This photo was taken December 7 on South Higgens Avenue in Missoula, Montana. It was sent to us by Kevin McCann of Neptune Aviation who said it was designed and constructed this year by a group of very talented Neptune Aviation employees and volunteers.
Mike Eliason of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department is one of the best Information Officers when it comes to providing information on social media about the status of wildfires. He is prolific on Twitter and judging from his production since the Cave Fire started at about 4 p.m. Monday, he may not have gotten much sleep in the last 24 hours. These five photos of air tankers were all taken Tuesday are just a sample of his work.
Mr. Condit said T-14 and T-44 are tucked away at Neptune’s hangar in New Mexico. Optimistically they might fly one of them in 2019 at one or more airshows but no details have been worked out yet.
Neptune plans on rebuilding the P2V version of Tanker 12 (as opposed to the current BAe-146 version) for a static display at the National Museum of Forest Service History near the Missoula International Airport. The aircraft has not flown for years after having been relegated to “boneyard” status, stripped of parts to keep the others flying. It will be rebuilt and restored to be a part of the outdoor exhibit at the museum. The timing for the rebuild is 2019-2020.
The two P2Vs that will be at or near the Missoula Airport, T-10 and T-12, will be only about a mile apart, but Mr. Condit said neither was airworthy, and Neptune preferred to see them preserved rather than scrapped. In 2012 Neptune discovered a 24-inch crack in a wing spar and skin on T-10, causing the FAA to issue an Emergency Airworthiness Directive requiring all P2V airplanes to be inspected within 24 hours of receiving the directive.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
After a million acres burned in Kansas and Oklahoma on March 6 and 7, the National Interagency Fire Center mobilized three large air tankers on March 10, a little earlier than usual, sending Tanker 12 to the Jeffco Air Tanker base at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and two others to the OK/KS area.
It turned out that Jeffco was only 12 miles southwest of where the Sunshine Fire started on March 19 near Boulder, Colorado. Rob McClure of CBS4 in Denver timed the interval between drops made by the BAe-146, determining it to be about 35 minutes.
From the air tanker base the pilots could probably see the fire soon after it started. If they took off from runway 30R they would be heading straight at the fire.
In addition to Tanker 12, four helicopters and Colorado’s Multi-mission aircraft were working the incident.
Three National Guard helicopters were made available by a verbal executive order by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper hours after the fire started. The aircraft, from Buckley Air Force Base, included two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, one CH-47 Chinook helicopter, as well as a refueling truck.
Firefighters limited the wildland/urban interface fire to about 74 acres according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. We were not there but this appears to have been a pretty aggressive initial attack, an aspect of firefighting along the Front Range that has improved in the last couple of years.
The video below was shot March 19 from the Multi-mission aircraft, showing normal and infrared images.
Neptune Aviation announced that three of their BAe-146’s have been deployed. Tanker 12 went to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) at Broomfield, Colorado, and Tankers 03 and 02 will be working in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Of course they could be moved around from those locations as needed.
The video below is about the Santa Fe fire on Friday near Idaho Springs, Colorado and includes a good view of T-12 making a drop.
Neptune’s T-03 that had been working in Chile for a month began its return flight home on March 5.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
We have some excellent photos of aircraft that worked the Range Fire on August 27 six miles east of Arvin, California — thanks to Trey Spooner and the Kern County Fire Department. The fire burned 518 acres and is 100 percent contained.
Kern County’s Helicopter 408, a Bell UH-1H, made 81 water drops at the fire on August 26.