Very old and very new air tankers

Tanker 40 dropping in Newton Co TX
Tanker 40 dropping in Newton County Texas, posted October 3, 2011 on the official Facebook page of the Office of the Governor of Texas (click to enlarge)

Two very different air tankers are in the news, a very old one and the newest air tanker to join the federal fleet. Above is a photo, posted October 3, 2011 on the “Office of the Governor of Texas” Facebook page, of Neptune’s Tanker 40, a jet-powered BAe-146, making one of its first drops on an actual fire. The aircraft is not new, having entered service in 1986, but it was just recently converted into an air tanker. It least it is newer than the other air tankers currently flying that are 40 to 60 years old. The first P2s were manufactured in 1945 and the military retired their last one in 1984.

The photo below of a TBM dropping on a fire in 1972 is included here because a TBM is also in the news. The nonprofit Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula has purchased one of the last TBM air tankers still flying and will be displaying it in their hanger at the Missoula International Airport. It is scheduled to arrive at Missoula today, October 10. [UPDATE: the TBM arrived in Missoula at noon on October 10. Photos and more information are at the Missoulian site.]

TBM air tanker dropping Vista fire
TBM air tanker dropping on the Vista fire, San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California, 1972. Photo by Bill Gabbert, Wildfire Today

Here is an excerpt from an October 8 article in the Missoulian about the TBM:

Dick Komberec can’t wait for Monday.

Barring weather or mechanical complications, that’s when a long-ago thoroughbred from the Johnson Flying Service slurry bomber fleet returns home to Missoula.

It’s a retrofitted World War II torpedo bomber – “TBM,” to guys like Komberec who flew them as sprayers and fire bombers for Bob Johnson from 1954 to 1973.

The airplane is flying, with a seasoned Canadian pilot at the helm, from New Brunswick, where it and dozens of its brethren served as sprayers and fire retardant planes at Forest Protection Limited for most of the past 40 years. But when it touches ground at the Missoula International Airport, it’ll be Missoula’s again.

The nonprofit Museum of Mountain Flying used a generous gift to buy the plane for an undisclosed but rock-bottom price. It’ll take its place inside the hangar among nine other pioneering mountain planes, including the centerpiece DC-3 that dropped smokejumpers to their deaths in the tragic Mann Gulch fire in 1949. That plane flew back to Missoula in October 2001.

“It’s an historic event for Missoula and the whole state of Montana, really,” said Stan Cohen, the museum board’s president. “It’s not as historic as the Mann Gulch airplane, but it’ll be the only Johnson TBM on display in the U.S.”

Plans are to house “Alpha 13” in the museum hangar, restore its Johnson Flying Service orange and white colors and, perhaps, take it for a spin now and then or do some demonstration water drops.

Other articles on Wildfire Today about Tanker 40 and the BAe-146.

Thanks go out to Bill M. and Dick

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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.