Tanker 60 retires from aerial firefighting

air tanker 60 DC-7B retires
Tanker 60, a DC-7B, retires from firefighting. Photo by Tim Crippin October 14, 2020.

Last week Air Tanker 60, a DC-7B (N838D), completed its last season as an aerial firefighting machine. On October 14 it departed from Medford, Oregon when the contract with the state of Oregon ended. Tim Crippen, who took these photos as it left, said it gave a wing wave to the tanker base as it passed by en route to Madras, Oregon.

air tanker 60 DC-7B retires
Tanker 60, a DC-7B, retires from firefighting. Photo by Tim Crippin October 14, 2020.

The aircraft, serial number 45347, was manufactured in 1958. It is powered by four 18-cylinder Wright TC18EA radial engines, each weighing 3,700 pounds with a displacement of 3,350 cubic inches. A lot of people will miss the sound of those huge engines over a fire.

Wright Cyclone GR 3350 radial engine
A Wright Cyclone GR 3350 radial engine, similar to the ones on Tanker 60.
air tanker 60 DC-7B retires
Tanker 60, a DC-7B, retires from firefighting. Photo by Tim Crippin October 14, 2020.

Photos of northern California firefighting aircraft, part 1

air tanker 23, N923AU
T-23, P-3, N923AU, Photo by Dylan Phelps

Dylan Phelps sent us these photos that he captured at various Northern California airports in the first part of September as our firefighters were going up against one of the most vicious wildfire seasons on record.

Thanks Dylan!

air tanker 944 747 supertanker
T-944, Boeing 747-466, N744ST, Photo by Dylan Phelps
air tanker 911, N17085
T-911, N17085, Photo by Dylan Phelps
air tanker 481, C-FLXT,
T-481, Lockheed L-188C Electra, C-FLXT, Photo by Dylan Phelps
CAL FIRE Helicopter 903
CAL FIRE H-903, Sikorsky S-70i FireHawk, N483DF, Photo by Dylan Phelps
air tanker 60
T-60, Douglas DC-7, N838D, Photo by Dylan Phelps
N316LH helicopter
Bell 212, N316LH, photo by Dylan Phelps

Photos of air tankers and a lead plane working out of Redmond, OR

August 6, 2020 | 7:50 p.m. PDT

Tanker 60, a DC-7B
Tanker 60, a DC-7B, arriving at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.

Cooper Palubeski sent us photos he took August 3 of firefighting aircraft at Redmond, Oregon. Thanks Cooper!

The tankers were reloading retardant while battling the Fir Mountain Fire south of Hood River, Oregon. Tankers 101 and 163 were dispatched from Redmond, Oregon just after 11:00 a.m. and made four load and returns at the airport.

They got more help around 12:30 p.m. when Tanker 60 arrived from Medford, making several runs on the Fir Mountain Fire before returning to Medford that night.

Tanker 163, an RJ85 (N366AC)
Tanker 163, an RJ85 (N366AC), at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020 landing after its first sortie that day. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA)
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA), taking off with its second load of retardant at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA)
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA), taking off with its second load of retardant at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.
Lead Plane, Beechcraft Super King Air B200GT (N24HD)
A U.S. Forest Service Lead Plane, Beechcraft Super King Air B200GT (N24HD), at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. Photo by Cooper Palubeski, who said the aircraft was over the Fir Mountain Fire for nearly 4.5 hours.
Tanker 163, an RJ85 (N366AC)
Tanker 163, an RJ85 (N366AC), at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. It was taking off for the first time that day from Redmond. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.

DC-7 and 737 air tankers at Medford, Oregon

air Tanker 60 at Medford, OR
Tanker 60, a DC-7, at Medford, OR July 19, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin shot these photos of air tankers at Medford, Oregon July 19 and 20, 2020. The DC-7C (N838D) is operated by Erickson Aero Tanker and the B-737 (N137CG) by Coulson Aviation.

Here is what Tim told us about the photos:

Tanker 60 arrived in Medford on July 19th to begin the final year of fire fighting for the DC-7’s as they will be retired after this year. Caught their arrival in the picture with their landing gear. Been in Medford two days and has already been dispatched to two fires.

