Two air tankers still on active duty

Tanker 48 at Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21
Tanker 48 at Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21
Tanker 48 at Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21. Photo by Bill Gabbert

(Revised at 7:37 a.m. MT, December 4, 2012)

The mandatory availability periods for the nine large air tankers on national contracts ended in August, September, and October, but two P2Vs are still working today due the warm, dry weather that some areas of the country are experiencing. Tanker 48, operated by Minden, and Neptune’s Tanker 43 are the two that are working on a day by day basis through “optional use” provisions in their contracts, according to Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service in Boise.

Air tankers were requested early Saturday morning, December 1, for the rapidly spreading Fern Lake Fire that was moving toward structures west of Estes Park, Colorado. Fire managers were told that the only large air tankers sill working were in California but were unavailable due to weather in the Bay Area, according to David Eaker, a spokesperson for the Fern Lake Fire.

Today two large air tankers were supposed to be parked on the ramp at JEFFCO air tanker base northwest of Denver after being ferried in from California, but only one made it, Tanker 48. The other one, Tanker 43 had to stop in Durango, Colorado, unable to climb over the continental divide due to weather. We’re thinking the old P2V does not have de-icing equipment.

If the USFS is going to keep air tankers working into the winter, maybe a better choice of which ones to keep on would be a couple of the BAe-146s, which I assume have de-icing equipment.

The one tanker at JEFFCO, 48, has not been used on the Fern Lake Fire yet due to strong winds over the fire. Mr. Eaker told Wildfire Today that they may be used very soon to pretreat some areas where large burnouts are planned, thanks to improving weather forecasts indicating decreasing winds.

Tanker 43 was responsible for closing the Rapid City Airport for 40 minutes on June 20 when an engine failure on takeoff resulted in the crew jettisoning the 2,000-gallon load of retardant on two runways and a taxiway.

Tanker 43 landing at Rapid City Air Tanker Base
Tanker 43 landing at Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert


(This article was edited to reflect the fact that one of the air tankers was delayed ferrying to JEFFCO. Thanks Rob.)

6 thoughts on “Two air tankers still on active duty”

  1. Tanker 48 made it to Jeffco @ 10 Sunday morning. Tanker 43 is still enroute from San Bernardino ATB, but has had to stop in Durango for the evening. They should join T48 at Jeffco by 10 on Tuesday morning. Winds were still to strong to drop Monday to support burnout ops.

  2. You are correct in that there is no de-ice (or anti-ice) equipment on a P2. Those big fat wings do not like ice one bit.

  3. On the radio, I heard an interview with a fire management person who said the one heavy tanker drop earlier today was a waste, as the wind dispersed it in all different directions. Tankers 43 and 48 are both on the ground at Jeffco Air Tanker Base, along with helitanker 715.

  4. The fire management person who made the above comment must be on loan from Australia. If the “plan” to use an aviation assest that doesn’t work the way we had intended shouldn’t we kept in “house?” An air crew is flying in all probablity during some rough weather, doing their best to accomplish the mission task and stay alive. If asked by the press, how about this “we attempted to use fixed wing air tankers on the fire but the strong winds have temporarily grounded all aircraft”. “As soon as weather conditions improve we will resume aircraft operations.” There is a good chance that the press will even screw-up that statement.

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