Record-setting day at Helena Air Tanker Base

Twelve firefighting aircraft worked out of the base supporting the North Hills Fire

The Helena, Montana Air Tanker Base set some records over the last several days while supporting the North Hills Fire. Thanks to the fire being only 9 miles north of the airport and recent improvements made at the base, on Sunday air tankers reloading there completed 68 loads for a total of 231,000 gallons of retardant.

In recent days fixed wing firefighting aircraft at Helena included a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, four Large Air Tankers, two Single Engine Air Tankers, three Air Attack ships, and two Lead Planes.

Over the last year at the base the Forest Service upgraded the plumbing and installed two new pumps, two 25,000-gallon retardant tanks, and one 25,000-gallon off-load tank.

According to KTVH the DC-10 was recently able to load, make a drop and reload in a short amount of time. We checked with John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker, who consulted the data submitted by the fight crews that were flying the North Hills Fire. The flight times for each sortie on July 27 and 28, off the runway to back on the runway, ranged from 10 to 24 minutes with most of them in the 15 to 18 minute range.  That does not include taxi and takeoff on the 9,000-foot runway. The time the DC-10 spent in the reloading pit getting another 9,400 gallons of retardant was usually around 19 to 21 minutes, block in to block out.

As of Monday night the North Hills Fire had burned 4,688 acres.

Helena Air Tanker Base
Helena Air Tanker Base, before the recent upgrades. Google Earth Photo, July 25, 2014.

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

Mann Gulch DC-3 to fly to Europe for 75th anniversary of D-Day

Much work has to be done on the aircraft before the event in 2019

Above: Removal of victims at the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire. USFS photo.

The aircraft that dropped the smokejumpers who attacked the Mann Gulch Fire in 1949 is scheduled to cross the Atlantic next year to take part in the 75th commemoration of D-Day. The fire in Montana on which 12 jumpers and one fire guard died in 1949 is infamous among wildland firefighters as its memory lives on when more generations read about the tragedy in Norman Maclean’s book Young Men and Fire.

The Missoulian has the story about how numerous volunteers are mobilizing to work on the 74-year old aircraft’s airworthiness and regulatory compliance — it has not been in the air since 2001.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

It seems preposterous.

Take an historic, over-the-hills smokejumper plane that was last airborne in 2001, fix it up to federal standards, and fly it to Europe next year for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Maybe even drop jumpers into France, pulling ripcords of old-fashioned round parachutes and wearing suits their grandfathers used during the Normandy invasion in France on June 6, 1944.

And while you’re there, hit Germany to take part in the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Berlin Airlift (1948-49).

Smokejumper aircraft at Missoula

I was able to get some photos of some smokejumper aircraft at Missoula International Airport last week while attending the Fire Continuum conference. Parked, were two Twin Otters and two C23B Sherpas, and a third Sherpa taxied in while I was there.

Previously I had seen a Sherpa flying through the hills north of the airport. The Sherpa that just landed may have been dropping jumpers for training. The U.S. Forest Service has authorization to obtain 15 of the Sherpas from the U.S Army. So far six have been refurbished and Neptune Aviation is working on a seventh with an eighth soon to follow. It is possible that the remaining seven will be used for parts.

C23B Sherpas twin otter
A Sherpa taxis in after landing at Missoula.

C23B Sherpas

C23B Sherpas
Two C23B Sherpas at Missoula, May 25, 2018.
C23B Sherpa twin otter
Twin Otters have served smokejumpers for many years.

Tanker 10 is the gate guard at Missoula International Airport

While in Missoula this week I got a couple of photos of Tanker 10, the retired P2V that is now the “gate guard” at the airport.

When it was placed in that position in June of 2017, Kevin Condit, Neptune’s Marketing Manager said, “Neptune and the Missoula aviation community have a very long history, and with the Smokejumpers and the Forest Service in Missoula, they asked Neptune Aviation if Tanker 10 could be the gate guard.”

All of the P2V air tankers with their two 18-cylinder radial engines and two small jet engines are now retired, and most will find homes in museums.

