A P-3 Orion air tanker was very busy in Northern California Saturday September 7. Tanker 23, after starting the day at Sacramento McClellan Airport, departed at 11:42 a.m. PDT and arrived over the Red Bank Fire at 12:09 p.m. PDT. By 12:20 p.m. it had landed at Redding. Then according to the FlightAware activity log it made five more trips from Redding to the Red Bank Fire or the nearby South Fire 30 to 40 miles southwest of the airport. After that it began working on the Swedes Fire 7 miles east-southeast of Oroville and reloading at Chico. The last time we checked it appeared that it completed at least eight sorties Saturday. Quite a reintroduction to aerial firefighting! (UPDATE: we received word the aircraft completed 10 sorties, and flew for six hours total time on September 7.)
In the tweet below, the photographer captured Tanker 23, a P-3 Orion.
Bill Douglas, President of Airstrike Firefighters, confirmed that the drops T-23 made today are the first a P-3 has made over an actual fire since the Forest Service cancelled the contract the federal government had with Aero Union in June, 2011. After Aero Union went bankrupt UAC/Blue Aerospace bought seven of the eight P-3s that were still basically in one piece. Since then four of them have ended up in the hands of Airstrike Firefighters (Tankers 17, 21, & 23) and Buffalo Airways (T-22) and are being resurrected as air tankers. Airstrike Firefighters has an agreement to purchase the remaining three (00, 25 & 27) from UAC/Blue Aerospace if that appears to be a good business decision after the first batch of P-3s are restored.
The work on Tankers 22, 23, 21, and 17 has been or will be done at the Airstrike facilities at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Obviously T-23 is done and Scott A. Schorzman, Airstrike VP for Business Development, said the work on T-22 is nearly done. When finished it will be operated by Airstrike.
Mr. Douglas said T-17 does not presently have a tank, so that is one obstacle that has to be overcome. If you’re keeping score at home, T-17 will have to take on a new number since another tanker has grabbed it during the 8-year hiatus.
A P3 Air Tanker, Tanker 23, made a demonstration water drop at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland, Colorado June 28, 2019 while Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 MultiMission aircraft filmed it from 20,000 feet. The aircraft has a Call When Needed contract with the state of Colorado for fighting wildfires.
Air tanker 23, a P3 Orion (N923AU), appeared at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland June 28 as promised. The airport conducted what they called a “media day”, allowing media personnel to view the aircraft. The public was not invited.
The video below from Cory Reppenhagen of Nine News (@CReppWx) shows Tanker 23 dropping. The announced plan was for it to drop BLAZETAMER380, a water enhancing gel that looks similar to water when released by an air tanker.
Demonstration today of a new bomber available to fight Colorado wildfires. Nice drop along the still snowy Front Range peaks #9wxpic.twitter.com/GSlTegiEuu
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) is planning a media day on June 28 at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland, Colorado (map). Two air tankers will be making demonstration drops — an Airstrike Firefighters P-3 Orion and a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT). They will be dropping BLAZETAMER380, a water enhancing gel that looks similar to water when released by an air tanker.
The DFPC has a summer-long exclusive use contract for the SEAT and a Call When Needed (CWN) contract for Airstrike’s large four-engine P3 air tankers.
The airborne demonstrations are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. MDT June 28, with static displays to follow.
The event is for the media, who will be escorted out to the ramps to get a close up look at the aircraft on static display. We were told by Shawn Battmer, the Airport Executive Assistant, that the public will not be allowed to approach the planes but may be able to see them through a fence near the Fort Collins-Loveland JetCenter. Ms. Battmer did not say anything about being able to see the water drops, but they will presumably be from 100 to 200 feet above the ground so sightseers may be able to find a spot where they get a good view of the demonstrations.
Airstrike Firefighters is making progress toward their goal of putting seven P3 Orion air tankers formerly owned by Aero Union back into service. The aircraft have not been used on a fire since the U.S. Forest Service canceled the Aero Union contract July 29, 2011 due to the company “failing to meet its contractual obligations”, according to the agency.
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and the Northern Colorado Regional Airport are missing what could have been a grand public relations opportunity by not allowing the public to get close to the static displays of the aircraft. It will be a lost opportunity to educate the public about aerial firefighting. They could at least set up a designated location outside the secure fence where the taxpayers who fund these aircraft could be ENCOURAGED to see how their money is spent as the air tankers make their drops. And further, it would have been possible to allow the public to go 150 feet or so out onto the ramp where they could walk around the three of four aircraft and talk to the pilots and crews. Air shows do this, and the Aerial Firefighting Conferences at Sacramento, Europe, and Australia do it as well, allowing hundreds of people out on the ramp. Portable barriers could be set up and volunteers or wildland firefighters could ensure that the visitors stay within the established viewing areas.
As you can see in the photo below, it is possible for the media to record interviews while others walk around the aircraft.
Airstrike Firefighters is making progress toward their goal of putting seven P3 Orion air tankers formally owned by Aero Union back into service. The aircraft have not been used on a fire since the U.S. Forest Service canceled the contract July 29, 2011 due to the company “failing to meet its contractual obligations”, according to the agency.
Tanker 23 (N932AU) is presently receiving a few finishing touches at the Airstrike facilities at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Scott A. Schorzman, Airstrike’s VP Business Development, said the tanker will be forward deployed to the Northern Colorado Regional Airport at Fort Collins around the second week of April, ready to be activated on a state CWN contract to fight wildfires.
Airstrike has two other P3 air tankers at their hanger at McClellan that are undergoing inspections, maintenance, and installation of equipment necessary for federal contracts.
Buffalo airways expects to have the P-3 air tanker they purchased in 2014 ready to fight fire during the 2019 wildfire season. Mikey McBryan wrote in an Instagram post that the work is being performed by Airstrike Air Tankers at McClellan airport in Sacramento.
The aircraft, Tanker 22, is still using the same “N” number as when it was flown by Aero Union, N922AU. The company operates at least one Lockheed L-188 in Canada, Tanker 416, which is very similar to the P-3. In 2016 they received a five-year contract to operate eight new Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers owned by Northwest Territories.
Buffalo Airways has approximately eight other air tankers as well as 11 DC-3’s. In 2016 the company won a contract to operate the eight recently purchased Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers for Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources. Mikey McBryan and his father Joe starred in the Ice Pilots reality TV show that ran for at least six seasons on the History channel.
The article linked to above has the details about Airstrike’s recent projects.
Coulson’s T-134, a C-130Q, has come a very long way since April, 2017. Check out these photos, here and here, taken as the project was just getting started. It is amazing what private industry can do in 16 months when they want to convert an aircraft into an air tanker. The Air Force dithered for almost five years when they were supposed to be converting seven former Coast guard HC-130H aircraft into air tankers for the U.S. Forest Service, and never fully completed any of them. Now it appears the state of California will get the reborn air tankers, when and if the USAF completes the work.