Air tankers protecting Santiago Peak during the Holy Fire

There are millions of dollars worth of electronic equipment on Santiago Peak, which I believe is the highest point in the Santa Ana Mountains in Southern California. The sites serve as transmitters for radio and TV stations, repeaters for emergency management agencies, and private radio systems. On August 8 there was quite an air show working to protect the site as the Holy Fire burned nearby. The live camera operated by HPWREN streamed live on YouTube and I took the opportunity to obtain some screen grabs. The aircraft you will see include an MD-87 and an S2T. Then below there is a shot of the 747 at Santiago Peak taken by Evver G Photography.

The DC-10 made some drops in this area too but while I was watching it was mostly out of the camera frame. One of its passes left retardant on the camera lens.

(To see all articles about the Holy Fire on Wildfire Today, including the most recent, click HERE.)

MD-87 air tanker Santiago Peak Holy Fire S2T air tanker Santiago Peak Holy Fire

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MD-87 air tanker experiences engine failure after takeoff

Above: Air Tanker 101, showing the added external tank, December 12, 2017 at Rapid City Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 8:38 p.m. MDT August 1, 2018; updated at 6:16 a.m. PDT August 2, 2018)

An engine malfunctioned on an air tanker operated by Erickson Aero Air July 30 after taking off from the Coeur d’Alene Airport in Idaho. A person we talked with at the airport said they heard a very loud “boom” as the engine failed, and said the aircraft was an MD-87 air tanker. Mike Ferris, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, the agency that contracts for the large and very large air tankers used by the federal government, confirmed Wednesday evening that “an  Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87 did have an engine upset shortly after takeoff from the Coeur d’Alene Airport on Monday at approx. 1430 PDT”. He said the aircraft landed safely after the incident.

The Coeur d’Alene Post Falls Press reported that unofficial sources have told them that hot debris from an air tanker engine started multiple fires after the pieces fell to the ground north of the airport. They also wrote that the runway was closed while “unspecified debris” was removed. The newspaper was not able to find any government officials who would comment about the cause of the fires, saying it was under investigation.

Kootenai County Government reported on their Facebook page that “several small fires resulted from an aircraft incident” at the airport.

(UPDATE at 6:16 a.m. PDT August 2, 2018: Late yesterday Jim Lyon, Deputy Fire Marshal/Public Information Officer with Northern Lakes Fire District, issued a statement confirming that a jet-powered air tanker under contract to the U.S. Forest Service, at approximately 2:30 p.m. “had mechanical problems on take-off and was able to make an immediate circle route to return to base safely. In so doing, it appears the plane was discharging some sort of material as a result of the mechanical problem, starting several fires throughout the area approximately a five mile radius of the airport.” Marshal Lyon said “up to eight fires” started by the incident were under control by the evening of July 30th.)

Below is an excerpt from a July 31 article in the Spokesman Review about the incident:

Jim Lyons, spokesman for Northern Lakes Fire District, said crews battled about seven fires, though none grew to the size of a major wildfire. The first blazes started about 2 p.m. and spread from there.

Shoshana Cooper, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service in North Idaho, said the fires burned to the northwest, south and east of the airport near U.S. Highway 95. She said they burned mostly grass and brush and were not affecting structures. As of 3:30 p.m., no structures had been lost.

Multiple aircraft were sent in to drop retardant on the blazes, but firefighters weren’t sure early Monday afternoon how large the fires had grown.

KXLY reported that a firefighter was injured while working on one of the fires near the airport:

A Kootenai County Fire and Rescue firefighter was injured Monday evening when he was struck by a vehicle that was backing up on Dodd Road by Strayhorn while responding to fires burning near the Coeur d’Alene Airport. He was evaluated at the scene. His injuries were not life threatening, but he was transported to Kootenai Health as a precaution.

The airport resumed normal operation at about 6:30 p.m. Monday.

We were not able to find a SAFECOM report about the incident, and very few people are willing to talk about it. Our calls to personnel at Erickson Aero Air late in the afternoon August 1 either were not returned right away or the employees we talked with were not able to comment.

This is not the first time that an engine on an Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87 exploded and falling debris caused problems after hitting the ground. On September 13, 2015 debris from a failed engine landed in a residential area of Fresno, California. One chunk of metal crashed through the rear window of a car, while other shrapnel was found in city streets.

There has been concern about retardant being ingested into the engines when the MD-87 is making a drop, since at least 2014. A SAFECOM filed back then considered the possibility after engine surges or intermittent power was a problem for one aircraft after making a drop. Photos were taken of retardant stains on the fuselage caused by retardant flowing over the wing.

The first fix that Erickson Aero Air implemented was in 2014,  “a new spade profile that has proved to eliminate this problem by keeping the fluid column much more vertical”.

