Airtankers ON

The table below released by NIFC is dated May 30, 2023 — but all of these airtankers have been activated, some as early as March. No big surprises on the contract awards — most of who you hoped would be on contract, including two Aero-Flite scoopers, are on the list.

T-262 -- a 1600-gal. CL-415. Aero-Flite photo
T-262 — a 1600-gal. CL-415. Aero-Flite photo

The other airtanker contract awards include Neptune (T-40 and T-15 and T-16 and T-12), Aero-Flite with T-12 and T-162, 10 Tanker with its T-914 DC-10, Coulson’s T-137 (a 737), Aero-Flite (T-167 and T-164) and Aero Air with T-102 and T-101. The CWN activations include 10 Tanker’s T-910 (a DC-10), and the CWN Scooper activations include Aero-Flite’s S261 and S262 (both CL-415 aircraft).

2023 Airtankers
2023 Contract Airtankers

High fives to all you pilots, personnel, and contract companies — we’re glad you’re on board!

*NOTE: No one at NIFC has responded to a couple requests
for details on this, but if they do we’ll update this post.

Durango opens for the season

Last Wednesday at the Durango Airtanker Base in Colorado, firefighters from a long list of agencies got familiar with one another’s aerial firefighting resources at Durango-La Plata County Airport. The base opened for the season on May 15, and will remain open through the end of September. San Juan National Forest staff showed up, along with firefighters from the Durango, Los Pinos, and Upper Pine Fire Protection Districts, plus the BLM, the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Flight For Life, Durango-La Plata County Airport, BIA Ute Mountain Ute fire agency, and Mesa Verde Interagency Helitack.

The Durango Herald reported that the fly-in allowed firefighters to circulate briefing stations at each agency’s aircraft and vehicles around the base. The San Juan National Forest’s Lorena Williams said two SEAT airtankers will arrive at the base next week, and the state has a large airtanker on contract if needed.

Assistant Airtanker Base Manager Dave Hautamaki said the base can host five or six large airtankers. They sent us a nice video a couple years ago. Rick Freimuth also sent us photos and a description of the Safety Fly-In that occurred four years ago at Durango:

 Durango Tanker Base, 2019 photo by Rick Freimuth.
Durango Tanker Base, 2019 photo by Rick Freimuth.

Alberta man charged for end-running evacuation zone

For weeks, Alberta Wildfire officials have begged people to stay away from evacuation zones, and now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will charge a man who ignored those warnings and had to be rescued when he became trapped by flames. RCMP said that Friday afternoon in the Fox Creek area, a 72,830-hectare fire that’s part of the Eagle Complex trapped a man who became stranded northwest of Fox Creek. reported that police were called at 2:45 p.m. about a man stranded, where he had attempted to use a gravel road to get around an evacuation zone checkpoint. Because of active fire in the area, police said it was not safe for first responders to go in and rescue the man — so a forestry helicopter flew in and airlifted him to safety.

On Sunday, RCMP said they are seeking to lay common nuisance charges against the man for diverting firefighting resources.

“Alberta RCMP continue to be deployed with specialized units to assist with public safety and crime reduction efforts during these fires,” said district advisory NCO Staff Sgt. Neal Fraser in a statement. The man’s name was not yet released; RCMP expected details to come later this week. On Monday, Alberta Wildfire said the fire near Fox Creek is still burning out of control but hasn’t grown toward the community in the past day.

Rain was expected late Monday. The province said firefighters are taking advantage of the quieter fire behavior to reinforce a fire guard west of Fox Creek and to build a new line along the southern edge of an excursion that crossed Highway 43 north of Fox Creek. Heavy equipment is also working on fire guards, to remove hazardous rotten trees that pose a risk to both firefighters and area residents. As of Monday, there were 164 provincial wildland firefighters and support personnel working the fire, along with a structural protection unit and the Fox Creek Fire Department.

Also helping were firefighters from Colorado and New Brunswick, and about 100 soldiers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment out of CFB Edmonton.

There were also 17 helicopters working on the Eagle Complex, including two heavy helicopters dedicated to dropping water with buckets.

Tanker 12 moves to National Museum of Forest Service History

Neptune Aviation and the National Museum of Forest Service History in Missoula have announced a partnership to provide Tanker 12 a new permanent home. Neptune Aviation retired its Lockheed P2V airtankers in September of 2017, closing the final chapter on the world’s last active fleet of former maritime patrol aircraft, dating back to the Cold War era, which  served for years as national aerial firefighting assets.

