The demise of the Minden Air BAe-146 program

Minden Air Corp aircraft BAe-146 T-46 T-55
Left to right: Tanker 46, a second BAe-146, and Tanker 55 (a P2V) at the Minden Air Corp facility at the Minden, NV airport. Photo: Google Street View, April, 2015. Tanker 55 was damaged in 2012 when it landed with only partially lowered landing gear possibly due to a hydraulic system failure.

For more than 15 years Minden Air Corp has been working on the concept of transitioning from their Korean War vintage P2V air tankers to a jet, the BAe-146. They acquired two or three of them and had nearly completed their work on what was going to be Air Tanker 46 when they ran out of money. Problems with hydraulic systems led to landing gear failures on two P2Vs, T-48 and T-55, taking out Minden’s last two operational air tankers, which no doubt affected their incoming revenue stream. Thankfully there were no serious injuries reported in those two accidents, unlike the crash of the company’s T-99 on October 3, 2003 that killed the two pilots, Carl Dolbeare , 54 and John Attardo, 51. A lookout staffing a fire tower saw that P2V fly into a cloud bank as it was preparing to land at San Bernardino. It did not emerge and shortly thereafter they saw what appeared to be smoke at the top of the cloud. The NTSB described it as “controlled flight into mountainous terrain”. The two pilots had a combined total of more than 15,000 flight hours.

In October AvGeek filmed a report about Minden Air Corp at the Minden Airport 45 miles south of Reno, Nevada.

Tim Cristy, Flight Operations for Minden, said in the video when explaining why the conversion of T-46 came to a stop, “We ran out of money. Well, the engineering got expensive as all get-out”.

We attempted to call Mr. Christy and Minden’s CEO, Len Parker, to get more information but the number we had used before no longer works.

The T-46 project had progressed to conducting a grid test, which involves dropping retardant over a grid of more than 3,000 cups on the ground. In the video Mr. Cristy said the test went well. We are not sure if the aircraft ever received a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA which is a major hurdle to overcome in addition to approval from the Interagency Airtanker Board. After that they would have had to deal with the bewildering and unpredictable Forest Service contracting system before they ever received a dime from their large monetary investment.

retardant tank inside Minden's T-46 air tanker
The retardant tank inside Minden’s T-46. Screenshot from the AvGeek video.

The video below, published June 17, 2014, shows T-46 making its first test drops of water and retardant.

minden air corp bae-146 p2v air tanker 46
Tanker 46, a second BAe-146, and Tanker 55 (a P2V) at the Minden Air Corp facility at the Minden, NV airport. Photo: Google, June, 2018.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Brian.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

15 thoughts on “The demise of the Minden Air BAe-146 program”

  1. This tanking system demonstrated the best results over the grid at that time for any system. It was unfortunate the engineering was not able to be completed for FAA approvals.

  2. Sad , this aircraft with its slow flight capabilities would been a great firebomber. A good friend who was one of the first captains in DC-6 firebombing program in late sixties also flew BAE 146 in Alaskan Bush operations . He thought it would make a wonderful firebomber once approved . Takes lots of funding and patient capital to bring these operations together . Sad , I hope someone with deeper pockets carries to fruition

    1. There’s at least 17 of this type aircraft (or immediate variant) operating in North America. Considering it makes up the bulk of the LAT fleet, I’d say it’s been successful.

  3. Maybe , never seen any photos of them on fires . Not operated in Alaska . I know their were other companies modifying them . Looks like good platform . Sad these folks ran out of money . Looks like way better than Herc . I know some of these hercs that are being used today are 50 years old and very high time ex civilian L382’s and it seems like government may be subsidizing that program and not sure of that program if government is subsidizing

    1. The Minden BAe-146, N446MA, is 31 years old.

      The average age of the eight BAe-146/RJ85’s on exclusive use contracts is 26; the oldest is 33. (These are corrected numbers, 12/28/2018)

      The average age of the four C-130’s (or variants) in use today that have been recently converted into air tankers is 38; the oldest is 42. Two of them are C-130Q’s and two are L382G’s.

      Please explain why you think “it seems like government may be subsidizing that [L382] program”. The L382’s were made for the civilian market.

  4. My family built and owned , flew firebombers kn sixties . Also tanked first DC-6 . Father was one of the first L382 pilots in fact check airman . Lots of structural issues with wings in hercs in beginning . Some of the hercs in service today firefighting have nearly 100,000 hours on airframe . The government is buying tank systems for Govt owned hercs . I have actually owned some firebombers and discussed contacting with government . Unique perspective as I grew up in this industry and our conversations around dinner table were very interesting from young age . Parents built first civilian firebomber in late sixties out of pan am DC-6 .

    1. Yeah, no.

      There’s 17 146-type airplanes flying in North America this year, and in 2015 at least two of them served Alaska.
      I believe the civilian contracted Hercs (131/134) were built in 1982-83, so not 50 years old.
      There were several civilian operated tankers in the 60s.
      Bill, are you sure on the 41 age? I didn’t think the first 146 came off the line until the 80s…

      1. Ryan, I found an error in my previous comment. The oldest BAE-146/RJ85 flying as an air tanker on EU contract is Tanker 1, N473NA, manufactured in 1985. Wikipedia says the aircraft was made from 1978 through 2001.

        The four Coulson Herc air tankers were manufactured between 1976 and 1985. Tankers 131 and 132 are on contract in the U.S.

        1. I saw that on Wiki. In the Development section it says it earned certification in February of ‘83.

          132 and 133 were absent this year, so I just assumed 134 took one of their spots. I also think they’re ex Navy birds and have much fewer cycles on the airframes than a lot of other aircraft. I don’t think they’re anywhere near the OP’s 100,000 hour estimate.

          All good info on the site, like you, I just like to see factual data.

          1. I know for fact that some of the Hercs operating in Alaska had over 80,000 hours airframe time and these were civilian airframes and this was ten years ago . Coulson has some of these airframes ! I know the military could not ware a airplane out as they don’t fly them enough . These are some facts here

          2. Tankers 132 and 133 are L-382G’s, civilian versions of the C-130.

            Tankers 134 and 133 are C-130Q’s, presumably ex-Navy like you said. Here’s what I wrote about the “Q” in 2017:

            The C-130Q’s began as strategic communications links for the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine force and as a backup communications link for the U. S. Air Force manned strategic bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces. They are similar to the C-130H, but the 12 “Q” models that were made were outfitted with complex electronics systems, including a six-mile long trailing wire antenna, for communicating with submarines and bombers. Tanker 131 still has the remains of a vent for cooling the winch that was used to reel in the long antenna.

  5. The first L-382 was delivered to Interior airways in 1968 . Stretched by Lockheed in 69 or seventy . Between Interior Airways and Alaska International air , they operated at least 10 hercs in early seventies in Alaska . I believe Coulson is operating some of these hercs . I can figure out real easily going to FAA registration . I am just laying out some facts here . My opinion the Herc is a lousy platform for fighting fires . And I know the US government is up too their eyeballs in promoting this platform by purchasing tanking systems for Miltary Hercs .

    1. Another fact check: The federal government has not purchased any tanking systems for air tankers in recent history. The Forest Service lost interest in the seven Coast Guard HC-130Hs and gave them to CAL FIRE before the conversions were complete or the tank systems were purchased. That appears to be the opposite of “promoting this platform”.

  6. Look up the registry data for the Coulson Hercs and you’ll find Bill’s information spot on. They’re not 50 years old, and I’d highly doubt they’ve got anywhere near 100,000 hours on them.

    Thanks for the “facts” Bill.

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