Photos of two DC-7 air tankers from 1975

DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 60, N838D
DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 60, N838D, August, 1975 at Lancaster, CA.

(Originally published at 4:58 p.m. PDT June 17, 2019)

The Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base called and asked if we were interested in accepting some old photos of air tankers that they didn’t know what to do with. I said, “Of course!”

I’ll be posting some of them off an on over the next few days and weeks.

Today we have two DC-7 air tankers that were photographed in August, 1975. The locations on many of the photos say Lancaster, California, and that is the case for these.  There is no indication who took any of the photos. The aircraft model, N number, location taken, and the month/year are hand-written on the backs.

DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 69, N45W
DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 69, N4SW, August, 1975 at Lancaster, CA.

Most of the photos were taken while the aircraft were on the ground, a few show them airborne, and only a couple show them dropping water, which were probably a test flights.

If anyone has more information about these aircraft, such as what company operated them and the pilots who flew them, that would be great.


(UPDATED at 6:20 a.m. PDT June 18, 2019)

After getting more information in the comments from Tom Story and Jon (thanks folks), it turns out that there was an error in the hand written notation on the back of the Tanker 69 print. The N number should have been N4SW instead of N45W. I fixed the caption in the photo above.

And, like Tom said, the two DC-7s were operated by Butler, according to the information at Geoff Goodall’s Aviation website. In 2012, Tanker 60, N838D, was transferred to Erickson Aero Tanker and is still in operation.

Tanker 60 DC-7 Madras, Oregon
Chuck Rhodes, Erickson Aero Tanker Maintenance Supervisor, with Tanker 60, a DC-7 at Madras, Oregon, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In his comment, Jon said, “Tanker 69 was the one lost on the way to Medford from Klamath Falls for the end of the season party in 1979. My dad knew most of them.” Here is some of the information he referenced at aviation-safety.net:

[On September 14, 1979] DC-7 “Tanker 69” departed Redmond, OR a company business flight to Medford, OR, with an en route stop at Klamath Falls, OR. The aircraft struck trees on the crest of Surveyor Mountain and crashed. The aircraft departed Redmond for Klamath Falls about 19:45 and arrived there at 20:29. Two passengers enplaned and the aircraft departed runway 14 at Klamath Falls at 20:40.The aircraft struck trees on the crest of the 6400 feet high Surveyor Mountain about 7 minutes after takeoff.

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The flight crew’s decision to undertake a direct point-to-point high-cruise-speed flight at low altitude. The crew’s judgment in the selection of a low-altitude flight profile may have been influenced by their familiarity with the terrain.”

CLASSIFICATION: Controlled flight into terrain.

Any crash of an air tanker is awful, usually killing two or three crew members, but in this case 12 people died — two crew members and 10 passengers. May they rest in peace.

The NTSB report can be found here.


(UPDATED at  4:46 p.m. MDT June 20, 2019)

JD Davis sent us additional photos of these aircraft. Thanks JD!

DC-7, N4SW air tanker
DC-7, N4SW, variously known as Tanker 19 or Tanker 69. Photo by JD Davis. At Ontario (ONT) Sept., 1974.
DC-7, N838D air tanker
DC-7, N838D, Tanker 60, by JD Davis. At San Bernardino (SBD) Oct. 17, 1999.

Tanker 60 makes emergency landing at Chico

Air Tanker 60, an Erickson Aero Tanker DC-7B, made an emergency landing at the Chico, California airport Thursday morning. A person who was monitoring radio traffic told Fire Aviation that the pilot declared an emergency after shutting down the #3 engine and losing all hydraulics. The video was apparently captured by someone on the nearby Eaton Road that borders the airport.

The pilots deserve kudos for keeping the aircraft on the runway.

Click on the image above and you’ll be taken to the Action News Now website where you can view it. The resolution on the video is very poor, but you can pretty much tell what is happening.

Tanker 60
File photo of Tanker 60 taken by Bill Gabbert at Madras, Oregon June 13, 2016.

This DC-7B is 58 years old, manufactured in 1958. Over the last three to four years several P2V air tankers in that same age range have had serious problems with hydraulics that resulted in problems as they landed.

In 2006 a P2V operated by Neptune lost an engine due to a bad piston shortly after taking off from Chico. Pilot Dale Dahl dumped the retardant east of the airport and landed without incident.

