Deployment of two air tankers to Australia delayed by fog and a volcano

A C-17 from Australia hauled extra tires, an engine, and an APU from Arizona to Australia

DC-10 air tanker
Air Tankers 910, 911, and 914 at Albuquerque, May 3, 2019.

UPDATED at 1:30 p.m. MST January 17, 2020

As this is written, Erickson Aero Tanker’s T-102, an MD-87 (N292EA), just landed at Adelaide, Australia where it will be based. Their other MD-87 that will be working on a contract in Australia, Tanker 103 (N293EA), has left North America and is on a leg from Ketchikan, Alaska en route to refuel at Adak, Alaska. It is taking a slightly different route than its sister, T-102. T-103 will be based in Western Australia at Perth.

Tanker 912, a DC-10 (N522AX), departed from San Bernardino, California Thursday morning U.S. time and arrived in Honolulu that afternoon. It will be initially based either at Canberra or Sydney.


Originally published at 8:12 a.m. MST January 16, 2020

The departure of additional air tankers from the United States to assist with bushfires in Australia has been delayed for reasons not usually associated with firefighting.

The MD-87 air tanker that was scheduled to depart on January 13 had to be rescheduled due to the eruption of a volcano in the Philippines when the ash plume made a leg of the flight in the Western Pacific inadvisable. Erickson Aero Tanker went back to the drawing board to plan a different route and obtain permits but the delay allowed the ash to clear so they were able to use the original route for the first tanker to leave for Australia.

According to FlightAware, Tanker 102 (N292EA) departed from Portland, Washington on Tuesday January 14. The planned route for the MD-87 takes it through Alaska, Russia, Japan, Guam, and Papua New Guinea. It is expected to arrive in Australia at Cairns Friday afternoon U.S. time. As this is written Thursday morning U.S. time, the aircraft is in Narita, Japan.

The nine flight legs on FlightAware range from 783 to 1,565 miles. It is likely that they are taking the route along the western Pacific because the distance from California to Hawaii is about 2,450 miles, beyond the range of the MD-87s operated by Erickson Aero Tanker.

In 2015 a single-engine air tanker, an Air Tractor 802, flew from California to Australia via Honolulu, the Marshall Islands, Guadalcanal, and perhaps other refueling locations.  It is likely that it had a ferry kit that enables 800 gallons of fuel to be carried in the hopper (retardant tank).

The two DC-10s, Tankers 912 and 914, were expected to arrive in Australia on January 15 and 25 respectively, but weather in the southern U.S. required a change in the schedule for the first one. Both of the aircraft were at Mobile, Alabama undergoing C-Checks, which can take days or weeks depending on the age of the aircraft and the number of unexpected issues discovered that require maintenance.

Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre in Australia, said the work on T-912 was nearly complete when it needed a test flight during VFR conditions, but it was delayed for two days due to fog.

Tanker 912 (N522AX) departed from San Bernardino, California Thursday morning U.S. time, en route to a fuel stop in Honolulu.

The planned arrivals of the other DC-10 (T-914, N603AX) and MD-87 (T-103, N293EA) are next week, Mr. Alder said.

These four air tankers will be based initially at Canberra (DC-10), Sydney/Richmond (DC-10), Adelaide (MD-87), and Perth (MD-87) but they will continually review locations according to the bushfire risk across the country, Mr. Alder said.

While large air tankers have dropped on bushfires in Western Australia before, this will be the first time that one will be based there — Perth in this case.

These additional large air tankers will bring the Aussie fleet up to 11. In addition to the 737 they purchased in 2010, the contracted ships they will have available the rest of this bushfire season are: two MD-87s, three DC-10s, two RJ85s, two C-130Qs, and one more 737.

In 2018 and 2019 the United States Forest Service had 13 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts.

Mr. Alder explained that the four additional tankers have been contracted for a minimum Mandatory Availability Period (MAP) of 50 days with options to extend.  They will monitor the conditions continually and manage the numbers according to prevailing bushfire risk.

On Tuesday and Wednesday 10 Tanker Air Carrier posted photos on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with the text:

“Huge thanks to the Royal Australian Air force For sending out crew and a C17 and our own United States Air Force for coming out! This has become a joint operation.”

