New air tanker base to be constructed in Colorado Springs

It is expected to open in 2021

Tanker 944, a 747-400
Tanker 944, a 747-400, at the Colorado Springs airport, May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The City of Colorado Springs and the US Forest Service are going to build a new permanent air tanker base at the Colorado Springs Airport.

On January 24, the Forest Service signed a lease agreement with the Colorado Springs Airport. The two agencies will share the costs for construction and maintenance, currently budgeted at approximately $20 million.

“This project is a perfect example of how we can work within all levels of government to promote shared stewardship,” said Forest Service Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien.

The one-and-a-half-acre base will create six reload pits for any type of contracted air tanker, including Very Large Air Tankers such as the DC-10 and 747. It will be the largest base in the region, with the ability to serve a 600-mile radius — including Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The base will have the ability to reload multiple airtankers at once. This will allow an increased amount of retardant to be sent to a wildfire faster and with greater efficiency. It will also help the firefighters on the ground and protect communities from the approaching threat of wildfire. By being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities, the base will also reduce the total number of flights needed to fight a wildfire in the area, reducing the risk to additional flight crews and other regions.

The new eight-acre ramp to be built will be near the airport’s main 13,500-foot runway and adjacent to the U.S. Army-operated ramp. During the winter months when the Forest Service is not using it, the airport will use it as a de-icing area for commercial aircraft.

The Forest Service has occasionally set up a temporary retardant base at the Colorado Springs Airport that had two pits and parking for six aircraft. The only permanent base in Colorado for large air tankers has been JEFFCO at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver. It has two pits but can fill only one air tanker at a time and can’t handle Very Large Air Tankers.

Vanessa Lacayo, the Acting Press Officer for the Forest Service  Rocky Mountain Region, said the agency has no plans to close any other bases, including Single Engine Air Tanker Bases, after opening this new facility at Colorado Springs.

The Air Force Reserve base at Colorado Springs airport can activate two C-130 aircraft to serve as air tankers if needed, using the slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System, or MAFFS.

The headquarters for Global Supertanker is in Colorado Springs and their 747 Supertanker is sometimes parked at the airport.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new base is scheduled for spring 2020. Construction is set to begin this summer, with completion and a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2021.

Congress awarded the Forest Service funding for the project as part of the 2018 Omnibus Bill that repurposed previous allocations to the agency’s Aviation Safety and Modernization Strategy. The Department of Agriculture prioritized the Colorado Springs Airtanker Base as one of the highest investments for Aviation Safety Modernization Projects, representing nearly one-fourth of the $37.2 million budget. The City of Colorado Springs is providing additional funding through a partnership agreement.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Robby. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

California: Brown Field is now an air tanker base

For the last couple of years San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob has criticised the U.S. Forest Service for not allowing the air tankers they hire under contract to use the Ramona Airport as an air tanker base. CAL FIRE usually has two of their S2T air tankers at the base and has reloaded at the base a BAe-146 that they have under contract from Neptune Aviation. But the USFS contends the runway, at 5,001 feet, is too short for a fully loaded large air tanker.

When the Border Fire was burning near Potrero in eastern San Diego County a couple of weeks ago just north of the US/Mexico border, some of the air tankers had to fly over Ramona on the way to the next closest tanker base, Hemet-Ryan, 80 miles north of the fire, about 50 miles past Ramona.

Brown Field map

As of Wednesday of this week there is an additional air tanker base in San Diego County — at Brown Field Municipal Airport, which is on the southeast side of the greater San Diego area 1.5 miles north of the US/Mexico border. It is 31 miles south of Ramona and has a 7,972-foot runway which according to information from the USFS “provides ample length to meet safe takeoff requirements for the size and weight of a Next Generation Air Tanker with a full payload”.

Brown Field has a portable unstaffed retardant base that is under contract until September 30, 2016. After that, according to Oliva Walker, a Public Information Office for the Cleveland National Forest, the equipment will only be positioned there when it is needed, on a Call When Needed basis. She said the facility will only be staffed with personnel to operate the equipment and fill air tankers when there is a going fire and air tankers are flying out of the airport.

The Cleveland National Forest also has a fairly new Type 1 Helibase 30 miles east of the outskirts of San Diego near Interstate 8 half a mile from Cameron Fire Station on Kitchen Creek Road.