CWN contracts awarded for 22 next-gen air tankers

Coulson T-132 grid test
Coulson Aviation’s L-382G during the grid test in early May, 2015.

The U.S. Forest Service announced yesterday that they awarded Call When Needed (CWN) contracts to five companies for a total of 22 next-generation air tankers. Not all of the aircraft exist yet in flyable, modified, inspected, and carded form. In fact, we estimate only about half of them are ready to go now if the phone rang.

The companies receiving the six-year CWN contracts include:

  • Neptune Aviation, 6 BAe-146s
  • Coulson Aviation, 1 Lockheed L-382G
  • Air Spray USA, 4 BAe-146s
  • 10 Tanker Air Carrier, 5 DC-10s
  • Aero Flite, 6 BAe Avro 146 RJ85s

These CWN contracts are in addition to the 14 air tankers currently on Exclusive Use Contracts, and the additional aircraft that could be added, up to seven, when the bidding process that is being protested now is settled. Later this year there could be up to 21 air tankers on exclusive use contracts, plus the CWN aircraft on this contract that was just awarded. Many of the air tankers currently on exclusive use contracts are also listed on the new CWN contract, so there is some duplication.

An exclusive use contract commits an aircraft to working non-stop, except for days off, for an extended period of days, 160, for example.

However on a CWN contract the aircraft may never be used by the USFS. It could sit for years without being activated by the agency. That was one reason the 747 “Supertanker” ceased to exist. It was parked for years on a CWN contract and was not used.

This, of course, can be a very expensive and risky proposition for a private company. They have to decide if they are going to maintain the aircraft in a continuous airworthy condition and hire flight crews and maintenance personnel. The USFS thinks it’s a great deal since they spend nothing if an air tanker is not used. But even if a CWN aircraft had been at one time fully certified, by the time the USFS decides to activate it, the aircraft and the staff to operate it may or may not be ready to fight fire. And the CWN rates are usually much higher than a multi-year exclusive use contract.

Walt Darren, a legendary air tanker pilot who passed away a couple of years ago, suggested that CWN aircraft could be paid a stipend during the fire season even when they are not being used. This would make it a little more palatable for a company to keep an air tanker ready to go.

Ravi Saip, the General Manager and Director of Maintenance for Air Spray at Chico, California, said none of their BAe-146s are fully operational today. They are working on two of them, and hope to have one finished by the end of this fire season. He said most of the work is done on that aircraft, and they are working closely with British Aerospace on the cutouts in the belly through which the retardant will flow. In about two months they hope to begin flight tests, and they still need to get the FAA’s Supplemental Type Certificate and the Interagency AirTanker Board certifications.

Rick Hatton of 10 Tanker told us they have three completed DC-10s. Two are carded and are being used today on fires in California, T-911 and T-912. The third, which replaced and upgraded the older T-910, will retain that tanker number and is waiting for the USFS to issue their certification.

Britt Coulson of Coulson Aviation said they hope their recently converted Lockheed L-382G will be carded by the USFS next week. A civilian version of the C-130, it completed the grid test in early May.

The full list of air tankers receiving CWN contracts is below. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Continue reading “CWN contracts awarded for 22 next-gen air tankers”

Aero-Flite moving to Spokane

The company that operates Avro RJ-85 air tankers is moving from Kingman, Arizona to Spokane, Washington. Aero-Flite announced Thursday that it is moving its corporate headquarters and tanker fleet to Spokane International Airport.

The company expects to bring 17 mechanics and 5 management personnel with them, and will also be hiring additional mechanics and some pilots, said Todd Woodard, a spokesman for the airport.

This year Aero-Flight added at least two converted Avro RJ-85s (converted by Conair) and one CL-415 to their fleet. They also operate five Canadair CL-215s. according to their web site.

The video below is a report from KXLY about the company’s move to Spokane.

The next video was uploaded on August 13, 2014 and primarily covers the large amount of retardant that was loaded at Moses Lake. At about 1:32 it features one of the Avro RJ-85 air tankers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to @jetcitystar and Carl.

