Neptune retires their P2V air tankers

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Spectators in Missoula enjoyed seeing water drops and flyovers.

Tanker 05 red white blue P2V

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.

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4 thoughts on “Neptune retires their P2V air tankers”

  1. Sorry to see them go. I have several thousand hours in them in the Navy. Saw a fair amount of the world in them. They did the job. The P3 was not as good at maritime patrol, but was better suited to hunting the newer subs.

  2. P-2’s had a unique sound. Jets and Recip engines.
    They had a fantastic second career as Tankers.

    Let’s not forget the crews flying P-2 Tankers and didn’t return.

  3. Re: “The planes are going to be stored short term in Alma Gorda, New Mexico” – presumably that’s Alamogordo NM.
    1987 09/10 NM Nathan Kolb & Red Miller -P2V Also Black Hills Aviation, Inc., a New Mexico Corporation, Arnolda. Kolb & Florence A. Kolb, Individually, and Florence A.kolb, Personal Representative of the Estate of Nathan H.kolb, Deceased, Plaintiffs-appellants, v. United States of America, Defendant-appellee, 34 F.3d 968 (10th Cir. 1994)
    “…The plane [A P2V aircraft, Forest Service Number N96271 AKA “Tanker 07″, owned by Black Hills] crashed into a mountain in the Red Rio/Oscura area of the missile base [the United States Army White Sands Missile Range]; this area was also the testing site for the nondevelopmental evaluation of the Army’s Line of Sight Forward Heavy [Missile] System phase of the Forward Area Air Defense System [FAADS Project].
    …The Kolbs did not learn that the Army’s investigation had not sought to determine the cause of the crash until after the Kolbs received the AR 15-6 investigation report, which was completed on December 7, 1987.
    The Kolbs personally retained a team of aircraft accident investigation experts to conduct an analysis of the crash debris. The experts found some evidence that an external force had affected Tanker 07 prior to the aircraft’s crash. The evidence included a conical shaped piece of metal found in the lower right side of the co-pilot’s back during the autopsy. No part of Tanker 07 matched the conical shaped piece of metal. Additionally, there were markings on a turbine blade in the right jet engine of Tanker 07 which were indicative of an event occurring on the right side of Tanker 07 just prior to the crash.”

    1. I was there that day in 1987 and witnessed the tragic crash. I don’t believe any “external force” had influenced the accident. The missile that caused the fire had been fired at least an hour before the aircraft arrived on scene and after the firing everyone had stopped work and watched the fire spread so there was no range activity or firings by the time the aircraft arrived over the range.

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