Help from Canada arrives at Medford Air Tanker Base

And, the United States has mobilized hand crews and overhead to Ontario, Canada

Saskatchewan air tanker 474

Above: Saskatchewan air tanker 471 lands at Medford, Oregon July 19, 2018.

Tim Crippin shot these photos of firefighting aircraft arriving at the Medford, Oregon airport July 19. The two air tankers and the Bird Dog aircraft are owned by the government of Saskatchewan. The planes were mobilized through the Pacific Northwest Compact to Oregon; it was not an action that was taken by the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC).

Tanker 471 is a Convair 440 manufactured in 1958, and Tanker 474 is a Convair 340 manufactured in 1955. They have both been retrofitted with turbine engines and have now probably adopted a new model name. Some of the converted Convairs hold up to 2,100 gallons of retardant.

The Canadians use “Bird Dog” aircraft in a role similar to lead planes in the United States. A Bird Dog usually works with two air tankers as a three-aircraft module. This one, 161, is an Aero Commander 690D.

Air tankers from Saskatchewan were also borrowed to temporarily augment the U.S. fleet in 2014 and 2015.

In September, 2015 Saskatchewan Tanker 475 and a Bird Dog visited Pierre, South Dakota on an introductory tour after the province became a member of the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact.

Conair operates at least one turbine engine Convair 440, Tanker 42, that they call a CV-580. They have other Convairs too; a couple of them worked out of Medford in 2016, as documented by Tim.

Saskatchewan air tanker 474
Saskatchewan air tanker 474 lands at Medford July 19, 2018.
Saskatchewan Bird Dog 161 aircraft
Saskatchewan Bird Dog 161 lands at Medford July 19, 2018.

In addition to these three aircraft, other firefighting resources have been flowing across the international boundary in recent weeks from the U.S. to Canada:

  • NICC dispatched 12 wildland federal firefighters to Ontario, Canada.
  • The Northeast Compact sent resources to Ontario including three Type 2IA crews from New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. However, the New Hampshire and Maine crews were demobed earlier this week and the Massachusetts crew will be demobed on Sunday.
  • Maine will be sending a second Type 2 IA crew to Ontario on Saturday.
  • The Great Lakes Compact has sent to Ontario 10 single resources (2 aviation managers and eight firefighters).
  • Wisconsin State will be mobilizing eight firefighters also to Ontario, Canada.

No aircraft have been sent to Canada from the U.S.

USFS has 34 large air tankers currently activated

CV-580
A CV-580 spotted at Boise recently. Photo by Steve.

The U.S. Forest Service has 33 large air tankers currently activated in the United States; 15 on multi-year, full time exclusive use contracts, 9 on call when needed contracts (part time), 6 borrowed from Canada, and 4 military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130s.

This is the highest number of air tankers we have seen working in the United States at the same time in recent years — especially the 23 that are under some sort of U.S. Forest Service contract, full time exclusive use or call when needed part time. In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts but that number declined over the next 12 years to a low point of 9 in 2013.

Here is the breakdown:

USFS Multi-year full time exclusive use (14)
T-118 HC-130H U.S. Forest Service
T-105 MD-87 Aero Air, LLC
T-101 MD87 Aero Air, LLC
T-161 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-160 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-260 CL-415 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-912 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-131 C-130 Coulson
T-10 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-43 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-06 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-45 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-05 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-07 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-44 P2V Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.

USFS Call When Needed (part time) (9)
T-911 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-910 DC-10 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC
T-02 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-01 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-41 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-40 BAe-146 Neptune Aviation Services, Inc.
T-162 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-163 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.
T-164 RJ85 Aero Flite, Inc.

Canadian government (borrowed) (3)
T-154 CV580 Alberta
T-173 CV580 Saskatchewan
T-174 CV580 Saskatchewan

Canadian companies (3)
T-155 CV580 Conair
T-142 C-440 Conair
T-152 CV580 Conair

MAFFS C-130s (4)
MAFFS 2 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base
MAFFS 5 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base
MAFFS 1 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard
MAFFS 9 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard

It is interesting that Aero Flite has five RJ85s converted, certified, staffed, and actively fighting fires, and Neptune has five BAe-146s doing the same. A few days ago three DC-10s began working at the same time, which is a first for 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

Department of the Interior air tankers

Until a few years ago the Bureau of Indian Affairs had two water scooping air tankers on contract, but now there is an agreement in place between the DOI and the USFS whereby the USFS will handle contracts for all large air tankers, including scoopers. Now there is just one scooping air tanker on contract with the federal government, a CL-415 operated by Aero Flite. Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told us that the USFS does not consider the CL-415 to be an air tanker (or an “airtanker” as the agency calls them). To them it is a “scooper”.

The agreement also specified that the BLM would manage contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers and this year there are 33 SEATs, according to BLM spokesperson Randall Eardley.

More next-generation air tankers on the way?

Months ago the USFS issued a solicitation for “up to seven” additional next-generation air tankers. It was protested by two vendors before the solicitation even closed but those were both denied by the GAO. We checked, and Mrs. Jones told us that they are still working through the contracting process. After they make a decision about awards, then there is a 30-day waiting period while Congress is notified, after which the agency can actually award contracts — which could be protested again at that point.

Mrs. Jones said:

While we are working diligently to complete the contracting process, there is no estimated timeframe for completing that, notifying Congress, announcing awards, etc. at this time.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Steve.