Rough day for a DC-4

Air Tanker 15, a DC-4, with damage vertical stabilizer
Air Tanker 15, a DC-4, with damage to the vertical stabilizer. Photographed by Manny D-man 01 at Fresno, California (perhaps in the early 1990s).

(Originally published at 5:40 p.m. PDT May 10, 2020)

Manny D-man 01 sent us this photo of air tanker 15:

I was looking through some old photos and ran across a couple you might be interested in. I was a Deputy Sheriff/Detective assigned to an office located down the street from the Fresno Air Terminal.

I took these pictures in the early 1990’s, at the Fresno Air Tanker Base. If I remember correctly this tanker was making a drop down a canyon and tangled with either a tree or a high tension line from one of the power generation plants. It may have been at the POWERHOUSE fire, I spent several days up there manning a roadblock.

Some of our readers can probably tell us what happened to the vertical stabilizer. (UPDATE at 9:30 p.m. PDT May 10, 2020: Tom Monterastelli sent us the link to the NTSB report which is now posted below the photo of the BAe-146.)

T-15 can be seen in the Airailimages video below, at 0:20, 0:58, and 6:02.

According to registration records, N2742G was owned by Aero Union from 1982 until it was sold to Buffalo Airways in 2005. After the sale the registration was changed to C-FBAP.

Currently a Neptune BAe-146 is identified as Tanker 15.

Air Tanker 15, a BAe-146, at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JEFFCO) September 2, 2108. Photo by Andrew Morton.

The NTSB report:

NTSB Identification: LAX95TA304

On August 23, 1995, at 1500 hours Pacific daylight time, a Douglas C-54G, N2742G, collided with some unmarked static lines during an aerial application of fire retardant on a fire near Auberry, California. Visual meteorological conditions existed at the time. The aircraft was substantially damaged and returned to Fresno, California. The two crewmembers were not injured. The aircraft is owned by Aero Union in Chico, California, and operated as a public-use aircraft by the California Department of Forestry (CDF). The aircraft had departed from Fresno at 1448.

According to the CDF, the aircraft (Tanker 15) had made multiple runs on the local fire and was proceeding through a canyon area when the aircraft passed through two unmarked static lines that stretched across the canyon. The lines damaged the three propeller blades to the number 4 engine and severed the top 1/3 of the vertical stabilizer. The crew maintained control of the aircraft and made an uneventful landing at Fresno.

At the direction of the NTSB Investigator-In-Charge, several interviews were conducted by CDF investigators with personnel involved in the accident. Their in-depth interviews are attached to this report. The following is a summary of those interviews.

According to the Air Attack Officer-in-Charge of the fire fighting operation, a non-pilot, he indicated that he was aware of the power lines in the area. He advised the lead pilot of the wires and that he should not make the drop if he felt the conditions were unsafe. He had previously seen the lines that Tanker 15 eventually collided with, but was not aware of their height above the ground or the vertical distance between the two static lines and the sagging power lines below them. He was flying at 4,000 feet mean sea level (msl). He did not witness the collision.

The pilot in the lead aircraft, a light twin-engine aircraft, had made a clearing pass and informed the pilots in several other tanker aircraft of the power lines in the area. He did not mention the height of the lines. He was behind Tanker 15 when he heard of the collision and circled around and proceeded to join on the damaged aircraft to assess the damage. According to this pilot, there was smoke in the area, but the visibility was clear. He saw the lower power lines when he passed over the area, but did not see the higher static lines.

The pilot in Tanker 15 stated that he was aware of the power lines, and after being cleared for his run, he proceeded to turn right and continue down the drop line. He noticed quite a drift and moved the aircraft off to the side to further avoid the wires for safety purposes. As they descended to the drop point, the copilot looked out of the cockpit, saw the static lines, and called for engine power and flaps. The pilot then saw the lines in front of the windshield and went under the lines instead of trying to go over them because they were at a low airspeed with flaps extended. He said the visibility was clear and wasn’t aware of the higher static lines on three previous passes in the area.

