Wildfire Today has learned that Tanker 40, the jet-powered air tanker being developed by Neptune Aviation and Tronos, has received “interim approval” from the Interagency Air Tanker Board. The next step is to negotiate a contract for the aircraft that would be in effect until December, 2012. The “interim” period would last about a year in order to gain field experience needed to make any necessary improvements in design and bring the system in compliance with IATB criteria prior to consideration for full approval.
The BAe-146 was converted by Tronos, a Canadian company. Since it was delivered to Neptune at Missoula last year, the company has been fine tuning the system to improve the retardant dropping characteristics. They first conducted live retardant drop tests on July 27, 2010 at Missoula during which the aircraft was not able to obtain adequate line lengths for the higher coverage levels. They conducted additional tests during the week of July 12, 2011, and the results improved, allowing the air tanker to obtain “interim approval”.
The BAe-146 should carry about 3,000 gallons of retardant, and has a maximum cruising speed of 395 to 486 mph.
Minden Air Corp in Minden, Nevada is also developing a BAe-146 air tanker, but we have not heard of any tests they have conducted. Other than the BAe-146s, Minden and Neptune operate a total of eleven P2V air tankers between them, which is the only large air tanker model currently under exclusive use contract with the U. S. Forest Service. If a problem is discovered that grounds all P2Vs, the air tanker program would be decimated.
In recent weeks the USFS has hired on Call When Needed day-by-day contracts, eight Convair CV-580 air tankers, three from the state of Alaska and five from the Canadian government after their fire seasons slowed, in addition to three smaller CL- 215 scooper aircraft which can deliver an average of 1300 gals. of water per trip. Also on a CWN contract they temporarily stationed a DC-10 very large air tanker in Texas, perhaps after feeling pressure from a Governor, congressmen, and others. The USFS has refused to award exclusive use contracts to the DC-10s or the 747 very large air tankers, which carry 11,800 and 20,000 gallons, respectively.
If Neptune’s BAe-146 is put on an exclusive use contract, rather than CWN, that would increase the number of large air tankers on exclusive use contracts to 12. In 2002 there were 44.