Tanker 161

RJ-85, tanker 161

The National Interagency Fire Center posted this photo of Aero Flite’s RJ-85, Tanker 161, on the agency’s Facebook page. They did not specify where it was taken, when, or the name of the photographer.

Tanker 161 and its sister, Tanker 160, became fully carded and operational a couple of weeks ago.

Aero Flite chose the external retardant tank option, rather than an internal tank. Other air tanker companies retrofitting the BAe-146, which is similar, have found the infrastructure inside the aircraft’s belly challenging to work around or move when installing an internal tank.

Updates on RJ-85s, CV-580s, CL-215/415s

In addition to the news about the MD-87 and DC-10 air tankers we posted on Sunday (and updated today), there is also news about four or five other models of air tankers.

RJ-85s

Aero Flite’s two RJ-85s are now fully qualified and on contract. They are tankers 160 and 161, both piloted by initial attack qualified crews.

CV-580

Three CV-580s are in the lower 48 on loan from the state of Alaska. There was one more and a birdog that was borrowed from Canada, but they returned last week.

MAFFS

Last week the two C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) at the Channel Islands National Guard base in California were activated by the governor of California to help deal with wildfires in the northern part of the state. Two MAFFS from Cheyenne, Wyoming (MAFFS 1 & 3) had previously been activated and have mostly been working out of Boise, but last weekend their temporary home was the tanker base at Helena Regional Airport in Montana.

MAFFS at Helena
MAFFS 1 and 3 at Helena Regional Airport last weekend. Photo by Jeff Wadekamper.

On August 1, 17 California National Guard helicopters were also activated to assist with the fires in the state.

CL-215/415

The CL-415 and the two CL-215s late last week were working out of Deer Park Washington.

Number of air tankers increases for the first time since 2007

Conair RJ85 first flight
The first flight of Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85 in September, 2013, built for Aero-Flite. Conair photo by Jeff Bough.

The large air tanker fleet in the United States is on track to have more than double the number that were flying at the beginning of the summer in 2013. Last year there were nine large air tankers available near the beginning of the western fire season, and by mid-July this year there are expected to be 20 on contract that are fully certified, flyable, and ready to assist firefighters on the ground. Air tanker UTF In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts, but that number as been generally in a downward spiral since then until it reached the low point of nine in 2013. Thanks to the the U.S. Forest Service adding three additional jet-powered BAe-146s to the “legacy contract” temporarily this year, and with nine other air tankers being on five-year or temporary one-year “next generation” contracts, we expect the air tanker fleet to be the largest since 2009.

Large air tankers-2014

Five of the 20 air tankers are on temporary one-year contracts added under the “additional equipment” provisions of the contracts that Neptune and 10 Tanker Air Carrier have for their BAe-146s and DC-10s. Unless the USFS decides again next year to award them another one-year contract (if they have the funds to do so) those five may disappear and the total number could decrease to 15.

Within the next week or so 16 large air tankers should be fully activated and on duty. There are still four that have contracts but are still going through the final stages of conversion, live drop tests, or approval of a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In addition to the 20 large air tankers, there will be 33 single engine air tankers (SEATs) on exclusive use national contracts.

10 Tanker Air Carrier is converting their third DC-10. It has all of the necessary approvals and is expected to be ready to fight fire in July.

Aero-Flite has the approval of the Interagency AirTanker Board and is waiting on the STC before their two RJ85s can begin work. They hope to have everything all squared away by mid- to late June.

Minden has been working on their BAe-146 for several years and has scheduled their airborne drop tests, the “grid test”, to begin the week of June 16. They are waiting for the FAA to issue their STC. The FAA representative who was working on it had to leave the country on an assignment, slowing down the process.

By mid-summer there will be three additional air tankers that that the U.S. Forest service could activate on one-year additional equipment contracts. Neptune, Erickson Aero Tanker, and Aero-Flite will each have one additional approved air tanker sitting on their ramps.

