Catching up with Tanker 40

Tanker 40
Tanker 40
Tanker 40 during development testing. Photo: Tronos

Tanker 40, the BAe-146 jet-powered air tanker that was used for the first time on fires this fall, is taking the winter off, like most air tankers. The lease that Neptune had with Tronos, which converted and still owns the aircraft, ended yesterday, December 22. Since it is due for its C-check, which is required every 5,000 cycles or every 2.5 years, the aircraft is en route back home, to Prince Edward Island, Canada. This is major maintenance and usually takes about 21 days for a BAe-146.

Dan Snyder, the President of Neptune, told Wildfire Today that the aircraft and tank performed well in Texas in November, and also on the Willow fire last weekend near Hollister, California. Tanker 40 was the only large air tanker on the fire in California. Mr. Snyder said they expect to have the aircraft back under contract in the spring of 2012.

Neptune is planning on responding to the USFS’ Request for Proposal that the agency issued on November 30, which seeks to contract for 7 to 35 “next generation air tankers”. These next-gen aircraft must be turbine-powered and be capable of hauling 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of retardant while cruising at a minimum of 300 knots (345 mph). It is our understanding that turbofan engines, frequently called jets, qualify as “turbine powered”, which means the BAe-146 would most likely meet the standards in the RFP since it carries 3,000 gallons, and earlier today cruised at 430 knots (495 mph) flying back to Canada.

As we reported on November 8, 2011, the U.S. Forest Service has committed to have at least one large air tanker on contract through the winter of 2011-2012, and Mr. Snyder said one of their P2Vs, Tanker 5, has been filling that role. As of December 22 Tanker 5 was in California.

The USFS will bring on most of Neptune’s P2Vs earlier than usual in 2012, beginning as early as March 1, due to the longer fire seasons we have been experiencing and to make up for the loss of Aero Union’s eight P-3 air tankers last summer. The USFS said they cancelled the Aero Union contracts because certain required inspections were not being performed. This left only 11 large air tankers under exclusive use contracts, down from 44 in 2002.

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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.