Update on Aero Union P-3 air tankers

There is still a chance that some of the P-3 Orion air tankers formerly owned by Aero Union could see service as aerial firefighters. The company was forced out of business after their U.S. Forest Service contracts were canceled citing safety violations. United Aeronautical (UAC), which primarily deals in aircraft parts, bought the eight aircraft from the bank and then partnered with Blue Aerospace to market the P-3s.

Aero Union P3s at McClellan 8-13-2013
P3s at McClellan AFB that were formerly owned by Aero Union. Google Earth photo, August 13, 2013.

As we wrote in November, they do not intend to operate the aircraft, but hope to sell them.

Blue Aerospace specializes in providing support and parts for  P-3s, C-130s, F-16s, and T-56s, and they are a licensed distributor for Lockheed Martin and other original equipment manufacturers. Before Aero Union shut down, they provided spares and repairs for their P-3 air tankers.

Steve Benz, the Blue Aerospace Vice President for Business Development, told us that the seven P-3s that are still at McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, California are still “flyable”. He said on a regular basis the aircraft are taxied and the engines are run up. However, there is likely some work that would have to be done to regain approval as U.S. Forest Service air tankers.

When Aero Union ceased operation, one of their P-3s was in the middle of heavy maintenance in Canada. The engines and other parts had been removed. It was, and still is, “in pieces”, Mr. Benz said, and will never fly again. But there is hope for the other seven. He said there has been considerable interest from potential buyers.

In addition to the aircraft, Mr. Benz said UAC and Blue Aerospace now have the Aero Union intellectual property for both generations of the Mobile Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) which can be slipped into a C-130, and the second generation Retardant Air Delivery System, RADS2, a gravity assisted, constant-flow retardant tank system which has been successfully used in P-3s and other air tankers.

To handle the MAFFS and RADS2 business, the two companies formed a new organization, named Maffs Corp. They intend to provide parts and service for existing MAFFS units, and if there is a demand, to manufacture new MAFFS2 systems.


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9 thoughts on “Update on Aero Union P-3 air tankers”

  1. The USFS issued a solicitation for MAFFS Mechanics Services on May 31, 2013 (Fedbizopps.gov – AG-024B-S-13-9018). No award notice was posted for this solicitation.

    Presumably these services are still needed given how much the MAFFS fleet has been relied on the past few fire seasons.

    “Scope of Work
    The intent of this solicitation is to award multiple Blanket Purchasing Agreements (BPA) to obtain fully qualified mechanics to perform maintenance on the eight (8) 2nd Generation Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS 2). Maintenance support will be on an intermittent, variable and short term requirement for a base period and 4 one year renewable periods. The
    contractor will be required to perform pre-season inspections, biennial training with the military, post activation, and post season inspections. The contractor will also provide technical advice to the agency for operation and maintenance manuals, drawings, reports, and other publications required by the agency to ensure continued reliable operations. The contractor may be required
    to perform these tasks without on-site supervision but with others that are similarly qualified.”

  2. The BPA was awarded to a number of individuals functioning as registered entities who provided pricing and make themselves available as indicated above. Each system gets a pre season inspection and functional check prior to training, are put back in ready status at the military bases, get daily checks morning and evening when in use, get a post activation check right after returning from use, then in the fall the go thru an annual inspection and work is continuously done to maintain their ready status. Several ex Aero Union employees who were involved in design and manufacture, along with mechanics from the old system, and retired guardsmen from the bases perform this work. Engineering support is also available thru an ex Aero Union employee. Drawings, reports, and publications are also available. A publications conference was recently held to update documents that support operations and maintenance of the systems. The military engineering authority and Forestry technical personnel continue to monitor the systems. The misperception that the systems are abandoned and not kept in good order is just that. The AF wouldn’t let them go on their aircraft if that were the case.

  3. VLAT’s and MAFF’s maybe inconsistent…….but so are contract issues on getting aircraft fielded through the contracts system, EVEN if all the operators were ready…

    What are you going to do with what is only available and currently in the system

    None of the arguing is bringing the P3’s back except somebody’s fortitude and MONEY!!!!

  4. As well as the P-3’s May work, I suspect in our current environment it’s too risky for a private contractor to purchase and attempt to get them in Fire ready condition again. I can’t see where it makes business sense to spend $10 million (swag) on an aircraft that may not get a contract.

  5. The Aero Union P 3’s are done, parts only. Like any FAR Part 137 aircraft they are work horses that will need to be replaced. Once again the Forest Service will be attempting direct management of their own fleet of seven C 130’s, maybe? What is this telling the real foundation of the aerial tanker business, private operators? As a private operator should I develop and build the next generation of air tankers? Or is the private sector being put out to pasture eventually as the Forest Service builds their own fleet? Can you have a successful tanker business model using a mix of Fed and private owned operated tankers? “I have opened up the can and the worms are going everywhere.”

  6. from what Norm Cook told me at the time the fleet was grounded,and from what id read somewhere on the net…seems to me this was all planned and thought out by USFS officials.dont get me wrong,im not in anyway shape or form a conspiracy thierroist ( heck i cant even spell it)..but Norm gave me some good inside information about what went down.and from what im seeing now…the USFS wants it all “inhouse”,they give Neptune air an exclusive contract for the P2Vs and the BAe-146s knowing full well there will be a law suit…or are those in power in the USFS really so stupid to think a government department would be allowed to sign hat amounts to a “private contract” without full bids by all?

    1. BTW..what Norm says happened is 180 degrees off from what the so called “official story” is.and i tend to believe Norm as he had no agenda to fill….he just went back to retirement and enjoying life in the private sector…the people not to be trusted are the story spinners in the USFS

  7. I believe that. in my mind, it makes the “Lease” issue within the Farm Bill make more sense. I know that my fire department has purchased several truck on lease financing, why not 5 C-130Js? But still, a dozen aircraft will not meet the national needs, it leaves 20 – 30 aircraft slots open for Private Contractors. I suspect that some action to demonstrate to the contract suppliers that they can hope to recover their investment is needed to restore faith. I’m afraid it isn’t coming, and the USFS will point to a lack of available aircraft and say to their uneducated legislators “See, we need to do this!”.

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