Yesterday Tanker 60 departed Medford for the Days Creek Fire burning about 14 miles Northeast of Canyonville which is two of the pictures. It worked along with three helicopters, two SEATS out of Redmond, and Tanker 161 out of Redmond.

Tanker 137 made their first ever visit to Medford to reload for the Milepost 21 Fire in Northern California. They made two load and returns out of Medford before going to Chico to reload for a fire near there before returning to Santa Maria for the night.

Thanks Tim!

air Tanker 60 at Medford, OR
Tanker 60, a DC-7, at Medford, OR July 20, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.
air Tanker 137 at Medford, OR
Tanker 137, a B-737, at Medford, OR July 20, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.
air Tanker 137 at Medford, OR
Tanker 137, a B-737, at Medford, OR July 20, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Photos of two DC-7 air tankers from 1975

DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 60, N838D
DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 60, N838D, August, 1975 at Lancaster, CA.

(Originally published at 4:58 p.m. PDT June 17, 2019)

The Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base called and asked if we were interested in accepting some old photos of air tankers that they didn’t know what to do with. I said, “Of course!”

I’ll be posting some of them off an on over the next few days and weeks.

Today we have two DC-7 air tankers that were photographed in August, 1975. The locations on many of the photos say Lancaster, California, and that is the case for these.  There is no indication who took any of the photos. The aircraft model, N number, location taken, and the month/year are hand-written on the backs.

DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 69, N45W
DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 69, N4SW, August, 1975 at Lancaster, CA.

Most of the photos were taken while the aircraft were on the ground, a few show them airborne, and only a couple show them dropping water, which were probably a test flights.

If anyone has more information about these aircraft, such as what company operated them and the pilots who flew them, that would be great.


(UPDATED at 6:20 a.m. PDT June 18, 2019)

After getting more information in the comments from Tom Story and Jon (thanks folks), it turns out that there was an error in the hand written notation on the back of the Tanker 69 print. The N number should have been N4SW instead of N45W. I fixed the caption in the photo above.

And, like Tom said, the two DC-7s were operated by Butler, according to the information at Geoff Goodall’s Aviation website. In 2012, Tanker 60, N838D, was transferred to Erickson Aero Tanker and is still in operation.

Tanker 60 DC-7 Madras, Oregon
Chuck Rhodes, Erickson Aero Tanker Maintenance Supervisor, with Tanker 60, a DC-7 at Madras, Oregon, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In his comment, Jon said, “Tanker 69 was the one lost on the way to Medford from Klamath Falls for the end of the season party in 1979. My dad knew most of them.” Here is some of the information he referenced at aviation-safety.net:

[On September 14, 1979] DC-7 “Tanker 69” departed Redmond, OR a company business flight to Medford, OR, with an en route stop at Klamath Falls, OR. The aircraft struck trees on the crest of Surveyor Mountain and crashed. The aircraft departed Redmond for Klamath Falls about 19:45 and arrived there at 20:29. Two passengers enplaned and the aircraft departed runway 14 at Klamath Falls at 20:40.The aircraft struck trees on the crest of the 6400 feet high Surveyor Mountain about 7 minutes after takeoff.

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The flight crew’s decision to undertake a direct point-to-point high-cruise-speed flight at low altitude. The crew’s judgment in the selection of a low-altitude flight profile may have been influenced by their familiarity with the terrain.”

CLASSIFICATION: Controlled flight into terrain.

Any crash of an air tanker is awful, usually killing two or three crew members, but in this case 12 people died — two crew members and 10 passengers. May they rest in peace.

The NTSB report can be found here.


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

JD Davis sent us additional photos of these aircraft. Thanks JD!

DC-7, N4SW air tanker
DC-7, N4SW, variously known as Tanker 19 or Tanker 69. Photo by JD Davis. At Ontario (ONT) Sept., 1974.
DC-7, N838D air tanker
DC-7, N838D, Tanker 60, by JD Davis. At San Bernardino (SBD) Oct. 17, 1999.

