Photos of aircraft on the Elephant Butte Fire, part 1 of 5

Today, featuring Tanker 22, a P3 Orion

Tanker 22 P3 Orion Elephant Butte Fire Colorado
Tanker 22, a P3 Orion, 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 by good work from firefighters in the air and on the ground, with a big assist from rain at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday July 14.

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 22, a P3 Orion manufactured in 1964 formerly operated by Aero Union that was recently brought back to life by Airstrike Firefighters and Buffalo Airways. It is currently on a 75-day exclusive use (EU) contract with the state of Colorado. The aircraft is registered to Buffalo.

Tanker 22 P3 Orion Elephant Butte Fire Colorado
Tanker 22 , a P3 Orion, dropping on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Tanker 22 P3 Orion Elephant Butte Fire Colorado
Tanker 22, a P3 Orion, on the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Tanker 22 P3 Orion Elephant Butte Fire Colorado
Tanker 22, a P3 Orion, parked at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport after working the Elephant Butte Fire southwest of Denver, July 13, 2020. Photo by skippyscage.com.
Elephant Butte Fire
The Elephant Butte Fire, July 13, 2020. Photo by Jason Hamburg, park ranger with Jefferson County Open Space. It was taken from his fire lookout position on Jenkins Peak, looking south toward Elephant Butte.

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.


Below are some archived photos of Tanker 22.

United Aeronautical acquired seven of Aero Union’s P3 tankers after the company declared bankruptcy. Buffalo Airways purchased T-22 from UA in 2014, and now it is operated by Airstrike Firefighters under an arrangement with Buffalo Airways. Another former Aero Union P3, T-23, has also been restored and is being operated by Airstrike.

Buffalo P3 Joe McBryan tanker 22
Ronald Guy (left) of United Aeronautical congratulates Joe McBryan (right) of Buffalo Airways on the purchase of Tanker 22, March 19, 2014 at McClellan Air Force Base March 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
P3 Orion air tanker 22
Tanker 22. Photo by Sergio Mara, Sacramento McClellan Airport, January 2019.
Aero Union's P3A Tanker 22
Aero Union’s P3A Tanker 22 getting reloaded at Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base, while another P3A is headed towards the fire. Photo by Joe Cupido. Date unknown, but it is from the Aero Union days, pre-2011.

The photoshopped photo of T-22 below won our contest in 2013 to create an image of an air tanker that had a sponsor. The contest was a spurred by a suggestion by Colorado State Senator Steve King, who said: “Can you imagine what the advertising value would be if you had a Colorado Rockies sign on the tail of a slurry bomber?”

Jerome Laval P3
Jerome Laval P3

Photos of air tankers at JEFFCO airport used on the Chatridge 2 Fire near Denver

The fire burned 461 acres south of Denver June 29, 2020

Tankers 22 (a P-3, N922AU) and 02 (a BAe-146, NJ474NA)
Tankers 02 (left, a BAe-146, N474NA) and T-22 (a P-3, N922AU) at Jeffco 6-29-2020. Shane Hervey photo.

Shane Hervey shot these photos yesterday, June 29, at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) near Denver while air tankers were working the Chatridge 2 Fire south of the city. The fire spread rapidly with strong winds and was stopped after burning 461 acres.

Tanker 22, a P-3 (N922AU), had just arrived in Colorado on June 27 to begin an exclusive use contract with the state. It was at Northern Colorado Regional Airport at Fort Collins when it was dispatched, then reloaded at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco).

Shane Hervey said he saw a total of six large air tankers and two single engine air tankers at JEFFCO yesterday.

Tanker 22 at JEFFCO
Tanker 22, A P-3 (N922AU), at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) June 29, 2020 while working on the Chatridge 2 Fire south of Denver. Photo by Shane Hervey.

Vince Welbaum, the Aviation Unit Chief for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said the tanker will be primarily based at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport but will move to other bases as needed. The airport has a BlazeTamer fire retardant loading system, rather than more commonly seen Phos-Chek retardant system. BlazeTamer appears white when dropped, as opposed to Phos-Chek which is red. Mr. Welbaum said they anticipate that when dispatched to a fire the tanker will take off with BlazeTamer and then reload with retardant at other bases. Videos shot at the Chatridge 2 Fire yesterday showed it dropping both types of retardant.

Mr. Welbaum explained that the U.S. Forest Service has not established a cooperative agreement with Colorado to enable the P-3 to be used on federal fires. Without the agreement in place, it can only be used by the feds if lives are threatened.

