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.
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