Tanker 12 drop
Tanker 12 drop, Neptune Aviation photo

“The Museum is a perfect home for Neptune’s T-12,” said Jennifer Draughon, president of Neptune Aviation Services. “The Forest Service has a long history of aerial firefighting operations and Neptune’s T12 will help the museum tell the story of how aircraft play a role in protecting our communities.”

Before Tanker 12 began its history as an aerial firefighting aircraft, the P2V served the U.S. Navy in anti-submarine warfare missions.

NewsTalk KGVO reported that from 1993 Neptune operated a fleet of Lockheed Martin P2V aircraft, and its ships put in about 47,000 firefighting missions, dropping a total of 97 million gallons of retardant.

Tanker 12
Neptune’s Tanker 12 during her days as a firefighter — Neptune Aviation photo

Moving Tanker 12 from Neptune’s ops base at the Missoula airport to the museum facilities is a project that’s been in the works for some time. “Our mechanics have been hard at work getting the aircraft ready for display,” said Draughon.

While T-12’s final “flight” will be just under a couple of miles, the work behind the scenes has been intense, according to Lisa Tate, the museum’s executive director. She said the P2V will be parked along the museum’s Forest Discovery Trail near the planned National Conservation Legacy Center, a new interactive and participatory part of the museum. She said the cooperation of the Missoula International Airport will help in moving T-12 to the museum.

“Moving the aircraft is no simple task,” she said. “We need to remove fences, shore up bridges, and make sure the soil is dry enough to handle the weight of a 49,500-pound plane.” She said the airport team is making sure that the historic airtanker’s journey is safe. Tate added that Knife River and Morrison- Maierle have also helped in preparations for this project.

The National Museum of Forest Service History is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission of sharing the history of America’s conservation legacy. Neptune Aviation Services is based in Missoula, Montana.

Dash 8-400AT airtanker finally gets FAA approval

Aero-Flite announced earlier this month that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) on the Dash 8-400AT airtanker. Based in Spokane, Aero-Flite has shown an ongoing interest in the U.S. certification of the airtanker version of the Dash-8 airliner.

Currently operating AVRO RJ-85 and Canadair CL-415 airtankers, Aero-Flite plans to expand their fleet. reported that with the new STC, Aero-Flite hopes to add two Dash 8-400ATs to its fleet before the end of the year. This FAA approval will allow U.S.-registered Dash 8-400ATs to fly aerial firefighting missions across all states.

The Aero-Flite airtankers will be operating under a long-term, multiyear contract with the State of Washington.

Aero-Flite photo
Aero-Flite photo

“Two of Aero-Flite’s Dash 8-Q400AT airtankers are currently on an exclusive use contract with Washington State,” said Brock Hindman, chief pilot of the Dash 8-400AT program at Aero-Flite. He said they’re operating with a cooperator agreement with the USFS and offering the airtanker to the Forest Service and to other states as the fleet grows.

Hindman said Canadian firefighting company Conair and the French Securité Civile have for years used firefighting versions of the Dash-8. “Conair has been converting the Dash 8-400 into an airtanker since 2005,” he said, “and has been operating them in Australia since 2020 — and in Canada and Alaska since 2022. With this recent FAA approval, Aero-Flite can now register our own airtankers in the U.S. and operate them under contract with government agencies.” He said Aero-Flite provides crews, maintenance, and insurance for the Dash 8 operations, working out of its Spokane hangars.

“Each Q400AT has a captain and a first officer operating the aircraft, supported by two aircraft mechanics on the ground, plus partner fuelers and loaders at each tanker base.” Hindman said the crews travel between tanker bases as needed. In 2022 the Q400AT operated in Washington and assisted in Oregon and Idaho.

Aero-Flite photo
Aero-Flite photo

Chris Niemann, general manager at Aero-Flite, told AirMed&Rescue, “The Dash offers greater flexibility and responsiveness than larger airtankers, while still providing a comparable payload capacity. It can operate from shorter runways at higher elevations, positioned in smaller airtanker bases located closer to where wildfires occur — meaning a fast response to the fire and back. Plus, they burn significantly less fuel than a Type 1larger airtanker, resulting in much lower operational costs while delivering a similar punch to the fire.”

Florida burning, from an air attack’s perspective

As Florida fires were peaking in early April I was texting a colleague, Jon Freeman, for updates. I first got to know Jon when he was a fire effects monitor and wildland fire module member and lead. Now his work has taken him to air tactical group supervisor (ATGS), or simply Air Attack – and his recent assignments took him to south Florida. A few texts and shared photos later, it became clear that Florida is a landscape, like so many, where the stories of unwanted hazardous flames burn along side (and sometimes into) the good work of planned fire.

