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.

CAL FIRE contracts for one of Neptune’s BAe-146s

Tanker 41 BAe-146 over Univ of MT 5-21-2014
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, over the University of Montana, May 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert. (Click to see a larger version).

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has contracted with Neptune Aviation for the services of one of their most recently converted BAe-146 air tankers, Tanker #12.

The 3,000-gallon capacity jet aircraft will report for duty at 10 a.m. on July 15 at Porterville, California. Initially it will only be staffed six days a week, but will begin 7 day a week coverage on August 15. It will be carded for initial attack, can be hot loaded with all four engines running, and will sit on the ramp loaded with retardant like the S2Ts.

The tanker number, 12, had previously been used by one of Neptune’s P2V air tankers.

CAL FIRE is also contracting for one of Erickson’s DC-7s, Tanker 60.

Below is a video of Tanker 60 making a drop on the on the Calgrove Fire June 24 in southern California north of the intersection of the 210 and I-5 freeways. It is sporting a new paint job, having adopted Erickson’s new design that has been seen on their MD-87s and their other DC-7, Tanker 66.

Video of Erickson’s Tanker 60 dropping on Calgrove Fire

In this video you will see one of  Erickson Aero Tankers’ DC-7s making a retardant drop on the Calgrove Fire. At 6:15 p.m. PT today CAL FIRE estimated the fire, burning in SoCal north of the intersection of the 210 and I-5 freeways, had blackened about 100 acres.

Tanker 60 is sporting a new paint job, adopting Erickson’s new design that has been seen on their MD-87s and their other DC-7, Tanker 66.

We apologize for the quality of the video; we shot it off the television with a cell phone. Credit goes to ABC Los Angeles Channel 7.

New paint for Tanker 66

T-66 new paint
New paint for Tanker 66. Photo on March 19, 2015 at Medford, Oregon. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin sent us the photo above of Erickson’s Tanker 66, saying it just returned to Medford, Oregon after getting a new paint job at Phoenix Goodyear Airport.

The photo below is what it looked like a year ago. It is our understanding that Tanker 60 will get the same paint scheme very soon.

DC-7 air tankers at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base
Two DC-7 air tankers and an S-2T air tanker at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base, January 19, 2014. CAL FIRE photo.

The paint is similar to the three Erickson MD-87s:

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)

Air tanker fleet beefed up in California

DC-7 air tankers at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base
Two DC-7 air tankers and an S-2T air tanker at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base, January 19, 2014. CAL FIRE photo.

There is an extremely rare site in the photo above, at least in recent years — two DC-7 air tankers on active duty at an air tanker base in California. CAL FIRE has arranged for them to be on contract so that their 23 S-2T air tankers can rotate in for their annual maintenance. The wildland fire season in the state does not appear to be ending, so they had to do something to provide the needed maintenance for their airborne firefighting fleet while the fire danger remains high.

The state of Oregon routinely uses DC-7 air tankers, but the federal government stopped contracting for them a number of years ago.

Air Tanker 66 at Paso Robles Air Attack Base
Air Tanker 66, a DC-7, at Paso Robles Air Attack Base, January 19, 2014. CAL FIRE photo.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service in recent days has had a couple of P2V air tankers on duty. Yesterday Tanker 910, one of the two DC-10 11,600-gallon air tankers operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, was brought over from Albuquerque to be available at Santa Maria, California.

DC-10 air tanker landing at Santa Maria Air Tanker Base
DC-10 air tanker landing at Santa Maria Air Tanker Base January 18, 2014. USFS cell phone photo.