Minden’s BAe-146 air tanker to begin tests this month

Minden BAe-146
Minden BAe-146
Minden's BAe-146 shortly after the company acquired the aircraft. Photo: Minden, used with permission

The Minden Air Corp, based at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Minden, Nevada, is in the final stages of converting a four-engine jet airliner into a next generation air tanker. The BAe-146 was manufactured in 1989 and Minden acquired it, serial number E2111, in January 2009. The new air tanker will be several decades younger than the two P2V’s currently being flown by Minden and the nine operated by Neptune.

Tim Christy, the Director of Flight Operations for Minden, told us that he expects the air tanker to leave the hangar later this month after which “we will start running water through it”. The tank system is conventional, consisting of a 3,000 gallon internal retardant tank and a computer controlled constant flow door system which will rely on gravity, rather than a pressurized system, to force the retardant out of the tank.

Minden BAe-146 in hangar
Minden's BAe-146 during the conversion process. Photo: Minden, used with permission

Mr. Christy said the conversion process is slow. They have to make sure that everything they do conforms with FAA regulations and have been recording every single part that goes on the aircraft.

He said they have a second BAe-146, serial number 2106, which they will convert into an air tanker as soon as they finish the first one. He expects the second conversion to go much faster than the first.

If everything goes well, Mr. Christy hopes to have the first one flying on fires during the 2012 fire season.

Neptune leased a BAe-146 converted air tanker last summer and obtained “interim approval” from the Interagency Air Tanker Board which will be valid through the end of December, 2012. It will not receive full approval from the Board until after it is evaluated sufficiently on actual wildfires and at air tanker bases. There has been speculation that the BAe-146 operated by Neptune uses air pressure or some other pumping system to force the retardant out of the tank, but Dan Snyder, the President of Neptune, told us today that their BAe-146 uses a gravity drop system. This was confirmed by Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service at Boise.  Their aircraft, Tanker 40, made a handful of drops this fall in Texas and a few last month in California. Neptune leases the ship from Tronos, and presently it is back at Tronos’ base on Prince Edward Island in Canada for a major scheduled maintenance which usually takes about 21 days.

Minden owns their BAe-146 and is performing their own conversion, rather than leasing a previously converted aircraft from Tronos.

Here are some stats about the BAe-146:

  • Water or retardant capacity: 3,000 USG
  • Range: 1,800 miles
  • Cruising speed, about 498 mph
  • Typical drop speed expected to be, according to Tronos, 120 knots (138 mph) @ 150 feet (46 meters)
  • Short take-off length and steep field approach
  • Air-brake and flap combination improves low speed maneuverability
  • 387 aircraft were manufactured from 1978-2001
  • Engines: four Textron Lycoming turbofans
  • Passenger capacity as an airliner: 82-112
Minden’s two P2Vs, air tankers 48 and 55, will begin active contracts with the U.S. Forest Service next month, with one starting on February 15 and the second on April 1. Neptune will bring on one P2V in February, two in March, and the other six later.The loss of Aero Union’s eight P3 air tankers after the company went out of business has affected the contracting of the 11 to 12 remaining large air tankers. Mr. Christy of Minden told us that their company at this time is not interested in bidding on the P3s that are going up for auction. Mr. Snyder of Neptune said they have little interest in the aircraft but will probably go down to Sacramento and take a look at them.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

4 thoughts on “Minden’s BAe-146 air tanker to begin tests this month”

  1. I’m doing an inquiry report for class at Century College, WBL, MN, I’m wondering what the cost of a complete conversion would be for the air tankers? If you know.

  2. Tens of millions! Just for the attempt to pass approval of various agencies. Does not reflect the cost of the aircraft or its support.

  3. Vanessa

    It may be a stretch…but you may try to contact Minden / Tronos on this

    Be advised because of the nature of this business, getting Interagency Airtanker Board in the next 6 months+, insurance requirements, they may not be too talkative about their project.

    BUT….define your school project and you never know….you could be a future employee of Minden!!

    IF that happens…thank me later!

  4. Depends on the aircraft of course. The 747 project at last count was 52 million from inception to Board and F.A.A. approval. On the low (if there is anything low cost in aviation) end probably Air Tractor of Olney, Texas F series S.E.A.T. Cost of engineering is measured in hundreds of dollars per hour using six or more engineer specialist over months or years. Utilizing (hiring) several different companies and their staff and facilities for specific functions. The fabrication (building) the system is only a fraction of the total cost. Just the paper work is a challenge. This requires special people too. Manuals, hydraulics, electrical, pnuematic, scematics, imploded and exploded drawing and on and on. Tested, certified, re tested, system failure trouble shooting specialist, look for answers, an on and on again. When completed and APPROVED it looks like several volumnes of a encyclopedia. Flight testing and marketing. Back to the drawing board. Let’s throw in a patent. I just recieved a patent (pending) $606 per hour for the attorney. You don’t want to talk on the phone too long. Forget how is the wife and kids!

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