Tanker 72 at Fox Field

Above: CAL FIRE Tanker 72, an S-2T, at Fox Field September 2, 2017. Photo by BT Nutter.

(Originally published at 6:18 a.m. MDT September 16, 2017)

BT Nutter took these photos of Tanker 72 at Fox Field near Lancaster, California earlier this month.

Thanks BT!

S-2 T-72 Fox Field
CAL FIRE Tanker 72, an S-2T, at Fox Field September 2, 2017. Photo by BT Nutter.
S-2 T-72 Fox Field
CAL FIRE Tanker 72, an S-2T, at Fox Field September 2, 2017. Photo by BT Nutter.

16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program

The aerial firefighting program in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has grown over a couple of decades into a highly respected, professionally managed organization. After spending some time at their aviation headquarters at McClellan Air Field on Thursday in Sacramento, I developed as list of 16 facts that you may not know about the program:

1. CAL FIRE has 22 S-2T fixed wing air tankers that can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. They are presently converting an aircraft to replace the one destroyed in the October 7, 2014 crash that killed Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. That process should be complete in 18 to 24 months.

S-2T air tanker
S-2T air tankers at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
2. They have 15 OV-10 Air Attack fixed wing aircraft.

OV-10
A lineup of OV10 air attack ships at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
3. And 12 Super Huey helicopters.

super huey
Super Huey at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
4. All of the above aircraft were discarded by the military.

5. The S-2T air tankers were designed to be based on aircraft carriers, and therefore have wings that fold. They still retain this feature, which makes it possible to cram more aircraft into a hangar.

S-2T folded wings
An S-2T with the wings folded. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Continue reading “16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program”

CAL FIRE’s aircraft lineup for 2016

The agency will have 51 firefighting aircraft working this year.

Above: CAL FIRE OV-10s at McClellan Airfield March 17, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

This month the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is finalizing their plans for the management and deployment of their firefighting aircraft, with the total numbers being similar to last year:

  • S2T air tankers: 21 plus 1 spare
  • OV-10 Air Tactical, fixed wing: 12
  • OV-10D Aerial Supervision Module, fixed wing: 1
  • King Air 200 Air Tactical training platform, fixed wing: 2
  • Super Huey helicopters: 10 plus 2 spares

Below is the anticipated lineup of air tankers, provided by Dennis Brown, CAL FIRE’s Chief of Flight Operations.

CAL FIRE air tankers 2016

The reporting dates for the air tankers have not yet been established, but CAL FIRE is required to provide the information to DynCorp, the contractor that provides the pilots and maintenance for the S2Ts, by April 1.

CAL FIRE T-83, an S2T
CAL FIRE T-83, an S2T. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Before CAL FIRE’s Tanker 81 crashed near Yosemite National Park in 2014, killing pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, the agency had 23 S2T tankers. The project to replace the tanker is underway at McClellan and is expected to be complete in about 18 months. The aircraft are provided by the Federal Excess Personal Property program which supplies fire engines and other firefighting equipment, including aircraft, to state and local fire departments. Most of the hardware originates with the Department of Defense before being transferred through the Forest Service to other agencies. The FS retains ownership of the equipment.

CAL FIRE, for the second year in a row, will have a BAe-146 large air tanker on contract provided by Neptune Aviation.

The agency will have a number of air tankers on Call When Needed contracts that will be activated only if the fire situation in the state is more than the 22 tankers working every day can handle. They will have one DC-10 very large air tanker from 10 Tanker, three DC-7 large air tankers from Erickson Aero, Electra L-188s from Air Spray, and single engine air tankers from Air Spray and Aero Spray.

There has been speculation that CAL FIRE would put a very large air tanker such as a DC-10 on exclusive use contract, which is something they have not done for several years. When we asked Mr. Brown about that he said, “A decision has not been made yet on whether we will be doing an Exclusive Use contract for one this year or not.” A 747 very large air tanker is in the final stages of being built and is scheduled to make an appearance showing off its new paint job at the Aerial Firefighting conference at McClellan in Sacramento on March 22.

