Two C-130 MAFFS air tankers relieved by another pair

MAFFS C-130
MAFFS C-130 training in Boise April 21, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert

After a week on the job the two California National Guard C-130 MAFFS air tankers that were activated on July 22 are being relieved as scheduled and will return to the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands in southern California.

A Herc from Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing “High Rollers” deployed July 29 to Sacramento McClellan Airport. It will be joined by one from the Air Force Reserve’s 302 Airlift Wing out of Peterson Air Force Base at Colorado Springs.

The military C-130s use the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) which can deliver up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. The system slides into the back of the aircraft and retardant is sprayed under pressure through a nozzle in a modified troop door on the left side. MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the civilian airtanker program to slow the spread of wildland fires.

fire wildfire Nevada Air National Guard C-130 MAFFS
A C-130 from Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing “High Rollers” during training in Boise April 20, 2020. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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

Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA) Elephant Butte Fire
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA), on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.

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.

Skippyscage.com 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 101 (N292EA), an MD-87 operated by Erickson Aero Tanker.

Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA) Elephant Butte Fire
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA), dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA), dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA), dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.

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


Here are more photos of Tanker 101 from the archives.

air tanker durango
Air tankers 101 and 103 at Durango, CO May 28, 2018. Photo by Dave Herdman.
Air tanker 101 Moonfish Fire Florida
Air Tanker 101, an MD-87, drops on the Moonfish Fire in Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. It was dropping plain water, rather than retardant or another chemical, due to the sensitivity of the Everglades ecosystem. Photo by Megan Hurrell.
Tankers 105, 06, and 101
Tankers 105, 06, and 101 (L to R) at Redmond OR, June 8, 2014. Photo by Jeff Ingelse.

Photos of aircraft on the Elephant Butte Fire, part 4 of 5

Today, three large, Type 1 CH54 helicopters

Helicopter 5HT, a CH54 fire N715HT
Helicopter 5HT, a CH54 (N715HT) at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver during the Elephant Butte Fire. Photo by skippyscage.com.

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.

Skippyscage.com 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 CH-54 Type 1 helitankers operated by Helicopter Transport Service manufactured in 1968 and 1969, N715HT, N792HT, and N722HT.

Helicopter 2HT, a CH54 (N722HT)
Helicopter 2HT, a CH54 (N722HT) at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver during the Elephant Butte Fire. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Helicopter 2HT (N722HT) fire
Helicopter 2HT a CH54 (N722HT) dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Helicopter 92HT, a CH54 (N792HT) fire
Helicopter 92HT, a CH54 (N792HT) at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver during the Elephant Butte Fire. Photo by skippyscage.com.

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.

Photos of aircraft on the Elephant Butte Fire, part 3 of 5

Today, featuring an AS350B3

Helicopter 3PA, an AS350B (N833PA)
Helicopter 3PA, an AS350B (N833PA) on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.

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.

Skippyscage.com 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 Helicopter 3PA, an AS350B3, (N833PA) owned and operated by Firehawk Helicopters headquartered in Leesburg, Florida.

Helicopter 3PA, an AS350B (N833PA)
Helicopter 3PA, an AS350B (N833PA) on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Helicopter 3PA, an AS350B (N833PA)
Helicopter 3PA, an AS350B (N833PA) on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.

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.

This article was updated July 21, 2020 to show that Helicopter 3PA is now owned and operated by Firehawk Helicopters.

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 skippyscage.com.

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.

Skippyscage.com 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 skippyscage.com.

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.

Photos of aircraft on the Elephant Butte Fire, part 1 of 5

Today, featuring Tanker 22, a P3 Orion

Tanker 22 P3 Orion Elephant Butte Fire Colorado
Tanker 22, a P3 Orion, dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.

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 by good work from firefighters in the air and on the ground, with a big assist from rain at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday July 14.

Skippyscage.com 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 22, a P3 Orion manufactured in 1964 formerly operated by Aero Union that was recently brought back to life by Airstrike Firefighters and Buffalo Airways. It is currently on a 75-day exclusive use (EU) contract with the state of Colorado. The aircraft is registered to Buffalo.

