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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.