It seems the Soviet-built airtankers and their cheerleaders turn up perennially in the news, but this time it’s not some gullible congressman ranting about how the Forest Service won’t let ‘em fly on U.S. fires. This time the news features an IL-78 tanker impounded in Michigan that may be sold as abandoned property.
You read that right. This is an Ilyushin Il-78 tanker that’s been stuck at a little airport in Michigan since July. The Tactical Air Defenses company in Florida, who have hyped the virtues of the Ilyushin tankers for years and tried in vain to get them approved for tanker use on U.S. fires, claimed they were planning to use this one (or “offer it”) on fires in southern California. But, as Wired Magazine reported, the plane was serviced in Denison, Texas, and then took off July 17 after refueling in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, headed for somewhere — some say Europe, others say Pakistan. But it was then diverted to Sawyer International Airport in Marquette County, Michigan, reportedly after being denied entry to Canadian airspace.
The crew was sent back to Ukraine after immigration officials detained them for violations including expired visas. All five flew back to Kiev on July 23. The plane, owned by Tactical Air Defenses and leased by Air Support Systems in Newark, Delaware, has been parked on the tarmac in Michigan ever since.
The Wired report says that in late July, someone filed a flight plan to fly the plane to Keflavik, Iceland, but the plane was impounded and blockaded in Marquette County. AVweb.com reported that the aircraft has been accumulating ramp charges since July and is “a sitting duck” for the $62,000 claim that a Texas company has against it. Air-1 Flight Support of Grayson County, Texas, wants to be paid for service charges, fuel and storage of the plane. Marquette courts have issued judgments over the past couple of months, but there’s been no response from the owners. Circuit Court Judge Thomas Solka says he’ll order the plane put up for sale no later than September 25 if someone doesn’t come forward to claim the plane.
KRIS-TV in Texas reported that the plane was blocked by sanding trucks and a snowplow at the Marquette airport, grounded by a restraining order in Michigan after it was flown out of Texas in violation of a similar order there. The plane and crew departed Texas around sunrise when the airport tower was still closed.
Tactical Air Defenses has not responded to the lawsuit. The $62,000 due Air-1 Flight Support includes what the Marquette Mining Journal listed as “numerous months of hangar rental, more than 1,500 gallons of jet fuel, preparations to start and move the aircraft, and maintenance for reinstalling instruments, recharging batteries, and rewelding a metal fence blown down by the jet’s exhaust.”
Tactical Air Defenses has a website at tads-usa.com — but don’t go verify this for yourself because the site’s infected with a worm! They issued a press release back in May announcing that they’d received a certificate of airworthiness for the plane, “the only IL-78 operational in the United States,” from the FAA. They claim the appraised value of the plane is $12 million.