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.

Three DC-10s and other air tankers assisted firefighters on the Maria Fire east of Ventura, Calif.

DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914
Left to right, DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914 at Santa Maria, CA Nov. 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

These photos and the text below are from RK SMithley who was the Captain on Air Tanker 911 while the DC-10 (and many other aircraft) were assisting firefighters on the 9,412-acre Maria Fire east of Ventura, California by dropping 9,400 gallons of retardant on each sortie. He starts off by describing the photo above.

“Sunset comes to the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base 11/01/19, after a fairly busy day of fire operations on the Maria Fire at Santa Paula, CA. At right in the loading pit is our T914, which concluded its duty and is released by the USFS off contract with T911 at left, which continues active service. Both ships, along with T910 worked the Maria this date and 910 recovered to Santa Maria where she continues active duty. T914 will be flying the SBD Fest airshow at San Bernardino with two demonstration water drops both Saturday (about 2:30) and Sunday (about 11:00) so come on out and see her perform. T912 has concluded service with Cal Fire and will reposition back home from the Cal Fire Air Tanker Reload Base at Sacramento-McClellan Airport to ABQ this morning. Incidentally, that’s Erickson T107,
a Douglas MD-87, on the right. Their T105 also operated from SBD on the Maria Fire with us as well as Aeroflite T167 and a whole host of other large tankers from other bases in SoCal. The Maria Fire was pretty much out after being pounded by all the air tankers and helicopters today, with fixed-wing air ops starting shortly after daybreak.”

Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.
Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

(The tweet below of the DC-10 working the Maria Fire are obviously not from Mr. Smithley)

And, from our archives:

DC-10 air tankers
File photo of three of the four DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers at Albuquerque, NM May 3, 2019,– Tankers 910, 911, and 914. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Woodbury Fire burns over 44,000 acres east of Phoenix

Tanker 101 tanker 914 Woodbury Fire phoenix
The convection column at the Woodbury Fire shows the beginning of condensation at the top, becoming a pyrocumulus cloud. Tanker 914, a DC-10 is in the foreground, with Tanker 101, an MD87. Photo taken at Phoenix Gateway Airport at 3:18 p.m. MST June 18, 2019. Photo by Ty Miller.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today)

The Woodbury Fire 12 miles east of the Phoenix suburbs became very active on the northeast side Tuesday beginning at about 2 p.m., sending up another large column of smoke that blew off to the northeast. It added another 3,894 acres to bring the total up to 44,451 acres.

satellite photo Woodbury Fire Phoenix Arizona
Satellite photo of smoke from the Woodbury Fire east of Phoenix, Arizona at 7:31 p.m. MDT, June 18, 2019.

On Wednesday fire crews are preparing for the possibility of the fire moving north towards Roosevelt and east towards the Pinto Mine along Pinto Canyon. Firefighters will be using burnouts and existing black lines to divert fire from the Reavis Ranch, Roosevelt, and mining operations. They will continue the preparations along 500 KV power lines to make them more defensible, masticating brush and building bulldozer lines where appropriate.

Map of the perimeter Woodbury Fire Phoenix Arizona
Map of the perimeter of the Woodbury Fire at 10:41 p.m. MST June 18, 2019.

The smoke is expected to spread to the east on Saturday, becoming noticeable in Southern New Mexico and Western Texas.

wildfire smoke forecast June 19, 2019
The smoke from the Woodbury Fire is expected to blow off to the east on Wednesday into Southern New Mexico and Western Texas. The map depicts the forecast for 6 p.m. MDT June 19, 2019.

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!

Getting up to date on the DC-10 VLATs at Albuquerque

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

On May 3 after the IAWF Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference I stopped by the headquarters of 10 Tanker Air Carrier at the Albuquerque airport. Not long ago the company moved into roomier facilities at the airport and it looks like they are settled into the new digs.

The company has four DC-10-30 Very Large Air Tankers (VLATs) now fully operational. The last one to be added to the fleet, Tanker 914, began service in 2018, joining Tankers 910, 911, and 912. T-910, the first DC-10 to be converted into an air tanker was originally a DC-10-10. In 2015 it was replaced with a DC-10-30 and now all four of the company’s aircraft are the same model, DC-10-30. The’30 series has more powerful engines and a much higher maximum take-off weight (MTOW) — 572,000 pounds which is far more than the earlier model.

When we were there one of the aircraft, T-912, had just left to start its exclusive use contract, and T-914 was going to depart in a few days to be based, for a while anyway, at Mesa, Arizona.

