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

Blown tire on air tanker closes runway at Redmond Airport

Above: Air Tanker 44, with a blown tire, on the runway at Redmond. Photo by Redmond Fire Rescue.

A runway at the Redmond Airport closed for approximately an hour June 9 after Air Tanker 44, a Korean War vintage P2V, blew a tire while landing after reporting problems with the landing gear. The tanker had been working the ‪Akawana Fire in Oregon‬. There were no injuries.

In 2010 Air Tanker 44 had a problem with the hydraulic system which caused a brake failure upon landing at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JeffCo) in Colorado. It slid off the end of the runway, but thankfully both pilots walked away.

P2 crash in Colorado
Tanker 44 off the runway at JeffCo, June 26, 2010. Photo: Cliff Grassmick

Because of an ongoing paving project, there is only one functioning runway at Redmond, so all landing and takeoff activity was shut down, including commercial aircraft and tankers assisting with the Owyhee Canyon and Akawana fires. The firefighting aircraft were diverted to Klamath Falls for reloading and refueling.

Below is an excerpt from an article at KBND:

…Redmond City Manager Keith Witcosky was there. He tells KBND News the emergency call initially came in just before 12:30 p.m. that a plane’s landing gear wasn’t working. “It was coming from the fire near Camp Sherman. When it came into view the landing gear was down, and it stayed down. However, as it reached about halfway across the runway, the left rear tire blew; so it skidded and began to bank a little bit to the right, but the pilots did a great job at keeping it straight. There were no injuries, no fire, no smoke; but, just a totally destroyed tire.”

…No word on how many tankers were impacted by the 50-minute closure, but Witcosky says they are busy at the Redmond Airport, right now. “We were out here for a half an hour, waiting for that plane to come in and we saw three tankers go in and out, within about a half an hour to an hour…

Tanker 44 blown tire Redmond
The tire on Tanker 44. Photo by the City of Redmond.

It is unknown if the blown tire was related to the problem with the landing gear, but we are aware of at least three crashes or accidents caused by problems with the P2V landing gear or hydraulic system — T-44 at JeffCo in 2010, T-55 at Minden in 2012, and T-48 at Fresno in 2014.

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

MD-87 at Redmond needs a wash

MD-87 at Redmond, June 9, 2014
MD-87 at Redmond, June 9, 2014. Photo by Jeff Ingelse. (Click to enlarge.)

Jeff Ingelse took this photo of an Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87 parked at Redmond, Oregon Monday morning. He said both of the MD-87s at the airport had similar stains on the fuselage approximately the color of fire retardant. The air tankers made multiple sorties to the Two Bulls Fire over the weekend, dropping retardant.

Earlier on Fire Aviation the question was raised about the possibility of retardant being ingested into the engines. From the photo above, we of course can’t tell if that is an issue or not. Maybe Erickson Aero Tanker has it all figured out and it is not a problem.

Below are photos we ran on January 6, 2014 and January 17, 2014 of the MD-87 dropping water and retardant.

Erickson Aerotanker MD-87
Erickson Aerotanker (Aero Air) MD-87 test drop in early 2013. Screen grab from Erickson Aerotanker video. (click to enlarge)
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)

A video of the MD-87 being tested. It was uploaded to YouTube April 15, 2013.

Video of air tankers departing Redmond

This video uploaded to YouTube on June 8 shows several different air tankers taking off at Redmond, Oregon to work on the Two Bulls Fire three miles west of Bend, Oregon. The aircraft seen in the video include MD-87s (T-101 and 105), a P2V (probably T-06), and a BAe-146. At first the video looks like a still photograph, but the first aircraft can be seen about 12 seconds in.

It is interesting seeing the different routes taken after takeoff, the speed of the aircraft, and the altitude at the end of the runway.