Until Saturday a P-3 air tanker had not dropped on a fire since 2011

Air Tanker 23 owned by Airstrike Firefighters dropped on the Red Bank Fire

P-3 Orion air tanker T-23
Air tanker 23 testing over McClellan, August, 2018. Photo by Sergio Maraschin.

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.

Swedes Fire
Swedes Fire, 6:37 p.m. PDT Sept. 7, 2019. Nevada Seismo Lab.

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.

Tanker 23 reloading
Air Tanker 23, a P-3, reloading September 7, 2019 at either Redding or Chico. Airstrike photo.

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.

Airstrike Firefighters has Call When Needed Contracts with four states, California, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon.

Congratulations to UAC/Blue Aerospace for saving the P-3 from the scrap heap, and to AirStrike and Buffalo Airways for bringing them back to life.

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

A P3 Orion air tanker will be forward deployed to Colorado next month

It will be available on a call when needed contract with the state of Colorado

Air tanker 23 Pe orion
Airstrike’s Air Tanker 23. It will be forward deployed in April in Colorado, ready to be activated on a state CWN contract to fight wildfires. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January, 2019.

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.

As we reported in August, Airstrike signed a Call When Needed (CWN) contract last year with Colorado for their P3 air tankers to be used as required by the state.

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.

P3 Orion air tanker 22
Tanker 22. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.

Mr. Schorzman expects Tanker 22 to be complete around May of this year. They will be leasing the aircraft from Buffalo Airways who purchased it from Blue Aerospace/United Aeronautical Corporation, the company that acquired seven of the P3s after Aero Union’s bankruptcy.

P3 Orion air tanker 17
Tanker 17. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.

Then, next out the hangar doors will be Tanker 17 with an expected completion date of early to mid summer. After that Mr. Schorzman said they will begin working on the remaining four P3s.

P3 Orion air tanker 17, 22, 23
Tankers 17, 22, and 23, all P3 Orions. Photo by Sergio Mara, at Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.
P3 Orion air tanker 17, 22
Tankers 17 and 22. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.

Thanks go out to Sergio Mura. He took all of these P3 photos in January of this year.

In March of 2018 when I visited Airstrike’s hangar the only P3 present was Tanker 23. You can see that article and the photos here.

Photos of P-3 Orion air tankers at McClellan

Also: A DC-10 and Coulson’s most recently converted C-130

Above: Air tanker 23 testing at McClellan.

When Sergio Maraschin saw our article about Airstrike Firefighters signing a call when needed contract with Colorado for their P-3 air tankers, he realized we needed some more current photos of the recently refurbished aircraft. He took these at various times over the last six weeks at Sacramento McClellan Airport.

The article linked to above has the details about Airstrike’s recent projects.

Thanks Sergio!

P-3 Orion air tanker T-23 T-17 T-912
Air tankers 17, 23, and 910.
P-3 Orion air tanker T-23
Air tanker 23, over McClellan.

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.

T-134 C-130 Coulson
This is T-134, Coulson’s most recently converted C-130Q air tanker. Brett Coulson told us as far as they are concerned it is ready to fight fire. They intend to wait until after the fire season to paint it.