The Super Huey helicopters will be based at Kneeland, Bieber, Vina, Howard Forest, Boggs Mountain, Columbia, Alma, Bear Valley, Hemet, and Prado. All of them now have hoists installed that can be used for extracting injured personnel.

CAL FIRE Helicopter 301 July 16
CAL FIRE Helicopter 301 July 16 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.

Photographic essay of air tankers, by Joe Cupido

Aero Union's P3A Tanker 22
Aero Union’s P3A Tanker 22 getting reloaded at Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base while another P3A is headed towards the fire.

We are honored to present a photographic essay of air tankers by professional photographer Joe Cupido. He tells us below about his career in photography.

I grew up in a military family and acquired the love of aviation early on. When I was in high school I started photographing aircraft. Then later while in the military I became a Combat Photographer / Photojournalist and continued photographing aircraft professionally. I specialized in Air to Air photography working with the military and for some of the major aircraft companies. I was lucky enough to finish my career with about 5,500 hours in over 100 different airframes, 7 books and over 2,000 magazines articles on aviation subjects.

I’ve always enjoyed chasing fire-fighting aircraft whenever I had the time. The images below were captured over time and with a lot of cooperation from a lot of good people in the Air Tanker business. Without their help I could not have captured the images that I did and I thank all of you. Hope you enjoy!

Thanks Joe!

Hawkins & Powers Tanker 121
Hawkins & Powers Tanker 121, a PB4Y2, an ex-US Navy World War II patrol bomber.
McDonnell-Douglas DC 10
McDonnell-Douglas DC 10s, Tankers 911 and 910, operated by10 Tanker Air Carrier
Butler Aviation's Douglas DC7's
One of Butler Aviation’s Douglas DC7s, Tanker 66 during engine start. Nothing better than four smoky Pratt & Whitney radial engines.

Continue reading “Photographic essay of air tankers, by Joe Cupido”

Photos of aircraft at Aerial Firefighting conference

CAL FIRE OV-10
CAL FIRE OV-10

We took these photos last week, March 20, at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento. There were about 90 minutes set aside for displays of firefighting aircraft at McClellan Air Force base, as well as live demonstrations of water and water pellet drops from a helicopter, and the use of the AirTEP Airborne Tactical Extraction Platform marketed by Aerial Machine Tool. We have photos of Coulson’s C-130Q in another article.

CAL FIRE T-83, an S2T
CAL FIRE T-83, an S2T
Croman S-61 dropping water
Croman S-61 dropping water
Croman S-61 with modified tank for water pellets
Croman S-61 with modified tank for water pellets

Continue reading “Photos of aircraft at Aerial Firefighting conference”

Tanker 71 at Monrovia

Tanker 71 dropping on Madison Fire in Monrovia. Screen grab from ABC7 video.

The photo above, a screen grab from ABC7, shows Tanker 71, an S2T, dropping on the Madison Fire in Monrovia, California, east of Los Angeles, at 5:40 p.m. PT, April 20, 2013.

More information about the Madison Fire.

LA County helicopter dropping on Madison Fire
LA County helicopter drops on Madison Fire, April 20, 2013. LASD photo by Eric Fox

Air tanker drops, as seen from a lead plane

747 dropping
A still image showing Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” dropping on a fire (from the video below).

The video below which shows dozens of air tanker drops is very interesting. Most of the video was shot from a lead plane, with views rarely seen by most of us. The technical quality of the video is not great — low resolution and a little shaky — but it’s very worth viewing. Occasionally you can see the smoke generated by a BLM lead plane which marks the target for the air tanker.

Some of the aircraft include: P-3, P2V, S2T, DC-10, C-130 MAFFS, and an air tanker that is very rarely seen, Evergreen’s 747.