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.

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”

Helena Air Tanker Base has been busy

Air Tankers Helena

(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!

A busy day at Reno Stead

Air tankers Reno Stead

The Great Basin Coordination Center distributed this photo on Twitter Monday at 6:50 p.m., saying “Busy day at Stead”.

I counted nine air tankers:

  • Four Neptune BAe-146’s
  • One Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87
  • One SEAT
  • One Aero-Flite RJ 85
  • Two Aero-Flite CL-415’s

I’m not sure what fires they are working on but the 83,000-acre Long Valley Fire is 16 miles north of the airport and there are several others 140 to 230 miles to the northeast but Battle Mountain tanker base is closer to those.

Below, a DC-10 drops on the Long Valley Fire.

Air tanker lineup at Libby Tanker Base

Above: Jerry Messinger sent us this photo taken June 24 of Air Tankers 02, 03, and 163 (left to right) at Libby Tanker Base, Sierra Vista, AZ — two BAe-146’s and one RJ85.

Thanks Jerry!

Rarely seen together

BAe-146 and F-15E

Neptune Aviation posted this photo on their Facebook page of two aircraft that are rarely captured in the same photo, a BAe-146 air tanker and an F-15E. They wrote:

Colin Moeser captured this jaw dropping shot of Neptune’s T-02 paralleling an F15E Strike Eagle from Mountain Home AFB landing in Boise in 2015. The story behind the story is that Neptune’s T-02 Captain Terry Cullen is the proud father of Ryan, a crew chief on an F15. Good genes run in the family!

U.S. air tanker dispatched to Canada

Neptune's five BAe-146 air tankers
Neptune’s Tanker 02, with four of her sister BAe-146 air tankers. Neptune Aviation photo, May 2014.

An air tanker operated by a United States firm was dispatched to Canada on Sunday. Today Neptune Aviation’s Tanker 02, a BAe-146, is in Grand Praire, Alberta (map).

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said there are no plans to send any additional air tankers to Canada at this time.

Tanker 02 does not have an exclusive use contract with the U.S. Forest Service, but received one of the 22 recently awarded Call When Needed contracts.

It is not common to send U.S. air tankers north across the border. But in recent years CV-580 air tankers have spent quite a bit of time in the United States after making the trip south.

Articles on Fire Aviation tagged CV-580.

Three more BAe-146 air tankers on contract

Three more of Neptune’s BAe-146 air tankers are being brought into the current fleet. Tom Harbour, Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service, confirmed today at the Large Fire Conference in Missoula that two BAe-146s came on in the last few days and a third will be on board by June 1.

The three aircraft are being added to Neptune’s “legacy” air tanker contract using the “additional equipment” provision.

These three air tankers are being added to the fleet along with the two additional DC-10s that were announced last week. 10 Tanker Air Carrier had one DC-10 already working on a next-gen contract and a second was converted last week from a call when needed contract to exclusive use, using the additional equipment provision on their contract. 10 Tanker is converting a third DC-10 that will also be on the next gen exclusive use contract when it is complete this summer.

Neptune's five BAe-146 air tankers
File photo of Neptune’s five BAe-146 air tankers. Neptune Aviation photo.