Neptune Aviation has acquired their third BAe-146 next generation air tanker, designated Tanker 10 as you can see in the photo above sent to us by Bill Moss. The newest addition to the fleet does not yet have the lightning bolt striping, which might be applied by a local vendor in Missoula. It also has a blue belly, unlike Tankers 40 and 41 which are white underneath.
If “Tanker 10″ sounds familiar, it’s because Neptune had been operating a P2V designated as Tanker 10 until February, when a 24-inch crack in a wing spar and skin was discovered, causing the FAA to issue an Emergency Airworthiness Directive which grounded all P2Vs until inspections could be completed. There is a report that the “10″ on the P2V’s tail has been painted over and the aircraft is now being used for parts for the other 50-year-old war birds that are still flying.
The U.S. Forest Service is still struggling to issue contracts for what they are calling “next generation air tankers” which will be turbine-powered, be able to cruise at 300 knots (345 mph), and preferably have a capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of retardant. The process started November 30, 2011 when they first published the Request for Proposals. Last summer four companies were given “letters of intent” for a total of seven air tankers saying their proposals had been accepted, contingent upon successful negotiation of a “cancellation ceiling rate”, which would be the amount given to the companies if the government had to cancel the contracts before the scheduled end date. Those negotiations were underway when the awards were protested by Coulson Aviation and 10 Tanker Air Carrier.
Then the USFS went back to the drawing board and issued another amendment to the RFP clarifying a couple of dozen issues, including that the minimum acceptable retardant capacity was 2,400 gallons at sea level. The new amendment has a response due date of November 1, 2012.
Neptune operated their two BAe-146s for part of this year based on them being designated as “additional equipment” on their existing contract for their legacy air tankers, P2Vs that are more than 50 years old. The company plans to fly a total of 11 BAe-146s by 2016 which “will have the capability of being dispatched to customers worldwide”, according to the company’s web site. Maybe they hope to send them to Australia during America’s winter, and have them back home in time for USFS contracts.
After having 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts in 2002, there are now only 9, not counting Neptune’s two BAe-146s that were added temporarily this summer as “additional equipment” on their contract for the legacy air tankers which expires at the end of this year.