Photos of large air tankers working the Alisal Fire in SoCal

Tanker 101 dropping Alisal Fire
Tanker 101, an MD-87, dropping on the northwest side of the Alisal Fire, Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by SBCFD

Since the Alisal Fire started west of Santa Barbara, California on October 11 there have not been many opportunities for firefighting aircraft to work the fire due to the very strong winds. Helicopters have been able to sneak in a few times, but until yesterday and today, October 12 and 13, they have rarely been seen at the fire.

Thanks to a decrease in wind speed, today on FlightRadar24 I saw six large air tankers and two very large air tankers (DC-10s) either over the fire, flying to or from, or taxiing at the Santa Maria airport which is 31 miles northwest of the fire.

Tanker 12 dropping Alisal Fire
Tanker 12, a BAe-146, dropping on the northwest side of the Alisal Fire, Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by SBCFD

These photos are courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Tanker 137 dropping Alisal Fire
Tanker 137, a 737, dropping on the northwest side of the Alisal Fire, Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by SBCFD

Wednesday morning the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said the Alisal Fire has burned 14,500 acres, an increase of 1,100 acres over the figure released Tuesday evening. The growth over the last 24 hours has been on all sides, with the exception, of course, where the fire was stopped by the Pacific Ocean on the south. Wildfire Today has more information about the fire.

Tanker 910 dropping Alisal Fire
Tanker 910, a DC-10, dropping on the northwest side of the Alisal Fire, Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by SBCFD
Alisal Fire map
Alisal Fire map 9:45 p.m. Oct. 12, 2021. The red line was the perimeter at 9:45 p.m. PDT Oct. 12, 2021. The white line was the perimeter at 4:12 a.m. Oct. 12. The red dots represent heat detected by satellites at 2:56 a.m. PDT Oct. 13.

Colorado signs contract for exclusive use large air tanker

Neptune Aviation's Tanker 10
Neptune Aviation’s Tanker 10. Photo courtesy of Colorado DFPC.

A large air tanker is on an exclusive use (EU) contract with the state of Colorado. The state’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) has arranged for Neptune Aviation to station one of their BAe-146’s in the state this summer. The 120-day contract began June 24 and the aircraft was dispatched that day to its first fire, the Muddy Slide Fire 22 miles south of Steamboat Springs.

The signing of Senate Bill 21-049 earlier this year provided funds for a State-contracted large air tanker, a Type 1 helicopter, and increased the number of days existing DFPC Single Engine Air Tankers and helicopters are under contract. The legislation also provides additional funding and resources so that DFPC can better support fire departments and counties during the early stages of a wildfire.

The DFPC adopted the recent policy of the U.S. Forest Service, only making the contract valid for one year, with the possibility of four additional one-year periods.

The BAe-146 can hold up to 3,000 gallons of retardant but may have to reduce the loads on hot days in the higher elevations of Colorado.

The aircraft will hosted at Jeffco Air Tanker Base, a US Forest Service facility in Broomfield at the Rocky Mountain Regional Airport. There are five bases in Colorado that can support large air tankers: Durango, Grand Junction, Jeffco, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs.

In 2020 the DFPC had a 75-day EU contract for Air Tanker 23, a P-3 Orion operated by Airstrike. The choice of the aircraft came as no surprise since it was already under a call when needed arrangement with the state.

Neptune adopts new livery for their air tankers

The DC-10s operated by 10 Tanker will begin receiving new paint in January

New livery on T-01
New livery on T-01, December 18, 2020. Neptune photo.

Neptune Aviation Services released this photo of the first of their BAe-146 air tankers to receive new livery.

Their description:

Here is a sneak peak at the new look the Neptune’s tankers will begin sporting in 2021. Tanker 01 getting ready to depart Spokane for Missoula. The new paint scheme will make it easier for both air and ground observers to identify Neptune aircraft. Tanker 10 is up next for the new look.

Below is the previous design:

Tanker 01, a BAe-146
Tanker 01, a BAe-146, on the Sunflower Fire, Oregon, 2014 Todd McKinley.

The previous livery had the Montana state flag but no American flag. The company’s announcement said the new design has both.

The DC-10s operated by 10 Tanker will begin receiving new paint in January, John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker told us.