P2V air tanker 10 gate guard missoula airport

Four of Neptune’s BAe-146 air tankers are deployed

Another five are at Missoula, MT and Alamagordo, NM

Above: Three of Neptune Aviation’s BAe-146’s at Missoula, May 25, 2018.

Like the other operators of large air tankers, Neptune Aviation is finishing the necessary off-season work on their fleet and are putting some of them to work. The company has a total of nine BAe-146 jet-powered air tankers. The conversions from airliners to air tankers is complete and they have no others waiting to be transformed.

When I visited Neptune’s facilities at Missoula Friday, marketing manager Kevin Condit said four of their tankers are actively working. The company only has four on exclusive use (EU) contracts this year, which is a reduction from 2017 when they had seven BAe-146’s and four P2V’s on EU. All of the P2V air tankers with their two 18-cylinder radial engines and two small jet engines are now retired, and most will find homes in museums. The U.S. Forest Service reduced the number of large air tankers on EU contracts from 20 in 2017 to 13 in 2018.

t-10 Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire
Tanker 10 on the ramp outside Neptune’s hangar, May 25, 2018.

Neptune air tankers on EU contract this year are numbers 1, 3, 16, and 41. On call when needed (CWN) contracts they have tankers 2, 10, 15, and 40, and one additional BAe-146 without a contract (T-12) according to information provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

Friday two BAe-146’s were parked on the ramp at Missoula, 10 and 12, while two others, 02 and 15, were in the hangar for heavy maintenance.

air brake bae-146 Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire
The air brake extended on T-12 outside Neptune’s hangar, May 25, 2018.

For years I have wondered why Neptune’s aircraft are adorned with the state flag for Montana, but have no American flag. Mr. Condit explained that the company is proud of Montana, most of their 250 employees live in the state, and, it’s “tradition” for the company to only display the state flag on their aircraft. However inside their main hangar they have both hanging from the ceiling.

Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire hangar
Tankers 02 and 15 in Neptune’s hangar for heavy maintenance, May 25, 2018.

Neptune has a contract to refurbish the C-23B Sherpa aircraft that the U.S. Forest Service acquired from the U.S. Army. Up to 15 were authorized to be transferred and as of today Neptune is working on their seventh, with the eighth soon to follow. It is possible that the remaining Sherpas may only be used for parts, Mr. Condit said.

Sherpa Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire
One of the Sherpas that Neptune is refurbishing for the U.S. Forest Service.

This year we are attempting to get photos of the maintenance support vehicles that follow air tankers around from base to base. Neptune is changing their thinking, and is moving from trailers pulled by trucks to large van-type vehicles without a trailer. Mr. Condit said the maintenance personnel like them better because they are more nimble and easier to maneuver at tanker bases and motel parking lots. I asked if they ever carried a spare engine and he said no. If an engine suffers a bird strike, for example, which is more common than you’d think, they can ferry the BAe-146 back to Missoula on three engines, replace it overnight, and get the tanker back to its base the next day.

Mercedes support truck Neptune Aviation air tanker wildfire
Two of Neptune’s maintenance support trucks.

Continue reading “Four of Neptune’s BAe-146 air tankers are deployed”

Tanker 911 on the Lolo Peak Fire

John L. Ames of the Florence Fire Department took this photo of Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, dropping on the Lolo Peak Fire south of Missoula near Florence, Montana August 19, 2017.

Mr. Ames said it made several drops along with numerous other air tankers and helicopters.

Since the fire started on July 15 it has spread across 27,000 acres. About 9,000 of those acres burned Friday, August 18.

Wildfire Today has more information about the fire.

Helena Air Tanker Base has been busy

(Originally published at 9:33 a.m. MDT July 31, 2017)

Jeff Wadekamper, the Airport Director at the Helena Regional Airport, sent us this picture, and said, “Last weekend we had 7 tankers here (2 Neptune BAE 146’s, 2 Neptune P2V’s, 2 SEATS, and the DC-10 #912)”.

In this photo taken July 23 we can see two BAe-146’s (Tankers 02 and 15), one P2V (T-44), a DC-10 (T-912), and a Single Engine Air Tanker.

Thanks Jeff!