I asked Mr. Hall if the retardant line created by the DC-10 Saturday held the fire. He said:
I drove by on New River Road yesterday and it looked like that retardant line held. It kept the fire from spreading laterally, but it *raced* up the steep slope vertically and then crested onto the New River Mesa. They’ve been chasing it up top since then. I don’t recall seeing any fire burn through any of the retardant lines on Saturday. Quite the opposite, actually.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
(The tweet below of the DC-10 working the Maria Fire are obviously not from Mr. Smithley)
A giant sized firefighter helps battle the Maria fire in Ventura County. The DC-10 is making a drop on a flareup near Santa Paula Friday afternoon #mariafire#santapaula#moorpark @CountyVenturapic.twitter.com/kPlQF836G6
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.
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.
The smoke is expected to spread to the east on Saturday, becoming noticeable in Southern New Mexico and Western Texas.
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.
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.
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.