Colorado to hire an exclusive use large air tanker for the first time

This would be an upgrade over the existing CWN contract. One aircraft that might be considered is a P3 Orion.

air tanker 23 P3 orion dropping
File photo of one aircraft that might be considered for an EU contract for the state of Colorado, a P3 Orion, which made a demonstration drop at Northern Colorado Regional Airport June 28, 2019. It has been under a CWN contract with Colorado. Screengrab from Nine News video.

The state of Colorado intends to contract for an exclusive use (EU) large air tanker. In 2018 they signed a Call When Needed (CWN) contract for a P3 operated by Air Strike Firefighters, but the deal they are negotiating now would be the first time the Division of Fire Prevention and Control has hired an EU large air tanker.

“We are currently working with a vendor to contract one of their large air tankers,” Phillip Daniels said on June 11. He is the agency’s Deputy Chief of the Wildland Fire Management Section.  “It is our desire for the contract to begin soon for 75 days exclusive use, however, we are still in the contracting and inspecting phase of the procurement process. This would be the first occurrence of Colorado contracting [an EU] large air tanker and are ensuring that we are doing it right!  Previously we have only contracted Single Engine Air Tankers and Helicopters.”

This year, as usual, Colorado has EU contracts for two Single Engine Air Tankers and two Type 2 helicopters. The state also owns two Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-Mission” (MMA) fixed wing aircraft used for detection, mapping, and coordination.

Mr. Daniels said his understanding is one of the pilots is initial attack qualified, which means a lead plane will not be required unless there are multiple air tankers working the fire. He said if a lead plane is needed, they will order one through the interagency process.

“And while we occasionally have an ATGS [Air Tactical Group Supervisor] on board the MMA, it’s primary mission is recon,” he explained. “We try not to assign it to missions where it can’t easily be reassigned for detection.”

PC-12 Colorado aircraft MMA
File photo of one of Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft” at Sacramento McClellan Airport March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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7 thoughts on “Colorado to hire an exclusive use large air tanker for the first time”

  1. I hope they are talking to Coulson. The only useful Large Air Tanker that can be used in Colorado is the C-130 (see Wildfire Today Documents for the 2013 Colorado Air Tanker Study).

    1. And yet every other LAT has operated successfully out of DRO, GJT, PUB, BJC, and COS for the last several years…

  2. Why do you say only a C-130 can do the job? A P-3 has a better power to weight ratio, is far more manoeuvrable, and has a better response time on target & return.

  3. Of course a P 3 can operate in Colorado. They did so for years. I’m guessing that the feds would love to have P3’s back in the mix. The airplane wasn’t the problem. Aero Union’s ability to finance required maintenance was.

  4. The P3 is a great aircraft. But, Colorado has the worst Density Altitude problem in the U.S. Colorado needs a plane that can deliver 3000 gallons anywhere within Colorado.

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