Tanker 60 makes emergency landing at Chico

Air Tanker 60, an Erickson Aero Tanker DC-7B, made an emergency landing at the Chico, California airport Thursday morning. A person who was monitoring radio traffic told Fire Aviation that the pilot declared an emergency after shutting down the #3 engine and losing all hydraulics. The video was apparently captured by someone on the nearby Eaton Road that borders the airport.

The pilots deserve kudos for keeping the aircraft on the runway.

Click on the image above and you’ll be taken to the Action News Now website where you can view it. The resolution on the video is very poor, but you can pretty much tell what is happening.

Tanker 60
File photo of Tanker 60 taken by Bill Gabbert at Madras, Oregon June 13, 2016.

This DC-7B is 58 years old, manufactured in 1958. Over the last three to four years several P2V air tankers in that same age range have had serious problems with hydraulics that resulted in problems as they landed.

In 2006 a P2V operated by Neptune lost an engine due to a bad piston shortly after taking off from Chico. Pilot Dale Dahl dumped the retardant east of the airport and landed without incident.

Erickson adding a second tank to their MD-87 air tankers

Tanker 101, an MD-87
Tanker 101, an MD-87, during the grid retardant test, January 15, 2014. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. (click to enlarge)

In order to eliminate the problem of retardant from the MD-87 air tanker entering the tail-mounted engines, Erickson Aero Tanker is making a major modification to their tank system. The company is adding an external tank on the belly of their MD-87s. This tank will have an exit point for the retardant that is quite a bit lower than the previous spade opening that was virtually flush with the belly.

Chuck Rhodes, Maintenance Supervisor for Erickson Aero Tanker, told us that the new exit point is in clean air well below the slip stream. At that location, the company expects the air flow will carry the retardant straight back, and will not force it up onto the wings and into the engines as before.

Chuck Rhodes Erickson DC-7
Chuck Rhodes, Erickson Aero Tanker Maintenance Supervisor, with Tanker 60, a DC-7 (not an MD-87), at Madras, Oregon, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

After experiencing what Erickson called “intermittent engine surges when dropping [retardant at] high coverage levels”, they installed air deflectors in front of the exit points for the retardant. But since they are taking this extraordinary step of a major modification to the tanking system, apparently the deflectors were not as effective as they had hoped.

The air tankers will still have the internal tanks and the capacity will remain at 4,000 gallons. Mr. Rhodes said they will not carry a full load this year until the company becomes more familiar with the new system.

This modification will require that the company start over again with the approval process, which includes receiving a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA and certification from the Interagency AirTanker Board.

The two MD-87s on exclusive use contract were scheduled to begin their mandatory availability periods on June 5 and 10, but the start dates are being pushed back by weeks, if not months.

In other Erickson news, they have four MD-87s and one MD-83 parked at the Madras, Oregon airport that have been stripped of their engines and have not been converted to air tankers. (See the video below.) The MD-83 is being used for parts, while they expect the MD-87s will be converted into air tankers after the bugs are worked out in the tanking system.

Erickson also has DC-7s. Tanker 62, now located at Redmond, will likely work on an exclusive use contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) from July into mid-September. Tanker 66 has the option to work on a call when needed basis with the ODF. Mr. Rhodes said the company hopes Tanker 60 will receive a contract with CAL FIRE.

Tanker 66 Erickson
Erickson Aero Tanker 66 at Redmond, Oregon, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Photos of air tankers on the Lowell Fire

Tanker 44 Lowell Fire
Tanker 44 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.

Matthew Rhodes sent us these excellent photos of air tankers dropping on the Lowell Fire. He said he took them July 25 near Gold Run in Placer County. Thanks Matthew!

The Lowell Fire has burned 1,700 acres 46 air miles northeast of Sacramento, California, west of Interstate 80.

Tanker 60 Lowell Fire,
Tanker 60 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.
Tanker 60 Lowell Fire
Tanker 60 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.
Tanker 118 Lowell Fire,
Tanker 118 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.
Tanker 118 on the Lowell Fire
Tanker 118 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.