Until Saturday a P-3 air tanker had not dropped on a fire since 2011

Air Tanker 23 owned by Airstrike Firefighters dropped on the Red Bank Fire

P-3 Orion air tanker T-23
Air tanker 23 testing over McClellan, August, 2018. Photo by Sergio Maraschin.

A P-3 Orion air tanker was very busy in Northern California Saturday September 7. Tanker 23, after starting the day at Sacramento McClellan Airport, departed at 11:42 a.m. PDT and arrived over the Red Bank Fire at 12:09 p.m. PDT. By 12:20 p.m. it had landed at Redding. Then according to the FlightAware activity log it made five more trips from Redding to the Red Bank Fire or the nearby South Fire 30 to 40 miles southwest of the airport. After that it began working on the Swedes Fire 7 miles east-southeast of Oroville and reloading at Chico. The last time we checked it appeared that it completed at least eight sorties Saturday. Quite a reintroduction to aerial firefighting! (UPDATE: we received word the aircraft completed 10 sorties, and flew for six hours total time on September 7.)

In the tweet below, the photographer captured Tanker 23, a P-3 Orion.

Swedes Fire
Swedes Fire, 6:37 p.m. PDT Sept. 7, 2019. Nevada Seismo Lab.

Bill Douglas, President of Airstrike Firefighters, confirmed that the drops T-23 made today are the first a P-3 has made over an actual fire since the Forest Service cancelled the contract the federal government had with Aero Union in June, 2011. After Aero Union went bankrupt UAC/Blue Aerospace bought seven of the eight P-3s that were still basically in one piece. Since then four of them have ended up in the hands of Airstrike Firefighters (Tankers 17, 21, & 23) and Buffalo Airways (T-22) and are being resurrected as air tankers. Airstrike Firefighters has an agreement to purchase the remaining three (00, 25 & 27) from UAC/Blue Aerospace if that appears to be a good business decision after the first batch of P-3s are restored.

Tanker 23 reloading
Air Tanker 23, a P-3, reloading September 7, 2019 at either Redding or Chico. Airstrike photo.

The work on Tankers 22, 23, 21, and 17 has been or will be done at the Airstrike facilities at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Obviously T-23 is done and Scott A. Schorzman, Airstrike VP for Business Development, said the work on T-22 is nearly done. When finished it will be operated by Airstrike.

Mr. Douglas said T-17 does not presently have a tank, so that is one obstacle that has to be overcome. If you’re keeping score at home, T-17 will have to take on a new number since another tanker has grabbed it during the 8-year hiatus.

Airstrike Firefighters has Call When Needed Contracts with four states, California, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon.

Congratulations to UAC/Blue Aerospace for saving the P-3 from the scrap heap, and to AirStrike and Buffalo Airways for bringing them back to life.

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

9 thoughts on “Until Saturday a P-3 air tanker had not dropped on a fire since 2011”

  1. If I’m not mistaken, Tanker 23 used to be based in Chico. Great to see her back! It’s also great to see people like Mr. Douglas, who have invested so much time, energy and money, beginning to realize a return on their investment. I can only imagine what it takes to bring something like this back to life and the satisfaction of being the person who got it flying again.
    Thanks to everybody on the airstrike team. Keep the P3 Orions coming!

  2. Excellent, P 3 is back, Go Cal Fire! Saw what I thought was a scooper floating around Northern California? A significant fire aviation event is occurring in Bolivia. As first reported on this site in late August Tanker 944 has been working fires in Bolivia without missing a beat. Every day T 944 has made three to five sorties. Appears that each flight is about one hour.. plus a few minutes. This is a milestone accomplishment to keep flying and protecting (drops) thousands of miles away from their (Global Super Tankers) home base in a foreign country.
    As mentioned “everyday”. The logistics must be challenging.

  3. I’ve been privileged to work with the AirStrike guys, Dan Gibson and Jim Lesley for a few years while they worked on bring the P-3 back. It is a great fire fighting platform and the AirStrike team are outstanding fire fighting professionals. All Good.

  4. Being an old C-130 NAV, my one complaint about P-3s is that the engines are definitely upside down! /s. Seriously, I have a Navy friend who has had to do a lot of hours on them on patrol. Also, NOAA still flys them into the eyewall of hurricanes. These old birds have a lot of life left in them, so let ’em bomb fires. As with all older aircraft, they gotta keep up with the airframe inspections. Cheers.

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