Missoulian: the state of the air tanker fleet

Tanker 07, Whoopup fire
Tanker 07, Whoopup fire
Tanker 07, a P2, on the Whoopup fire, July 18, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The Missoulian has an article about the current and future state of the air tanker fleet. Here is an excerpt:

Fighting fire from the air will remain a major tactic for the U.S. Forest Service, and the skies could start to get crowded soon.

“We want to have more than 11, but probably less than 44 large air tankers,” U.S. Forest Service national fire director Tom Harbour said in a recent interview with the Missoulian. “I think ultimately we’ll have between two and three dozen large air tankers.”

Eleven multi-engine retardant bombers remain under contract with the Forest Service, down from a fleet of 44 in 2004. Missoula-based Neptune Aviation has nine of those tankers, while Minden Air of Arizona has the other two.

“We’re looking all around to see what aircraft there are out there,” Harbour said. “We’re not doing any research in particular aircraft (within the Forest Service), but we’re interested in all designs. There are lots out there: old, new, big and little. And there are dozens of folks who have a particular platform they want to try. Neptune’s just been the first to take our criteria and put a plane in service.”

That would be Neptune’s new BAe-146 jet tanker, which won a short-term firefighting contract in September. The plane is the *first new model in nearly three decades to be certified for forest fire work. It is currently fighting fires in Texas.

Assuming the BAe passes additional field testing during the interim contract period, Neptune officials said they plan to phase in as many as 11 more jets as market conditions dictate.

Neptune CEO Kristen Nicholarsen said she’s heard of three or four companies developing retardant-dropping planes in pursuit of Forest Service contracts.

*Actually, the DC-10 and the 747 are aircraft models that are new to the air tanker fleet that have been certified by the Interagency Air Tanker Board in recent years.


Thanks go out to 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.

2 thoughts on “Missoulian: the state of the air tanker fleet”

  1. A recent report by the Forest Service states that there is little hard evidence that long term retardant works. Statements with reference to “new arrivals” in the air tanker industry reflect that DC-10 and 747 are just myths? Scary isn’t it.

    1. Johnny, yes it is very scarry, the 747 would have been a very good craft to have around if the Forestry service hadn’t been penny wise and pound foolish, but alas they are doing the same thing with the DC-10, I just dont see putting 4 aircraft in the sky to do the job of 1. It takes 4 of the C-130’s dropping 3,000 gallons each to equal the 10’s almost 12,000 Gallons. Go figure, that’s our Government at work. True you may not alway’s need 12,000 Gallons but that’s what the smaller tankers are for. But Texas has seen Fires this year that not only was the 10 Tanker more than welcomed on and grateful for but that 747 could have been used on as well.


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