Mr. Alder explained why the RAAF C-17 was sent to the U.S. to pick up equipment for the three DC-10s that will be operating in Australia:

“It was opportunistic” he said. “The RAAF was in a position to be able to shift some spares to Australia.  This meant that the first DC-10 didn’t have to go back to Albuquerque after the maintenance in Alabama and could head straight for Australia.  We understand that the spares included wheels and tires, as well as a spare engine and APU.”

The RAAF C-17 arrived in Albuquerque Tuesday night U.S. time.

DC-10 equipment Australia bushfires Albuquerque
Tires and other equipment being staged at Albuquerque for loading onto a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 to support the three DC-10 air tankers working on bushfires in Australia. 10 Tanker Air Carrier photo.
DC-10 equipment Australia bushfires Albuquerque
Tires and other equipment being staged at Albuquerque for loading onto a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 to support the three DC-10 air tankers working on bushfires in Australia. 10 Tanker Air Carrier photo.
DC-10 equipment Australia bushfires Albuquerque
Tires and other equipment being staged at Albuquerque for loading onto a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 to support the three DC-10 air tankers working on bushfires in Australia. 10 Tanker Air Carrier photo.

Two MD-87 firefighting air tankers will deploy to Australia

This will bring Australia’s fleet of large air tankers up to 11 for the 2019/2020 bushfire season

Air tankers 101 and 105
Air tankers 101 and 105. Erickson Aero Tanker photo.

The companies supplying the four additional large air tankers that will be mobilizing to help the firefighters in Australia have been identified. On January 4 we wrote about the two DC-10s that 10 Tanker Air Carrier will be sending down.

Today we learned that two MD-87s will also be deploying. Matt Isley of Erickson Aero Tanker said Tankers 102 and 103 will be under contract with the Australian federal government. T-102 will be leaving January 13 and T-103 is scheduled for January 16.

One of the DC-10s, T-912 is expected to arrive in Australia on January 15 to be followed by Tanker 914 around January 25 after their heavy maintenance is wrapped up. They will join another DC-10, Tanker 911 that arrived in November.

This additional surge capacity was announced by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on January 4, saying $20 million would be provided for leasing four more large air tankers as supplementary to the normal fleet for the current season only. Mr. Morrison also said 3,000 Australian Defense Force reservists would be brought in to help with bushfire recovery efforts.

Contracts were already in place in Australia for four large privately owned large air tankers and nine large Type 1 helicopters. In addition they have the 737 that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service purchased earlier this year. A C-130Q and a DC-10 were added in November when it became painfully obvious that the 2019/2020 bushfire season was going to be much busier than average. The DC-10s and the MD-87s that will be there in a matter of days will bring the Aussie large air tanker fleet up to 11 for this fire season.

Before 2010 Australia’s air tanker fleet consisted almost entirely of single engine air tankers. That year they began trials of large and very large air tankers, including a DC-10.

In 2018 and 2019 the United States Forest Service had 13 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts.

Australian Prime Minister says four more large air tankers will be ordered

Two of them will be DC-10s

Tanker 912 Horse Butte Fire Idaho
File photo of Tanker 912, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Horse Butte Fire in Idaho, July, 2019. Photo by Mike Krupski.

For several days military ships and helicopters have been used to evacuate residents and holiday makers in Australia who were forced to the coastal beaches by wildfires in New South Wales and Victoria. On Saturday New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons was blindsided upon finding out from the media that Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that 3,000 ADF reservists would be brought in to help with bushfire recovery efforts. In addition, $20 million would be provided for leasing four additional firefighting aircraft the Prime Minister said.

John Gould, President of 10 Tanker, said their company will be sending two more DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers to Australia as soon as the heavy maintenance presently underway is complete. He expects Tanker 912 to arrive in Australia on January 15 to be followed 10 days later by Tanker 914. They will join Tanker 911 that arrived in November. The DC-10  can carry up to 9,400 gallons of water or retardant.

fire Helicopters Australia’s Department of Defence transporting fire refugees
Helicopters from Australia’s Department of Defence has been transporting fire refugees to safer ground. DOD photo.

Here is the text of a January 4 announcement from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council:


“Following a request from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) representing 31 fire and emergency service Chiefs and Commissioners, the Prime Minister has announced $20m additional funding for the lease of large firefighting aircraft to assist the ongoing bushfire crisis in Australia.

“AFAC President and Commissioner Fire and Rescue New South Wales, Paul Baxter QSO, welcomed the news.

