Conair introduces new air tanker delivery system

Filling an L-188 Electra
Filling an L-188 Electra
A Conair ground crewperson attaches a hose to the tank of a Lockheed L-188 Electra airtanker at their base in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Photo: Andy Clark.

Conair, a Canadian company that currently has 12 large air tankers and 3 Canadair CL-215’s, has introduced a new system for delivering water or fire retardant from the tank of a Lockheed L-188 Electra. The constant-flow system, developed in cooperation with British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, has the following features:

  • 12,490 Litre (3,300 US Gallon) capacity Retardant Delivery System;
  • Efficient lower volume, higher coverage level application of retardants for improved lightning strike fire containment and effectiveness;
  • Increased capability for higher coverage level application of retardants through dense forest canopies;
  • Increased capability and efficiency for more uniform line building qualities;
  • Incorporates new retardant delivery system data tracking capability allowing real time access to all aspects of the drop events – information is transmitted via satellite downlink.

Here is a video, uploaded July 26, 2011, that I believe is a demonstration of the new system. The formatting is very strange, but check out the length of the drop. It must be a very light coverage level.

Conair, according to their web site, has 10 Convair CV-580 air tankers, a twin-engine aircraft, but they only have one four-piston-engine L-188 Electra, which was produced from 1957 until 1961.

The air frame of the L-188 was used as the basis for the Lockheed P-3 Orion. Six of Aero Union’s P-3 air tankers were shut down a few days ago when the U.S. Forest Service cancelled their contract due to the company’s inadequate participation in a continued airworthiness program, which included a Fatigue and Damage Tolerance Evaluation and structural inspection program. This leaves 11 large air tankers on federal exclusive use contracts in the United States, compared to the 44 that were on contract in 2002 and the 19 that were on contract earlier this summer. But not to worry. Tom Harbour, director of the Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management program said, “This contract termination notwithstanding, we possess the aircraft support needed for this year’s fire season.”

Three Convair CV-580 air tankers are currently in Boise jumping through the contracting hoops. If everything is approved, this would bring the total number of large air tankers on exclusive use contracts up to 14. If the predicted wildfire potential for August through November turns out to be correct, 14 may be adequate. If the fire occurrence in August and September turns out to be average, all bets are off.


Thanks go out to Ken

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Conair introduces new air tanker delivery system”

  1. Hugh said “Any more hoops would be redonkulous”.

    Yes. But we’re dealing with the gubmint.

  2. All three of those aircraft have already been used in the US this fire season and were previously approved through AMD. 2 are still on an exclusive use contract with AK. Any more hoops would be redonkulous.

  3. They also have 3 “FireCats” which are old refurbished S2A platforms similar to the S2Ts used by CAL FIRE, except they are piston engines.

    If I’m not mistaken (and I could be), the CV580 uses a turboprop engine and not a piston engine… and based on the lead photo, neither is the L188 Electra being used as an airtanker. Looks very much like a turbo-prop

    A friend “in the know” said that Conair “zeroes out” the airframes and adds new powerplants to all of their airtanker conversions. Not really sure what that means though other than giving new life to old aircraft.

    I’ve got to wonder/worry about the politics going on also… Doesn’t Aero Union hold the patent and tooling for the entire L188 and P3 fleet, and perform depot maintenance for both NASA and NOAA P3s?


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