Video of Erickson’s Tanker 60 dropping on Calgrove Fire

In this video you will see one of  Erickson Aero Tankers’ DC-7s making a retardant drop on the Calgrove Fire. At 6:15 p.m. PT today CAL FIRE estimated the fire, burning in SoCal north of the intersection of the 210 and I-5 freeways, had blackened about 100 acres.

Tanker 60 is sporting a new paint job, adopting Erickson’s new design that has been seen on their MD-87s and their other DC-7, Tanker 66.

We apologize for the quality of the video; we shot it off the television with a cell phone. Credit goes to ABC Los Angeles Channel 7.

New paint for Tanker 66

T-66 new paint
New paint for Tanker 66. Photo on March 19, 2015 at Medford, Oregon. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin sent us the photo above of Erickson’s Tanker 66, saying it just returned to Medford, Oregon after getting a new paint job at Phoenix Goodyear Airport.

The photo below is what it looked like a year ago. It is our understanding that Tanker 60 will get the same paint scheme very soon.

DC-7 air tankers at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base
Two DC-7 air tankers and an S-2T air tanker at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base, January 19, 2014. CAL FIRE photo.

The paint is similar to the three Erickson MD-87s:

Tanker 101, an MD-87
Tanker 101, an MD-87, during the grid retardant test, January 15, 2014. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. (click to enlarge)

Tanker 101’s first drop on a fire

T-101 first drop, 6-7-2014
T-101 first ever drop on a fire, June 7,2014 on the Two Bulls Fire near Bend, Oregon. Photo by Jim Hansen from an air attack ship. (Click to enlarge.)

Tanker 101, an MD-87 operated by Erickson Aero Tanker, showed up for its first day of work at Redmond, Oregon June 4 and made its first ever drop on a fire three days later on June 7 when the Two Bulls Fire started west of Bend, Oregon. Jim Hansen grabbed the photo above as it made its inaugural drop.

Its sister ship, Tanker 105, began work on June 8 at Redmond, and the two of them were busy working the fire that day.

Kevin McCullough, the President of Erickson Aero Tanker, told us the air tanker delivered 12 loads of retardant in 3.9 hours of flight time. It was reloading at the Redmond air tanker base, 17 miles northwest of the fire. I don’t know if that’s a record for an air tanker that is not a 747 or DC-10, but there can’t have been many that dropped 48,000 gallons of retardant in less than four hours. Mr. McCullough said it carried 4,000 gallons on each sortie. The Martin Mars which holds 7,000 gallons of water may have hit that number or maybe even a lot more if a scoopable lake was close.

Earlier today we posted a video showing the two MD-87s and other air tankers taking off at Redmond to work the Two Bulls Fire.

We asked Mr. McCullough if there were any problems with ingesting retardant into the engines and he said there were not.

DC-7s

Two of Erickson Aero Tanker’s DC-7 air tankers will begin their contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry in the first part of July. They are waiting for the final paperwork but it appears that their third DC-7 will start a 120-day contract with CAL FIRE at about the same time.

Erickson purchased the air tanker operations of Butler Aircraft from Travis Garnick in December of 2012. The deal included three DC-7s.

Photographic essay of air tankers, by Joe Cupido

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.

We are honored to present a photographic essay of air tankers by professional photographer Joe Cupido. He tells us below about his career in photography.

I grew up in a military family and acquired the love of aviation early on. When I was in high school I started photographing aircraft. Then later while in the military I became a Combat Photographer / Photojournalist and continued photographing aircraft professionally. I specialized in Air to Air photography working with the military and for some of the major aircraft companies. I was lucky enough to finish my career with about 5,500 hours in over 100 different airframes, 7 books and over 2,000 magazines articles on aviation subjects.

I’ve always enjoyed chasing fire-fighting aircraft whenever I had the time. The images below were captured over time and with a lot of cooperation from a lot of good people in the Air Tanker business. Without their help I could not have captured the images that I did and I thank all of you. Hope you enjoy!

Thanks Joe!

Hawkins & Powers Tanker 121
Hawkins & Powers Tanker 121, a PB4Y2, an ex-US Navy World War II patrol bomber.
McDonnell-Douglas DC 10
McDonnell-Douglas DC 10s, Tankers 911 and 910, operated by10 Tanker Air Carrier
Butler Aviation's Douglas DC7's
One of Butler Aviation’s Douglas DC7s, Tanker 66 during engine start. Nothing better than four smoky Pratt & Whitney radial engines.

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