated as civilian SD3-60’s. Their work was at first done in Ogden, Utah, but has been relocated to Missoula.  Field Aviation in Oklahoma City received a contract for installing glass cockpits.

Neptune has completed the work on three Sherpas and has started on a fourth. They “woke up” or serviced an additional seven that were in long term storage to make them flyable again.  A timetable for converting those seven will be determined by the USFS, who expects to use the Sherpas to haul smokejumpers, personnel, and cargo.

Canvas print of Tanker 07 dropping on the Red Canyon Fire

P2V Red Canyon Fire

UPDATE December 18

The 16″ x 20″ prints of Tanker 07 dropping on the Red Canyon Fire are sold out, but stepping up to take its place is another unusually low price on a print.

RJ-85 Crow Peak Fire

Still looking for that special gift? How about a 20″ x 16″ stretched canvas print of Tanker 161, an RJ-85, dropping on the Crow Peak Fire June 27 near Spearfish, SD.

This special lower than usual price of $64 expires at the end of the day on Friday December 23. And only 10 are available at this price.

The image will be printed on a premium glossy canvas and then stretched on a wooden frame of 1.5″ x 1.5″ stretcher bars. All stretched canvases ship within one business day and arrive “ready to hang” with pre-attached hanging wire, mounting hooks, and nails.

For more information…

Air tanker museum to get a P2V


I talked with Bob Hawkins yesterday about the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting which is located at Greybull, Wyoming. It turns out that he is a director of the museum.

He said this P2V-7 at one time belonged to Hawkins and Powers but was auctioned off when the company went out of business. It was given to the museum by Richard Camp who is the head of the “Save a Neptune” organization. This aircraft was never converted into an air tanker, but Bob hopes to get one someday that actually was an air tanker.

(I was thinking that Neptune Aviation or Minden might have something sitting around.)

Some of you may know Bob. He was the “Hawkins” in “Hawkins and Powers” that operated air tankers out of the Greybull Airport. Now he’s flying helicopters for Sky Aviation in Worland, Wyoming.

Articles on Fire Aviation about the museum.

Air tanker 10 to become permanent display at Missoula airport

Tanker 10
Tanker 10. Neptune Aviation photo.

Neptune Aviation’s P2V air tanker 10 has been retired for several years but will live on as a permanent static display at the Missoula Airport. The company is refurbishing the aircraft, removing the reusable avionics, giving it a new paint job, and making it animal and wind resistant before it is installed on a platform to be built at the entrance to the airport.

The number on the aircraft, Tanker 10, has a storied history, having been used on a B-17, the P2V, and is currently on the tail of a recently converted BAe-146.

T-10 Medford
T-10 at Medford, Oregon. Photo by Tim Crippin July 31, 2016.

Introduction to the Redmond Tanker Base

Above: a 47-second video showing the aircraft at the Redmond Tanker Base on June 13, 2016.

Clouds were hovering just above the ridges bordering the valley around the Redmond, Oregon airport when I was there on Monday, June 13. There was a chance of rain across the entire Pacific Northwest and there were no orders for the four large air tankers staged at the Redmond Air Tanker Base.

Eric Graff, who has been the base manager for the last 12 years, said they had been busy in recent days sending tankers to fires in Oregon and northern California. They had pumped 165,000 gallons of fire retardant into tankers so far this fire season.

Eric Graff
Base Manager Eric Graff (left) and timekeeper Cynthia Buehner at the Redmond Air Tanker Base.

Working with Mr. Graff on Monday was Cynthia Buehner, in her third season as timekeeper for the base, and summer seasonal, Marissa Kraweczak, whose previous experience before this year was on the Zigzag Hotshots.

Also at the base was the normal contingent of pilots and mechanics for the four tankers that were on the ramp — three Aeroflite RJ85s, and one Neptune Aviation P2V. One lead plane was also on scene.

Pilatus PC12 lead plane
Aeroflite’s Pilatus PC12 (right) and a lead plane (left) at Redmond, Oregon. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

I asked Mr. Graff if dispatchers proactively tried to group aircraft from the same company together at a tanker base, and he said no, it was not intentional. Aeroflite recognized that they had three of their tankers and crews at Redmond and called a meeting, with executives flying in on the company’s Pilatus PC12. The state of Colorado recently purchased two PC12s to use as intelligence gathering and communications platforms, calling them “multi-mission aircraft”.

Other fire-related operations at the Redmond Airport include the Redmond Smokejumpers, the Northwest Fire Training Center, the Redmond Hotshots, and the Regional Air Group which supplies pilots for the jumpers and lead planes.

Tanker 163
Tanker 163 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
tanker 44
Tanker 44 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
tanker 162
Tanker 162 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
tanker 161
Tanker 161 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
tanker 44 tanker 161
Tanker 44, in the foreground, and Tanker 161 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Neptune’s Tanker 05 departing Chattanooga for Rapid City

When the Incident Commander of the Cold Fire in South Dakota requested two large air tankers on April 2 it took almost 24 hours to find one — in Tennessee. This video, posted online by Corey Smith, shows Neptune’s Tanker 05, a P2V, taking off at Chattanooga heading for Rapid City on April 3. It arrived around 3 p.m.

Carpenter builds wood model of 9-cylinder radial engine

Have you ever wondered how a radial engine works?

radial engine demo

A carpenter has built a model of a 9-cylinder radial engine. Ian Jimmerson apparently built this amazing project in his garage or workshop and everything appears to move just as it would in the real thing. But best of all, in the videos he very carefully explains how all of the parts work together.

In the first video he tells us about the design of the engines, and in Part 2 he goes into more detail and animates it with an electric drill.

Most of the earlier air tankers used various configurations of radial engines. For example, the P2Vs had Wright R-3350-26W Cyclone-18 18-cylinder engines. Some of the C-119s also had that same engine, but others had a Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major with a large 28-cylinder supercharged air-cooled four-row radial piston engine designed and built during World War II.

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.