Tanker 22 P3 Orion Elephant Butte Fire Colorado
Tanker 22 , a P3 Orion, dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Tanker 22 P3 Orion Elephant Butte Fire Colorado
Tanker 22, a P3 Orion, on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Tanker 22 P3 Orion Elephant Butte Fire Colorado
Tanker 22, a P3 Orion, parked at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport after working the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Elephant Butte Fire
The Elephant Butte Fire, July 13, 2020. Photo by Jason Hamburg, park ranger with Jefferson County Open Space. It was taken from his fire lookout position on Jenkins Peak, looking south toward Elephant Butte.

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.


Below are some archived photos of Tanker 22.

United Aeronautical acquired seven of Aero Union’s P3 tankers after the company declared bankruptcy. Buffalo Airways purchased T-22 from UA in 2014, and now it is operated by Airstrike Firefighters under an arrangement with Buffalo Airways. Another former Aero Union P3, T-23, has also been restored and is being operated by Airstrike.

Buffalo P3 Joe McBryan tanker 22
Ronald Guy (left) of United Aeronautical congratulates Joe McBryan (right) of Buffalo Airways on the purchase of Tanker 22, March 19, 2014 at McClellan Air Force Base March 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
P3 Orion air tanker 22
Tanker 22. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.
Aero Union's P3A Tanker 22
Aero Union’s P3A Tanker 22 getting reloaded at Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base, while another P3A is headed towards the fire. Photo by Joe Cupido. Date unknown, but it is from the Aero Union days, pre-2011.

The photoshopped photo of T-22 below won our contest in 2013 to create an image of an air tanker that had a sponsor. The contest was a spurred by a suggestion by Colorado State Senator Steve King, who said: “Can you imagine what the advertising value would be if you had a Colorado Rockies sign on the tail of a slurry bomber?”

Jerome Laval P3
Jerome Laval P3

Rappeller descending to a wildfire struggles with a tree

At the East Plum Fire in Colorado

(Revised at 6:39 p.m. MDT July 13, 2020.)

rappelling to the East Plum Fire in Colorado
Two firefighters rappelling to the East Plum Fire in Colorado. Screenshot from July 9, 2020 Denver 7 video.

A video shot from a helicopter on July 9, 2020 got good footage of two firefighters rappelling from a helicopter to initial attack the East Plum Fire about seven miles southwest of Larkspur, Colorado, south of Denver on the Pike & San Isabel National Forests.

It appeared to be routine at first. One of them landed safely on the ground, but the other appeared to have difficulty descending through a tree. Either the firefighter or the person’s rope, or both, apparently became entangled in the limbs of a fairly small tree about 15 feet off the ground. While the firefighter on the ground looked up and moved around, the hung-up firefighter was actively moving his or her arms around, perhaps trying to gather the rope below so it could be untangled and dropped again, so the rappel could be completed.

Rappelling East Plum Fire
Rappelling to the East Plum Fire in Colorado. One firefighter on the ground looks up at a second rappelling firefighter who appeared to encounter difficulty with a tree. Screenshot from July 9, 2020 Denver 7 video.

This went for about two and a half minutes before the firefighter made it to the ground, and all the while the helicopter was hovering. The view from the news helicopter’s camera was partially blocked at times, so I could not determine if the helicopter was maintaining tension on the rope, or if the weight of the firefighter was supported by the tree. But I imagine the pilot had to be very careful to not drag the firefighter up through the tree’s canopy. The rope and the firefighter possibly being entangled in the limbs could have made that inadvisable.

East Plum Fire
East Plum Fire. Screenshot from July 9, 2020 Denver 7 video.

A total of six firefighters rappelled into the fire which ultimately burned 0.3 acre. The next day, July 10, a hotshot crew hiked in, built and improved fireline around the fire, then hiked out. Six firefighters, possibly the six rappellers, spent two nights on the third of an acre fire and hiked out on July 11.

An air tanker dropped retardant on July 9 and a heavy helicopter assisted firefighters by dropping water on July 10.

The video can be seen on Facebook. The rappel begins at about 7:20.

More details about the East Plum Fire from the U.S. Forest Service.

We reached out to the Forest Service for more information, and received this from Lawrence Lujan, Regional Public Information Officer:

Rappelling into trees is common in steep, rugged and heavily wooded areas. Firefighters train regularly to handle such occurrences.  The Forest Service firefighter from Montana touched down safely with no injuries.


(Revised to add a quote from the US Forest Service received after initial publication)

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.