Updated at 9:33 a.m. MT, April 24, 2012:
The Missoulian reported that on Monday at 11:15 a.m. a Neptune Aviation P2V air tanker made an emergency landing at the Missoula airport after reportedly having a “complete hydraulic failure”. Fire and medical crews responded and were on hand when the plane successfully landed after circling the airport several times with its landing gear down. The fire engines rushed to meet the 50-year old aircraft as it pulled to a stop, but apparently they were not needed.
The aircraft involved was not one of Neptune’s front-line air tankers, but was a training plane.
Neptune’s director of flight operations Loren Brea said a connection on one of the hydraulic lines came loose, and it lost hydraulic fluid. “There’s an emergency backup system that allows you to put the landing gear down and it worked as advertised”, Brea said. The aircraft had taken off from Missoula shortly before and was on a routine test flight.
On June 26, 2010, a Neptune air tanker, Tanker 44, experienced a hydraulic failure and having no brakes upon landing, went off the end of the runway at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (JeffCo) in Colorado. Both pilots self-evacuated and were walking around when fire apparatus arrived to put out a fire in one of the engines. Tanker 44 was later repaired at the JeffCo airport and put back into service as one of Neptune’s nine P2V air tankers. It is scheduled to report for duty for this fire season on May 1 and is assigned to Moses Lake, Washington.
All 10 of the large air tankers on exclusive use contracts this year are P2Vs. An eleventh P2V, Neptune’s Tanker 10, has a 24-inch crack in a wing spar and skin and may not be repaired. If there is a problem that grounds all 10 there will no large federal air tankers, except for a BAe-146 which has interim approval, and one or two DC-10 very large air tankers on a call when needed contract. The military has eight C-130 MAFFS aircraft that can be activated in 36-48 hours if there are no commercial air tankers available.
The air tanker fleet has been reduced by 77% since 2002 when there were 44 on contract.
The U.S. Forest Service has said they will announce contracts for what they are calling “next generation” air tankers before the end of April. These aircraft will have turbine engines, will hold 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of retardant, and will cruise at 300 knots or better. And most likely will be less than 50 years old.
Thanks go out to Christian