The U.S. Forest Service could have, with the stroke of a pen, a total of 23 large air tankers flying this summer. The states in the far west are expected to have an above normal wildfire potential this summer. If that turns out to be accurate and houses are burning and residents are being killed, some questions will be asked if those three recently converted next generation air tankers are still cooling their wheels on an airport ramp because a bureaucrat in the Department of Agriculture decided to look the other way.

Tanker 41
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, flyover May 21, 2014 at the University of Montana during the Large Fire Conference at Missoula. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Tanker 260 at Wiley Post Airport

Tanker 260, at Wiley Post Airport

These photos of Aero-Flite’s brand new CL-415, Tanker 260, were taken May 7 by Chet Dodrill of Chloeta Fire. The aircraft was at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City along with a King Air 200 air attack platform.

The word of mouth in the area is that the local firefighters were very pleased with the work T-260 did on the recent fires near Guthrie and Woodward, Oklahoma. One of the lakes it was scooping from on the Guthrie fire was five to ten miles away from the fire, which allowed quick turnarounds.

The registration number on the plane is N389AC.

Tanker 260, at Wiley Post Airport

UPDATED May 9, 2014: The photo below was posted on the Oklahoma Forestry Services Facebook page today, with this caption: “The aircraft, a CL415 Airtanker, a Single Engine Airtanker (SEAT) & an air attack platform lined up for the Media Day today.”

Media day, photo by Oklahoma Forestry Services

The video below features the CL-415.

News9.com – Oklahoma City, OK – News, Weather, Video and Sports |

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Below is the text of a press release issued by Bombardier in November when the sale of the aircraft was announced. It was posted on the Tenax website:

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“Today, Bombardier celebrated the sale and delivery of its 50th iconic Bombardier 415 superscooper aircraft assembled at its North Bay, Ontario facility. The aircraft, purchased by a partnership led by Tenax Aerospace, LLC of Ridgeland, Mississippi, will be used under contract to the United States Forest Service starting next month. Based on the list price, the Bombardier contract is valued at approximately $34.5 million USD.

The Bombardier 415 superscooper aircraft is a world-renowned firefighter and adapts to the roughest terrain and the only aircraft specifically built as an aerial firefighting airplane. It is able to land on unpaved runways, lakes, rivers and seas, enabling both rapid initial attacks to extinguish fires and sustained attacks to contain fires.

“Today, we are celebrating two milestones: the 50th Bombardier 415 aircraft assembled in North Bay, Ontario as well as the first United States Bombardier 415 aircraft sale and delivery,” said Michel Bourgeois, President, Specialized and Amphibious Aircraft, Bombardier Aerospace. “I want to congratulate the employees for this achievement and to welcome the Tenax team to the amphibious aircraft family. This is yet another testament to the true value of the expertise of our employees and of our superscooper aircraft that remains the top aerial firefighting choice around the world,” he continued.

While the 50th Bombardier 415 aircraft to roll out of North Bay, Ontario is the first to be sold to a United States customer, a total of five State and privately owned CL-215 aircraft, the predecessor to the Bombardier 415 aircraft, are currently operated in the United States.

Since the first Bombardier 415 amphibious aircraft was delivered in 1994, a total of 85 Bombardier 415 and four Bombardier 415 MP aircraft have been delivered to governments and firefighting agencies around the world. In addition, 80 CL-215 and CL-215T amphibious piston aircraft remain in service worldwide.

About the Bombardier 415 aircraft

The Bombardier 415 firefighter aircraft has a normal cruise speed of 180 KT (333 km/h) under certain conditions. In an average mission of six nautical miles (11 kilometres) distance from water to fire, it can complete nine drops within an hour and precisely deliver 14,589 US gallons (55,233 litres) of fire suppressant.”

Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260 used in Oklahoma

KOCO has an article and photos of Aero-Flite’s brand new CL-415 water scooping air tanker (Tanker 260) that relocated from Florida to Oklahoma City a few days ago to be used on the fires in the area. Michelle Self posted a video on her Facebook page of it scooping out of Lake Liberty (map) while it was working on the fire near Guthrie, OK. The lake was five to ten miles west of the fire which would have contributed to very fast turnaround times for the 1,600-gallon water drops.