Two of the DC-10s spent much of February fighting fire in Chile. The original order called for just one, but on the first day at work in the country a tire failed in spectacular fashion, sending rubber shrapnel into one of the flaps, creating three holes. It took several days to fix it, working with the FAA and bringing mechanics with sheet metal expertise from the United States. John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker, said the company told CONAF, the National Forest Corporation that handles wildland firefighting in Chile, that they could send a replacement DC-10 while the repairs were made. The CONAF representative said, in effect, You have more DC-10s? Bring another and we will use it along with the first one during the fire season. So a second was dispatched and they were based at opposite ends of the long, narrow country.

The Goodyear tire failed on its eighth landing —  which obviously is very unusual.

In the gallery below, mouse-over the photos below and a caption will appear. Click on a photo to begin a slide show of LARGE images, with the caption then at upper-left.

Mr. Gould said fully loaded the DC-10 VLATs weigh 405,000 pounds with a full load of retardant and 2.5 hours of fuel and 9,400 gallons of retardant, which gives the pilots a 167,000-pound margin when maneuvering for a retardant drop, compared to if it was loaded to MTOW.

The DC-10 operates with a crew of three, two pilots and a flight engineer who monitors the aircraft systems and inputs the specifications for the retardant drop.

The aircraft has five retardant tanks, three holding 2,700 to 4,000 gallons each, and two smaller fairing tanks at the front and rear. The fairing tanks are no longer used, which gives the VLAT a 9,400-gallon capacity.

En route to a fire it cruises at 340 knots, but when returning to reload it bumps the speed up to 380 knots. It drops retardant at 200 to 300 feet above the ground at 150 knots.

The first drop over a fire by a DC-10, Tanker 910, was on July 16, 2006 after being awarded a Call When Needed contract by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE.

Each DC-10 is followed by a support crew of seven maintenance technicians equipped with a four-door pickup and goose-neck trailer carrying spare parts and equipment.

Deployments for the two DC-10 air tankers in Chile drawing to a close

T-910 is en route back to U.S.

air Tanker 910 in Chile, 2019
Tanker 910 in Chile, 2019. Photo by Diego Cuadra.

One of the two DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers that deployed to Chile is en route back to the United States now that the wildfire activity has slowed and the contract has ended. It is scheduled to land at San Antonio at 6:59 p.m. CST today, March 2, after a stop in Manta, Ecuador. On FlightAware it is operating as TNKR910, N612AX. 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s headquarters is at Albuquerque, New Mexico.

T-910 departed from San Bernardino, California on February 6, arrived in Chile the following day, and went to work dropping on wildfires February 8. During its first day on the job in the country a tread separated on a main landing gear tire and the debris damaged an inboard flap. The crew completed repairs three days later.

Air tanker 910 DC-10
Air tanker 910, a DC-10, en route back to the United States. FlightAware.

The second DC-10, Tanker 914, arrived in Chile on February 11. Its contract ends next week and then it will be heading back north.

The two DC-10s have been working out of three airports stretched across 572 miles of the long, narrow country — Santiago, Concepción, and Puerto Montt.

As of March 1, the two aircraft have completed 133 missions dropping a total of 1.2 million gallons, an average of 9,022 gallons per mission, said John Gould, President of 10 Tanker Air Carrier. For the first week or two they were dropping plain water since there is no fire retardant in Chile, but later fire officials requested they use BlazeTamer, a concentrated water enhancer that can be injected into the tank using the existing equipment on the air tankers. The product was used on 33% of the missions.

air Tanker 914 in Chile, 2019
Tanker 914 dropping in Chile, 2019. Photo by Giovanni Inostroza Umana.

Photos and videos of DC-10 air tankers working wildfires in Chile

Two DC-10s air tankers from the United States are in Chile: T-910 and T-914

Air Tankers 910 and 914 Chile fires
Tankers 910 and 914 at the Carriel Sur airport near Concepción, Chile. Photo: Mauricio Henriquez

Two DC-10s are under contract in Chile, Tanker 910 and Tanker 914.

In the first of two videos below, a DC-10 is flying alongside the lead plane. Below that one of them can be seen in a very shaky video dropping behind the Chilean Navy lead plane.

A Chilean Navy P-295 (as seen below) is serving as a lead plane for the DC-10. Also known as a Casa, a P-295 served as a lead plane ahead of the 747 when it worked in Chile in 2017. He was not allowed to fly it, but former smokejumper and lead plane pilot Jamie Tackman went along as a passenger in the Casa in 2017, kneeling between the pilots, giving them instructions on where and when to drop. This year there are no U.S. lead plane pilots in the P-295.

The video below shows the DC-10 on its first day of work in Chile.

Continue reading “Photos and videos of DC-10 air tankers working wildfires in Chile”