The pilot in Tanker 96, following 1/4- to 1/2-mile behind Tanker 15, heard the warning about wires in the area and was not aware of the higher static lines above the power lines. He did not see the static lines until Tanker 15 collided with them. At this time, he felt he had enough room between the two sets of wires and elected to go under the static lines. He made the drop and then joined on Tanker 15 to help assess the damage.

Another pilot following Tanker 96 saw the power lines but not the static lines. After the collision was reported, he saw the static lines and dove under them at an altitude of 150 feet above the ground. He radioed a warning about the second set of wires to the tanker pilot following him. He indicated that the higher static wires were located where one would not normally expect to find them. He felt that the warning about wires in the area was only marginally helpful in dealing with the existing wire hazard.

The CDF prepared a diagram with photographs of the existing ground profile depicting the elevation of the terrain, the location of the wires, the height above the ground, and the distance between the two sets of wires. At the point of impact, the power lines were about 140 feet above the ground. The static lines were 150 feet above the power lines and are oriented along a south-southwest to north-northeast direction. The flight of the tanker aircraft was depicted on the map as flying along a northerly course.

Air tankers at Jeffco, September 2, 2018


Above: Air Tanker 15, a BAe-146, at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JEFFCO) September 2, 2108. Photo by Andrew Morton.

Andrew Morton took these photos at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JEFFCO) yesterday, September 2, 2018. Thanks Andrew! It is likely that some or all of these air tankers were working on the Britania Mountain Fire in southwest Wyoming.

Air Tanker 01, a BAe-146, at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JEFFCO) September 2, 2108. Photo by Andrew Morton.
Air Tanker 131, a C-130, at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JEFFCO) September 2, 2108. Photo by Andrew Morton.

Photography Prints

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!

Neptune’s newest air tanker begins service

Posted on Categories Fixed wingTags
neptune BAe-146

Above: File photo of Neptune’s eighth BAe-146 arriving for the first time at Missoula, September 29, 2016. Photo by Bill Moss.

We first wrote about the aircraft that was to become Tanker 15 when it arrived at Missoula in October of last year. It began its Mandatory Availability Period today.

Neptune acquires their eighth BAe-146

neptune BAe-146
Neptune’s eighth BAe-146 arrives at Missoula September 29, 2016. Photo by Bill Moss.

One of the major winter projects at Neptune Aviation will be converting their eighth BAe-146 airliner into an air tanker. Aircraft N477NA arrived in Missoula September 29 after flying across the Atlantic via Reykjavik International Airport in Iceland.

Bill Moss, who took these photos, told us that the aircraft’s previous registration identifier was LA-HBZ and it had been flying for Bulgaria Air for the last five years. It has served with 10 different operators since its first commercial flight in 1988 for American Airlines.

Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Neptune Aviation, said they are not certain what the aircraft’s tanker number will be, but they are considering Tanker 15. (Update November 22, 2016: it is confirmed to be Tanker 15.)

neptune BAe-146
Neptune’s eighth BAe-146 arrives at Missoula September 29, 2016. Photo by Bill Moss.

As the fire season in the west winds down, Mr. Snyder said two of their air tankers were released yesterday for the year but they still have seven operating for the U.S. Forest Service and one with CAL FIRE. All of their P2V’s will be migrating to their maintenance facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico which has a winter climate much more friendly to radial engines than Missoula.

Another long term project Neptune is working on is performing some of the work on the C-23B Sherpa aircraft the USFS got from the US Army to convert them to civilian SD3-60 certificates. They are usually working on one or two of the planes at a time, Mr. Snyder said, and will continue that project at least through 2017.

“That really is going to depend on the contract situation”, Mr. Snyder said when we asked if they plan to acquire any more BAe-146’s. “The Next-Gen 3.0 contract is supposedly going to be released sometime in the latter portion of this year or the first of next year. And that will greatly dictate what we do as a company, depending on how many line items they decide to release and what that situation looks like from a contracting standpoint.”