More information about the fire is at Wildfire Today.

Tanker 22 Jeffco 6-29-2020
Tanker 22, A P-3 (N922AU), reloads at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) June 29, 2020 while working on the Chatridge 2 Fire south of Denver. Photo by Shane Hervey.
Tanker 105 Jeffco wildfire
Tanker 105, an MD-87 (N296EA), taxiis at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) June 29, 2020 while working on the Chatridge 2 Fire south of Denver. Photo by Shane Hervey.
Tanker 22 Jeffco
Tanker 22, A P-3 (N922AU), lands at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) June 29, 2020 while working on the Chatridge 2 Fire south of Denver. Photo by Shane Hervey.
Tanker 101 (N291EA) at JEFFCO
Tanker 101 (an MD-87, N291EA) at JEFFCO, June 29, 2020. Photo by Steve Hervey.
Tanker 22, A P-3 (N922AU)
Tanker 22, A P-3 (N922AU), at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) June 29, 2020 while working on the Chatridge 2 Fire south of Denver. Photo by Shane Hervey.
Tanker 22 at JEFFCO
Tanker 22, A P-3 (N922AU), at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) June 29, 2020 while working on the Chatridge 2 Fire south of Denver. Photo by Shane Hervey.

Thanks Shane!

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.

Photos of some of the first F7F-3 air tankers

(Originally published at 4:17 p.m. MDT June 20, 2019)

Today we have another couple of photos from the Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base — an F7F-3 (N7625C) registered to Fred Arnberg Inc out of Yreka, California. In these photos there is a small “2” on the tail and also on the nose wheel cover.

A photo at Goodall.com.au shows an F7F-3 registered to Fred Arnberg with the same N number but with different livery and a large “22” on the tail. That website says Arnberg operated the first F7F-3 Grumman Tigercats as air tankers for several seasons in the early 1960s. This particular aircraft was purchased February 27, 1962 and by September 24, 1962 had hit trees and crashed near Callahan, California.

F7F-3, N7625C
F7F-3, N7625C, registered to Fred Arnberg Inc out of Yreka, California.

In the photo below you can see painted on the underside of the right-side wing.

F7F-3, N7625C
F7F-3, N7625C, registered to Fred Arnberg Inc out of Yreka, California.

And here is one more F7F-3 known as Tanker 22. It is N7238C operated by Cal-Nat Airways out of Grass Valley, California. Other owners were Dick Gordon of Santa Rosa, California and Sis-Q Flying Service of Montague, California.

F7F-3 air tanker (N7238C)
F7F-3 air tanker (N7238C) operated in the 1960s by Cal-Nat Airways and other companies.

(UPDATED at 10 a.m. MDT June 20, 2019)

Bill Bailey sent us an email and the photo below:

N7635C had AERO on the top of the left wing and bottom of the right wing and it has AD on top of the right wing and under the left. There were 2 AERO AD F7F-3s, N7625C , which you posted and N7626C which was later owned by Cal-Nat, still painted all Red and marked as Tanker E-42.

I found the attached photo some years ago and don’t remember who took it.

By the way, that first photo solved a question among modelers that has raged for years ….. was AERO AD painted on top of the wings.

F7F-3, N7626C
F7F-3, N7626C, operated by Cal-Nat Airways, Grass Valley, California. Purchased around 1960 from Aero Ads Inc. skywriter. Sold to Sis Q Flying Service in 1969. (according to goodall.com.au). Photo by William T. Larkins at Oakland, CA., date unknown.

Thanks go out to Bill B.


(UPDATED at  4:46 p.m. MDT June 20, 2019)

JD Davis sent us additional photos of the F7F-3. Thanks JD!

DC-7, N7626 air tanker
F7F-3, N7626, Tanker 42. By JD Davis, who said tanker pilot Ed Real took it to the ‘California 1000’ Air Race at Mojave Nov, 1971 — Qualified it but didn’t race it.

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.

Buffalo purchases a P3

Buffalo P3
Ronald Guy of United Aeronautical congratulates Joe McBryan of Buffalo Airways, March 19, 2014 at McClellan Air Force Base. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Breaking news from the Aerial Firefighting conference. Buffalo Airways just purchased Tanker 22, one of the P3s formerly owned by Aero Union. They intend to use it as an air tanker. This was confirmed by Joe McBryan of Buffalo, who was pleased to say the P3 will live on.

They purchased it from Blue Aerospace/United Aeronautical Corporation.

You might recognize Mr. McBryan from the Ice Pilots reality show on the History Channel.