Aero Union to auction their P-3 air tankers

Aero Union P-3 at McClellan
P-3 air tankers at Sacramento
P-3 air tankers at Sacramento's McClellan airfield. Google Earth photo, October 30, 2011

The Aero Union Corporation has listed their eight P-3 air tankers to be sold by auction. Plant and Machinery auction company is advertising the aircraft and other items totaling “$50,000,000 of aircraft, parts, and intellectual property” to be sold in a sealed bid auction. The auction site lists the following items for sale:

  • Eight Lockhead P-3 Orion Aerial Firefighting Aircraft
  • Engines, APUs, propellers, parts
  • Intellectual property, including the MAFFS II 3,000-gallon slide-in air tanker system for C-130J aircraft, and the FIREHAWK Aerial Firefighting System for Blackhawk helicopters
Aero Union P-3 at McClellan
File photo of an Aero Union P-3 at McClellan. Photo by Aero Union.

Aero Union began in Redding, California in 1960 as Western Air Industries, changed the name to Aero Union, and moved to Chico in 1964. They began acquiring military surplus P-3 Orion aircraft in 1990, beginning with two and later increasing the total to eight. In 2005 a group of investors in the Seattle area bought the company and moved it to the former McClellan Air Force Base at Sacramento in 2010. The base is now a joint civil-military airfield with various mixed-use tenants.

The U.S. Forest Service cancelled their air tanker contract with Aero Union in July of 2011, saying safety inspections were not being completed, and shortly after that the company laid off most of their employees. At the time of the cancellation six of the P-3s were still under contract and being used regularly on wildfires. Unless the condition of the aircraft has deteriorated significantly in the last six months, which is possible, they may still be very viable as air tankers. It appears that they will qualify for the U.S. Forest Service’s “new generation” air tanker contract which requires aircraft that can cruise at 300 knots, have turbine engines, and have a “target” capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons.

The sealed bids will be opened February 28, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. local time at the Lions Gate Hotel at McClellan, California.


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. Google+

8 thoughts on “Aero Union to auction their P-3 air tankers”

  1. Well, darn, I cant seem to find my wallet. Im sure I had a spare 50 million in it. One can only hope someone with more insight and committment than those silly seattle folks steps up to the plate. Its gonna be a long year folks. That is of course until we all die on Dec 21st.

  2. I hope that Conair Aviation is the winning bid. They seem to be fully invested in the airtanker business and could put the P-3s back in the air.

  3. Conair Aviation is a Canadian Company is it not? They may be fully invested in the air tanker business-I don’t know, but surely there is/are some American companies also fully invested. Hopefully it will be an American company that wins the bid.

  4. With the entire Navy P-3 fleet going into retirement in the coming years, I was wondering what the viability of private ownership was. I guess it turns out to be completely viable if they have been used as fire bombers all this time, especially fire bombers that are for sale… Given the funds, I would love to have one, to convert back to USN spec. Would make an ass kicker of a personal aircraft.

  5. I am curious if any one tell me what the cost of one P3 Orion fire fighting air tanker costs, with all the journey log, maintenance logs,etc? Also, who may have been the successful bidder on obtaining one or all of these air tankers?

  6. according to documents i reviewed from aero union they spent 38 million per P3 with the tank system and all AD s up to date

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