” ‘On behalf of AFAC, we are heartened by the Prime Minister’s announcement of additional funding and ongoing commitment from the Commonwealth to AFAC through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC). This ongoing commitment will support states and territories working together with us to advance long term planning and resourcing arrangements for aerial firefighting. AFAC is working with the Commonwealth to make the necessary arrangements to have these four large aircraft operational as soon as possible. We will also be working with states and territories on the strategic positioning of the aircraft, so that there is flexibility for them to be able to move around the country to protect life and property, supporting the efforts of crews on the ground’.

“The Commonwealth will fund leasing costs, with operational costs to be covered by the states and territories.

“The announcement today is an example of national collaboration, facilitated through AFAC and its business unit, NAFC.

“On behalf of the states and territories, NAFC contracts and manages a fleet of over 140 special aircraft across Australia and maintains arrangements to share access to firefighting aircraft to meet jurisdictional demands.”

A long drop by a DC-10

The Horse Butte Fire has burned 9,400 acres approximately 18 miles northwest of Aberdeen, Idaho. The lightning-caused fire has been moving actively through brush and tall grass. Firefighters are expecting to have it contained by the end of the day on Monday.

The photo below shows a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, Tanker 912, dropping on the fire.

Tanker 912 Horse Butte Fire Idaho
Tanker 912, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Horse Butte Fire in Idaho. Photo by Mike Krupski. Via @GreatBasinCC

Air tankers at Phoenix

wildfire Air Tankers Phoenix
Air Tankers 40, 912, and 914 at Phoenix May 30, 2019. (Two DC-10s and a BAe-146) Photo by Jonathan Ross. 

Jonathan Ross, the Ramp Manager today at Phoenix Mesa Gateway Tanker Base, sent us this photo of three air tankers and … it looks like a couple of air attack or lead plane ships. Thanks Jonathan!

Photographer captures DC-10 assisting firefighters in NSW

Click on the image above to start the video. Then, to see a second video, click on the arrow on the right side of the image.

Instagram user “charltondurie” grabbed this photo and video of Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, dropping retardant on a fire about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia that has burned 1,880 ha (4,645 acres) northeast of Taralga,  between Bannaby and Wombeyan Caves. The aircraft is named “Nancy Bird” after an Australian aviatrix.

A huge fire in the Pilliga Forest between Coonabarabran and Narrabri has blackened over 57,880 hectares (143,000 acres).

Lightning ignited multiple fires across the Blue Mountains and Yengo National Parks in NSW Monday evening. There are two fires burning in remote areas to the north of the Great Western Highway in the Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park and an additional six fires south of the Great Western Highway and north of Warragamba Dam in the Blue Labyrinth, Blue Mountains National Park.

There is also one fire in the Yengo National Park, east of the Putty Road in the Hawkesbury.

These lightning fires are burning in remote areas. NSW  Rural Fire Service and  National Parks and Wildlife Remote Area Firefighters have worked to establish and consolidate containment lines with the support of air tankers.

A tour of Air Tanker 912

Also known in Australia as Bomber 912, or “Nancy Bird”.

tanker 912 dc-10 airtanker

Above: File photo of Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, making a quick orbit over the Indian Canyon Fire to check out the last of two drops the aircraft had just made just after sunset near Edgemont, South Dakota July 17, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Air Tanker 912 is beginning its contract with New South Wales in Australia, working out of Richmond. The NSW Rural Fire Service produced this video featuring pilot Captain R. K. Smithley giving us a tour of the huge 11,600-gallon capacity aircraft. (If you are having trouble seeing the video you can view it at YouTube.

10 Tanker Air Carrier recently renamed the aircraft “Nancy Bird”, honoring a renowned aviatrix in Australia.

Helena Air Tanker Base has been busy

Air Tankers Helena

(Originally published at 9:33 a.m. MDT July 31, 2017)

Jeff Wadekamper, the Airport Director at the Helena Regional Airport, sent us this picture, and said, “Last weekend we had 7 tankers here (2 Neptune BAE 146’s, 2 Neptune P2V’s, 2 SEATS, and the DC-10 #912)”.

In this photo taken July 23 we can see two BAe-146’s (Tankers 02 and 15), one P2V (T-44), a DC-10 (T-912), and a Single Engine Air Tanker.

Thanks Jeff!