As Jon texted, “It was pretty amazing to watch the head of a large wildfire roll right into this recent Rx fire and basically go out. It threw spots into it that smoldered and put themselves out quickly. So cool.”

He’d preceded his observations with a few photo stories … with these photographs by Michael Gue, prescribed fire manager with the South Florida National Parks and Preserve, as seen at work with a camera and in his photos, documenting his team’s artful fire work. The photos are of the head of the Cypress Camp Trail Fire, stopped by the Perocchi prescribed burn which, as Jon said, demonstrates “the power of Rx treatments.”

The story is amazing, as are the photos … and the story and photos continue from Jon’s perspective, including a few of his images taken while doing the work of the day, with a smart phone.

And what’s a photo story without an end of shift sunset.

Oasis Helibase in February 2022, when Jon was in Big Cypress NP, doing the same sort of work as this year. Photo: Jon Freeman.
Even though we’re filled with such a range of social sharing, it’s not always the case that we can scan the breadth and depth of fire experience at once …  to see and reflect on a month of fire, planned and unplanned, and what happens where they join. Thanks for sharing to Michael and Jon.
For more on this, see the story map, “Prescribed Fire: The Best Defense Is a Good Offense,” which explains the work on the Cypress Camp Trail Fire and the benefits of the Perocchi prescribed fire.

While fire activity moderated with mid-April precipitation, fire season does continue in Florida. In Big Cypress National Preserve, the Sandy Fire has grown to 10,000 acres since its discovery on May 1.

Kansas has a second S-2 available

Businessman and volunteer firefighter Bill Garrison arrived Tuesday evening at Hutchinson Regional Airport, according to KSN-TV, with Tanker 154, a Grumman S-2 airtanker that he purchased at a Marsh Aviation auction at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona in December. He spent several months getting the tanker ready to fly back to Kansas.

Garrison has been a pilot for 44 years and is a full-time commercial and agriculture pilot with his company Ag Air Service, first enlisted to help fight Kansas wildfires in 2017. He started with his cropdusting AirTractor aircraft  but then went on to purchase Tanker 95, another S-2 tanker that was previously flown by CAL FIRE

VIDEO:  Bill Garrison flew in Tanker 154 from Arizona to the Hutchinson Regional Airport.

Tanker 154
Tanker 154 — screenshot from video

KAKE-ABC reported that in 2017 when the Highland Fire in Reno County burned thousands of acres and destroyed 10 homes, Garrison decided he was going to need something a lot bigger than his cropdusters. That’s when he bought Tanker 95, and this week he welcomed Tanker 154 to the fleet.

“We ought to be doubly effective, be able to send aircraft on multiple fires,” Garrison said. “Whereas before I’d have to work one fire and then get dispatched to another one, now we can send an aircraft to each fire.”

Ag Air ground crew
Ag Air ground crew with one of the AirTractor tankers –

Tanker 95 is currently contracted through the Kansas Forest Service. Garrison’s firefighting aircraft have worked on large wildfires in Reno County since 2017 using cropdusters, according to Adam Weishaar, director of Reno County Emergency Management. “This second airtanker will be a valuable asset to Reno County and the state of Kansas to assist with aerial firefighting. We are very fortunate to have an airtanker stationed and available in Reno County.”

Garrison’s planes are used on a contracted as-needed basis by the Kansas Forest Service, and it’s hoped that the airport can make retardant available.

Pilot walks away from helicopter crash near Alberta fire

A pilot walked away with minor injuries when his helicopter made a hard landing and rolled at the Edson Airport in western Alberta Thursday evening. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said officers responded just after 8 p.m. to the town’s airport, located about 180 kilometres (112 miles) west of Edmonton in Yellowhead County. According to Global News Canada, police said the helicopter was helping fight; that site has video of the incident. RCMP said forestry officials responded to the crash, in addition to emergency crews.

Alberta helicopter incident
Alberta helicopter incident, screenshot from video clip.

An Alberta Wildfire officer said the province doesn’t own its own helicopters and instead contracts with private outfits to help as needed. It’s not yet known what company owned the helicopter that crashed.

Video sent to Global News shows the helicopter coming in to land and setting down hard, causing the aircraft to flip over. The pilot, who was alone in the aircraft, sustained only minor injuries. He was taken to hospital as a precaution, RCMP added.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it has been notified of the crash in Edson.