MD-87 air tanker lands safely after losing an engine

The crew declared an emergency and landed at Midland, Texas

Air Tanker 101 MD-87
Air Tanker 101, an MD-87, at Rapid City December 12, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A problem with an engine on April 21 resulted in an unscheduled landing for an Erickson Aero Air MD-87 air tanker.

While Tanker 101 was returning to Alamogordo, New Mexico after dropping retardant on the Holcombe Road Fire in Crockett County Texas, the left, or number 1, engine went into an overspeed condition and had to be shut down. Matt Isley, General Manager at Erickson Aero Tanker, said as that was being done the auto-throttle decreased the thrust in the other engine. The pilot then had to override the auto-throttle to power up that engine again.

The crew declared an emergency and landed safely on one engine after diverting to Midland, Texas (MAF) as airport crash-rescue trucks stood by.

Mr. Isley said the engine itself did not fail, the problem was caused by an engine control cable.

We received a report that a lead plane followed Tanker 101 while it was en route to Midland, but Mr. Isley said he had not heard anything about that.

The company’s maintenance personnel are on scene to begin the process of replacing the engine. Erickson stores most of their spares at their facility in Madras, Oregon.

Mr. Isley said they have had an air tanker working out of Alamogordo, NM since the beginning of March.

 route of Tanker 101 April 21, 2020 engine failure Texas
The route of Tanker 101 April 21, 2020 over Texas and New Mexico.
track log Tanker 101 April 21, 2020 engine failure Texas
A portion of the track log of Tanker 101 April 21, 2020 while it was over Texas. The incident appeared to have occurred around 11:28 a.m. CDT.

This is the fourth MD-87 air tanker engine related failure of which we are aware. The other three:

Other air tankers have had engine failures, of course. It was not uncommon on the 18-cylinder P2V’S radial engines, and a DC-10 had one go out in Idaho in 2013.

Engine problems on the MD-87 are noteworthy because when they began there was an issue of retardant dispersing over the wing which left open the possibility of it being ingested into the engines. The company had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors in 2017, which lowered the release point by 46 inches, mitigating the problem Kevin McLoughlin, Erickson’s Director of Air Tanker Operations said at the time.

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

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4 thoughts on “MD-87 air tanker lands safely after losing an engine”

  1. An irascible old bush pilot friend called the tower and said he was coming in on one engine, could he puleeeeze drop in? The controllers chased everybody out of the way, gave him a straight downwind approach, and he set down like thistledown in a (single engine) Cessna 172.
    “Bugsmasher 172, could you puleeeeze taxi over to the tower … We’d like to have a word with you…”
    In those days, nobody had their undies quite as tight as they are today, but they still had to chew on him for quite a spell before their sense of humor returned.

  2. Bill, FYI: The engine 1 vs. engine 2 seems to be contradicted by the ATC recordings, where the crew reports “engine 1 overspeed, engine 2 out”. Also, very surprised there is no SAFECOM entered for the incident; sometimes that is a nice redundancy to clarify between reports.
    Another job well done by the crew, certainly!

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