Photos of aircraft on the Elephant Butte Fire, part 2 of 5

Today, featuring Tanker 02, a BAe-146

Tanker 02, a BAe-146, dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire
Tanker 02, a BAe-146, dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by

The Elephant Butte Fire burned about 50 acres on steep terrain southwest of Denver two miles northwest of Evergreen Lake, Colorado. It was reported around 3 p.m. on Monday July 13 and the spread was stopped at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday July 14 by good work from firefighters in the air and on the ground, with a big assist from rain. got some great photos of the aircraft battling the blaze, both while they were over the fire and at the air tanker base at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JEFFCO) northwest of Denver. With his permission, we will showing you some of his shots in five installments.

Today we are featuring Tanker 02, a BAe-146 operated by Neptune Aviation, N474NA.

Tanker 02, a BAe-146, dropping Elephant Butte Fire
Tanker 02, a BAe-146, dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by

Click here to see the series of five installments of photos of aircraft on the Elephant Butte Fire. They will be posted daily from July 17 through July 21, 2020.

Here are more photos of Tanker 02 from the archives.

This next one was taken when the U.S. Forest Service was experimenting with using an F-15 as a lead plane. (kidding!)

BAe-146 and F-15E
Neptune’s T-02 and an F15E. Photo by Colin Moeser in 2016.
Tanker 02, a BAe-146
Tanker 02, a BAe-146, at Missoula during winter maintenance May 25, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Tanker 02, a BAe-146
Tanker 02, a BAe-146, at Missoula during winter maintenance May 25, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

More details possibly emerge about air tanker’s hazardous exit out of drop area

BAe-146 air tanker hazardous retardant drop near miss
Screenshot from the video below of BAe-146 air tanker.

We posted a video on August 14 of a BAe-146 air tanker dropping retardant on a fire. While exiting the area the aircraft flew closely over a ridge stirring up dust on the ground. It generated many comments, with one person writing “it doesn’t appear to be a problem” while others considered it a good cautionary learning opportunity.

Yesterday one of our readers sent us information about a Safecom that may or may not be related to this incident. The report was filed August 1, 2019 by the crew of a BAe-146 about an incident that occurred July 1, 2019.

Here is the complete narrative:

While conducting retardant operations I descended below a ridge crossing altitude. This was NOT on purpose. I tunnel visioned the drop, and continued down. This was a little fill in spot and I was really focused on finishing the line. As I stated, this was NOT on purpose. We{crew} debriefed and talked about what happened, and of course, how to prevent this type of screw up. Thanks

The “Corrective Action” was presumably written later by someone in aviation management:

Crew will review SOP`s, CRM, etc. RASM: Glad to see the crew realized and admitted what occurred. Hope to see others follow suit as narratives like this remind us all to be diligent.

Cutting it close on a fire retardant drop

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

A shocking drop by a BAe-146

BAe-146 retardant drop
A BAe-146 exits the target area after making a retardant drop. Screenshot from the video below.

At the end of this video of a retardant drop by Neptune’s Tanker 01, a BAe-146, you will hear a four-letter word. After watching, you will fully understand why.

Did you notice the dust being kicked up as the aircraft skimmed over the ridge?

(UPDATE: a SAFECOM was filed that may be related to the incident above)

Tanker 01 is currently working for the U.S. Forest Service on an exclusive use contract.

Here is a great shot of a CL-215 or 415:

And another:

And, a Single Engine Air Tanker on the Paint Mine Fire three miles northwest of Nephi, Utah


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.

Air Spray tests their BAe-146 air tanker

The aircraft appears to be nearing the completion of its 5-year conversion

Air Tanker 170 making test drop
Air Spray’s Air Tanker 170 making a test drop at Fox Field in September, 2018. Screen shot from the VMC Aviation Video below.

Today we learned about two videos that were shot in September as Air Spray was putting their BAe-146 air tanker through the grid test at Fox Field in Southern California. The test involves repeatedly dropping retardant over a grid of hundreds of cups on the ground. The amount in each cup is measured to determine the quantity of retardant and the uniformity of the pattern.

Air Spray has been working on this aircraft since at least March of 2014 when we visited their hangar in Chico, California. At that time the company was hoping to complete the conversion of the airliner into an air tanker by the end of that year. In March of this year they demonstrated it dropping water at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at Sacramento.

The aircraft has an unusual vinyl wrap — a forest scene on the aft section which certainly can’t be mistaken for another air tanker. It remains to be seen if the images of vegetation turn out to be camouflage, making it difficult to be seen by other aircraft when it is flying close to the ground.  The “N” number is hard to read (it’s N907AS) but that could be easily fixed.

These videos were shot by VMC Aviation Videos in September at the grid test for Tanker 170. The first one is very unusual, showing four drops on the same screen and then repeats them in slow motion. The other includes a lot of taxiing, but also has several drops.

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