MD-87 retardant tank
Air Tanker 101, showing the added external tank December 12, 2017 at Rapid City Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Then in June, 2017 the company took a much more radical step. They had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowered the release point by 46 inches, mitigating the problem, Kevin McLoughlin, the Director of Air Tanker Operations, said at the time.
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Air Tanker 101 drops on the Boxcar Fire

I hope no one was under that drop (the video on the left) by an MD-87 on the Boxcar Fire near Maupin, Oregon.

In case the video on the left does not work, try it a this link. But below is a screen grab:

MD-87 Drop
T-101, and MD-87, make a low drop on the Boxcar Fire near Maupin, Oregon, June, 2018. By Katie Hemphill-Pearcy.

Five MD-87’s at Madras

Tom Brown found five Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87’s at Madras, Oregon on May 5 and was able to grab this photo of all of them.

Thanks Tom!

In June, 2016 I also saw five of Erickson’s MD-87’s at Madras. They were parked in single file and my 24mm lens was not wide enough to get them all. The one missing in the photo below also had “Spanair” on the side.

Erickson bought at least seven MD-87’s. They began flying two of them as air tankers in 2014.

MD-87 air tankers Madras oregon
MD-87’s at Madras, Oregon June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

 

 

Air tankers at Rapid City

An MD-87 and an RJ85 were at Rapid City for the Legion Lake Fire in the Black Hills

Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, at Rapid City December 12, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:15 p.m. MST December 13, 2017)

When the Legion Lake Fire broke out in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota December 11 it grew quickly in strong winds. The Incident Commander didn’t hesitate to order additional resources, including two large air tankers. Tankers 101, an MD-87, and 163, an RJ85, responded from Southern California, arriving late in the afternoon. They were not used that day since the lead plane did not arrive until much later. The tankers also were not used the following day. But the fire blew up the night of the 12th, expanding from 4,000 acres to over 40, 000 acres. As this is written around noon on December 13, the Incident Management Team said they will be used if needed.

On December 12 we visited the Rapid City Air Tanker base while the tankers were parked there. We talked with MD-87 pilot Brent Connor who told us Erickson Aero Tanker expects to have their fifth MD-87 in service by the 2018 fire season. Tanker 101 was the first they built; the others are 102, 103, 105, and 107.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the Legion Lake Fire are tagged “Legion Lake Fire”.

Each of the recently developed jet-powered air tankers have unique retardant delivery systems, and the MD-87 is no exception. As you can see in the photo gallery (click on the photos to see larger versions) it has two imposing tubes (for lack of a better term) in addition to a tank under the cabin floor and a pod under the plane’s belly. Those three reservoirs hold 3,000, 1,000, and 700 gallons, respectively, for a total of 4,700 gallons.

To mitigate the issue of retardant dispersing over the wing, which introduced the possibility of it being ingested into the engines, they had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, lowering the release point by 46 inches.

Mr. Connor said that at this time they are limited to dropping 3,100 gallons, and they never have to download due to density altitude. After modifications are made to the system, they expect to be cleared to carry 4,000 gallons. He said that to get to the present stage of development the FAA required 80 hours of  flight testing.

Firefighting aircraft on Twitter

Isaac notified us about these videos and photos. Thanks Isaac!

RJ85 on the Edwards Fire

RJ85 Edwards Fire in Alameda County, California
An RJ85 drops on the Edwards Fire in Alameda County, California, September 26, 2017. Photo by Joel V.

Joel sent us this photo of an RJ85 dropping on the Edwards Fire near Oakland, California. Thanks Joel.

As a bonus, here’s a video of an MD-87 dropping on the same fire, shot by Darryl Poe.

The fire burned about 22 acres near Edwards Avenue and Mountain Blvd, six miles southeast of Oakland.

Excellent photo of MD-87 on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire

(Originally published at 11 a.m. MDT September 25, 2017)

Jeff Wilson sent us the photo above taken September 19 of an MD-87 dropping on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire east of Dillon, Colorado. Thanks Jeff!

The fire was reported above Dillon Reservoir at 5 p.m. MDT September 18 and burned 21 acres on a steep slope before firefighters contained it, aided by two large air tankers and two helicopters dropping water and retardant September 18 and 19.

Resources working on the fire included Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue crews, one U.S. Forest Service engine crew, a 20-person hand crew from Rifle, and a 22-person initial-attack hand crew from the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit.

The fire was caused by sparks from a blown insulator cap on a power line that subsequently ignited nearby grasses.

MD-87 air tanker drops Tenderfoot 2 Fire
An MD-87 air tanker drops on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire September 18, 2017. Inciweb photo.

Jeff Wilson runs a professional photography studio out of Dillon, Colorado.