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.

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35-minute turnarounds for Tanker 12 at Sunshine Fire

Above: Sunshine Fire near Boulder, Colorado. Boulder Office of Emergency Management photo.

Tanker 12, the BAe-146 air tanker working the Sunshine Fire near Boulder, Colorado on March 19, was dropping retardant about every 35 minutes, according to Rob McClure of the CBS TV station in Denver.

After a million acres burned in Kansas and Oklahoma on March 6 and 7, the National Interagency Fire Center mobilized three large air tankers on March 10, a little earlier than usual, sending Tanker 12 to the Jeffco Air Tanker base at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and two others to the OK/KS area.

It turned out that Jeffco was only 12 miles southwest of where the Sunshine Fire started on March 19 near Boulder, Colorado. Rob McClure of CBS4 in Denver timed the interval between drops made by the BAe-146, determining it to be about 35 minutes.

Sunshine Fire Boulder
The Sunshine Fire was 12 miles northwest of Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (in the foreground).

From the air tanker base the pilots could probably see the fire soon after it started. If they took off from runway 30R they would be heading straight at the fire.

In addition to Tanker 12, four helicopters and Colorado’s Multi-mission aircraft were working the incident.

Three National Guard helicopters were made available by a verbal executive order by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper hours after the fire started. The aircraft, from Buckley Air Force Base, included two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, one CH-47 Chinook helicopter, as well as a refueling truck.

Firefighters limited the wildland/urban interface fire to about 74 acres according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. We were not there but this appears to have been a pretty aggressive initial attack, an aspect of firefighting along the Front Range that has improved in the last couple of years.

The video below was shot March 19 from the Multi-mission aircraft, showing normal and infrared images.

Three Neptune air tankers activated

On March 9 and 10 the U.S. Forest Service activated three large air tankers, apparently in response to the wildfire situation in the central plains and Colorado.

A wildfire siege involving hundreds of thousands of acres began March 6 in Kansas, Oklahoma, and the northern part of the Texas panhandle. Shortly thereafter fires started popping up in northwest Colorado and the state’s very dry front range. On March 8 when a fire began in the Black Hills of South Dakota that threatened structures and eventually burned 249 acres of timber, the Incident Commander requested an air tanker but was told it would take 24 hours to get one to the fire.

Neptune Aviation announced that three of their BAe-146’s have been deployed. Tanker 12 went to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) at Broomfield, Colorado, and Tankers 03 and 02 will be working in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Of course they could be moved around from those locations as needed.

The video below is about the Santa Fe fire on Friday near Idaho Springs, Colorado and includes a good view of T-12 making a drop.

Neptune’s T-03 that had been working in Chile for a month began its return flight home on March 5.

Neptune's T-03 Chile
Neptune’s T-03 before departing from Chile. Neptune photo.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.
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Firefighting aircraft at the Range Fire in California

Range Fire air tanker
Air tanker 66 on the Range Fire, August 27, 2016. Photo by Trey Spooner.

We have some excellent photos of aircraft that worked the Range Fire on August 27 six miles east of Arvin, California — thanks to Trey Spooner and the Kern County Fire Department. The fire burned 518 acres and is 100 percent contained.

Kern County’s Helicopter 408, a Bell UH-1H, made 81 water drops at the fire on August 26.

H-408 Range Fire
H-408 on the Range Fire, August 26, 2016. Trey Spooner photo.
Range Fire air tanker
Air tanker 66 on the Range Fire, August 27, 2016. Photo by Trey Spooner.
Range Fire air tanker
Air tanker 12 on the Range Fire, August 27, 2016. Photo by Kern County Fire Department.

DC-10 and a BAe-146 drop on the Sobranes Fire

Above, Neptune’s Tanker 12, a BAe-146, drops on the Soberanes Fire near Big Sur, California. Credit for the video: Eric Tebbets, Captain, CALFIRE, Cuesta Camp Fire Crews.

Next, one of 10 Tanker’s DC-10’s drops on the fire.

Click on the arrows at the bottom-right to see it in full-screen.

Air tankers on the Trailhead Fire

Above: Tanker 12 drops on the Trailhead Fire. A Cobra helicopter is in the background. Photo July 1, 2016 by Matthew Rhodes.

Matthew Rhodes sent us these photos he took July 1, 2016 on the Trailhead Fire on the El Dorado National Forest 11 miles east of Auburn, California. Thanks Matthew.

The 4,000-acre fire is causing evacuations in Placer and El Dorado counties.

Tanker 131 Trailhead Fire
Tanker 131 on the Trailhead Fire. Photo July 1, 2016 by Matthew Rhodes.

Neptune’s newest BAe-146 air tanker

air tanker 12 bae-146 neptune
Neptune’s “new” Tanker 12, going through last minute checks at Missoula, July 14, 2015, before it was due to depart for its contract with CAL FIRE. Photo by Bill Moss.

Bill Moss photographed Neptune’s newest air tanker for us, Tanker 12, on Tuesday as it was going through last minute checks and inspections the day before it was due to report for duty with CAL FIRE. It is expected to begin the contract at 10 a.m. on July 15 at Porterville, California. (We first wrote about this contract on July 10, 2015.)

CAL FIRE is also contracting for a second large air tanker, Erickson’s Tanker 60, a DC-7, to supplement their 22 S-2Ts.

Neptune took delivery of Tanker 12 on May 15 from Tronos Aviation of Summerside, PE, Canada and converted it into an air tanker in house at Missoula. This is one of the Missoula company’s seven BAe-146-200s. The tanker numbers are 01, 02, 03 (still being converted) 10, 12, 40, & 41.

Mr. Moss tells us that the first flight for what is now T-12 was on May 13, 1991, after which it was operated by six different foreign carriers from June 1991 until August 2012.

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This article was corrected to indicate that the conversion of this particular aircraft was done by Neptune, unlike at least one other of their BAe-146s that was done at Tronos.

CAL FIRE contracts for one of Neptune’s BAe-146s

Tanker 41 BAe-146 over Univ of MT 5-21-2014
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, over the University of Montana, May 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert. (Click to see a larger version).

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has contracted with Neptune Aviation for the services of one of their most recently converted BAe-146 air tankers, Tanker #12.

The 3,000-gallon capacity jet aircraft will report for duty at 10 a.m. on July 15 at Porterville, California. Initially it will only be staffed six days a week, but will begin 7 day a week coverage on August 15. It will be carded for initial attack, can be hot loaded with all four engines running, and will sit on the ramp loaded with retardant like the S2Ts.

The tanker number, 12, had previously been used by one of Neptune’s P2V air tankers.

CAL FIRE is also contracting for one of Erickson’s DC-7s, Tanker 60.

Below is a video of Tanker 60 making a drop on the on the Calgrove Fire June 24 in southern California north of the intersection of the 210 and I-5 freeways. It is sporting a new paint job, having adopted Erickson’s new design that has been seen on their MD-87s and their other DC-7, Tanker 66.