UPDATED at 7:39 p.m. MT, June 13, 2012
Following the President’s signing of the bill that waived the 30-day notification period for informing Congress about new air tanker contracts, the U.S. Forest Service announced they have awarded new exclusive use contracts for seven additional air tankers.
Four companies will provide three next generation airtankers in 2012 and four in 2013:
- Neptune Aviation Services, Inc. will provide two BAe-146s in 2012;
- Minden Air Corporation will provide one BAe-146 in 2012 and 1 BAe-146 in 2013;
- Aero Air, LLC will provide two MD87s in 2013; and
- Aero Flite, Inc. of Kingman, Arizona will provide one Avro RJ85 in 2013.
The AVRO RJ85 is a variant of the 3,000-gallon BAe-146 with more efficient jet engines, produced between 1993 and 2002.
The MD-87 is a variant of the MD-80, a twin-engine jet, and as an airliner carried 114 to 139 passengers. It was produced from 1987 to 1992 and cruises at about 500 mph, similar to the BAe-146. There are estimates that the MD-87 will carry 4,000 gallons of retardant, but that is not confirmed.
Neptune and Minden previously held the only exclusive use contracts this year for large air tankers. Neptune now has seven P2Vs and one BAe-146 under contract, and Minden has two P2Vs, however one of Minden’s P2V’s was damaged June 3 when the the landing gear failed to fully extend while landing. On the same day, two pilots were killed when one of Neptune’s P2Vs crashed in Utah. Neptune’s Tanker 40, the only BAe-146 presently working as an air tanker, began service in the fall of 2011 and is still under interim approval from the Interagency Air Tanker Board.
Minden has been working on converting a BAe-146 into an air tanker for quite some time, and in January they expected to begin “running water through it”. As far as we know they have not started the drop tests administered by the Interagency Air Tanker Board which are required before it can be fully certified. Minden’s version has a gravity tank, while the Tronos/Neptune design uses gravity aided by positive air pressure in the cabin of the aircraft to help push the retardant out of four nozzles.
Neptune leases their existing BAe-146 from Tronos, a Canadian company, and has said they plan to eventually replace all of their P2Vs with the quad-jet BAe-146s.
Conspicuously absent from the list of new contracts were the Very Large Air Tankers, the DC-10 and 747.
Below are the descriptions of the MD-87 and the BAe-146 from the January, 2012 U.S. Forest Service Large Airtanker Modernization Strategy. (Note: I don’t know where the USFS got the “380 mph” speeds for these two aircraft. This differs from Wikipedia, and also the real world. Even if they meant knots, they are still wrong. On June 11 Tanker 40 cruised at 492 mph and 25,000 feet on a short 37-minute hop from Winslow, AZ to Albuquerque, NM. This 112+ mph error for both aircraft is not insignificant and calls into question some of the other data in the report.)
MD-87 (Boeing). This aircraft is no longer in production and would only be available as previously-used. This aircraft has a speed of 380 mph; carries approximately 4,000 gallons of retardant; has 2 turbo fan engines; and was designed for commercial passenger transport, a mission that is not comparable to the maneuver load impacts of an airtanker in the wildland firefighting environment. Original manufacturer support for this aircraft has not yet been obtained. This aircraft has not gone through the required testing, evaluation and application phase for the airtanker mission, but it would be expected to meet agency and FAA airworthiness and safety requirements. The MD-87 will not be capable of multi-role missions.
BaE-146 (British Aerospace). This aircraft is no longer in production and would only be available as previously-used. This aircraft has a speed of 380 mph; carries 3,000 gallons of retardant; has 4 turbo- fan engines; is supported by the original manufacturer; and was designed for commercial passenger transport, a mission that is not comparable to the maneuver load impacts of an airtanker in the wildland firefighting environment. It has been evaluated for the airtanker mission and one variant recently passed the required retardant drop tests to perform as an airtanker; and has met agency and FAA airworthiness and safety requirements. It has been approved by the Forest Service as an airtanker. The BAe-146 will not be capable of multi-role missions. One BAe-146 airtanker (T-40) is currently on the existing airtanker contract.