Neptune retires their P2V air tankers

Spectators in Missoula enjoyed seeing water drops and flyovers.

Above: Neptune’s Tanker 05, a P2V, makes a red, white, and blue water drop at Missoula, September 30, 2017. Photo by Terry Cook.

(Originally published at 5:30 p.m. MDT October 1, 2017)

Yesterday Neptune Aviation Services officially retired the last of their P2V air tankers in a ceremony at the Missoula airport. This year the company had four of the former submarine hunters on contract that were built between 1954 and 1957 — Tankers 05, 06, 14 and 44. In 2012 ten P2Vs were on contract with the U.S. Forest Service operated by Neptune and Minden.

Neptune planned a fairly elaborate program Saturday with prize drawings, several water drops, numerous food trucks, a water drop from successive tanks with red, white, and blue water, and a formation flyover of their last four P2Vs on contract.

Neptune has been operating the P2V air tankers for 24 years. Many pilots and warbird fans enjoy flying, seeing, or hearing the aircraft and the throaty roar of its two 18-cylinder radial engines. When extra power is needed during takeoff or after a 2,000-gallon drop to climb out of a canyon it can enlist the help of two small jet engines farther out on the wings.

In 2012 the company started its retirement program for the P2Vs when they pulled two of their seven operational P2Vs from regular service.

Greg Jones, Program Manager for Neptune Aviation,  said the tankers will be taken to museums across America.

The planes are going to be stored short term in Alma Gorda, New Mexico. We will ferry them down the next couple weeks and then they will be dispersed throughout museums across the United States.

Art Prints

In 2009, working with Tronos, Neptune began converting jet airliners, BAe-146-200s, into air tankers, adding a 3,000-gallon retardant tank. In 2017 they had seven of them on exclusive use contract.

BAe-146-200 makes first drop
BAe-146-200 makes its first drop October 28, 2009 over Prince Edward island in Canada. Tronos photo.

To our knowledge the jets have not suffered any catastrophic failures or major incidents since they began dropping on wildfires. In the first half of this decade P2Vs were involved in a number of troublesome landings and in one case a crash while dropping on the White Rock Fire near the Utah/Nevada state line, killing all three crewmembers. Two P2Vs operated by Minden encountered landing gear failures, and those aircraft have not been seen over a fire since the incidents. Other fatal crashes occurred in 2008 and 2009.

T-41 Redding
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, lands at Redding August 7, 2014 after dropping on a fire in northwest California.

Oregon air tankers

Above: Tanker 62 in Madras, OR.

Todd McKinley shot these photos June 29 at various locations in Oregon. Thanks Todd!

Oregon air tankers
Tanker 804 in Prineville, OR.
Oregon air tankers
Tanker 66 in Madras, OR. Notice anything unusual about this aircraft?
Oregon air tankers
Helicopter 703 in Madras, OR.
Oregon air tankers
Tanker 05 in Redmond, OR.

 

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.

Air tankers at La Grande August 14, 2013

Tanker 5 at Grande, August 14, 2013
Tanker 5 at Grande, August 14, 2013. Photo by Tim McCoy

Tim McCoy was kind enough to send us some photos he took yesterday at the La Grande, Oregon air tanker base. He said there were two fires in the area.

Tanker 60 and a SEAT at La Grande
Tanker 60 and a SEAT at La Grande, August 14, 2013. Both aircraft are under contract to the state of Oregon. Photo by Tim McCoy.
Tanker 41 at Grande, August 14, 2013
Tanker 41 at Grande, August 14, 2013. Photo by Tim McCoy