Air tankers pass FAA mandated inspections

Lead 6-5 and Tanker 45
Lead plane 6-5 and Tanker 45, a P2V, on the Whoopup fire near Newcastle, WY, July 18, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The inspections that the Federal Aviation Administration required within 24 hours of receiving their Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD), cleared the other ten P2V air tankers. Yesterday we reported that after a 24-inch crack  was found in a wing spar and skin on one of Neptune Aviation’s P2V-7 air tankers the FAA issued the directive requiring that all P2V aircraft be inspected. The EAD said:

This condition, if not detected and corrected, could result in significant loss of structural integrity of the wing.

The NTSB investigation found that the Hawkins and Powers C-130A air tanker that crashed on June 17, 2002 near Walker, California when the wings fell off, had a series of fatigue cracks in the skin panel of the right wing which grew together to become 12-inches long.

The Missoulian has more information about the results of this week’s inspections:

“We had one aircraft with significant cracking,” Neptune president Dan Snyder said Wednesday. “But is this another Aero Union situation, where we have zero tankers for the fire season? No. The tankers will be back up.

We cut pieces out of the aircraft, but we still don’t know what caused it.””

Mr. Snyder was referring to the cancellation of the U.S. Forest Service’s contract with Aero Union’s eight P3 Orion air tankers over a safety inspection issue. This reduced the fleet from 19 air tankers at the beginning of the 2011 fire season to 11. Aero Union then shut down and is auctioning their air tankers and other assets. In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on USFS contracts.

More from the Missoulian:

Nevada-based Minden Air Corp. provides two more P2-Vs for Forest Service firefighting. In a statement, Minden CEO Leonard Parker said none of his planes were affected, and the company expected to have its first P2-V available for Forest Service action on Feb. 15.

This incident pointed out that since all eleven of the air tankers on U.S. Forest Service standard exclusive use contracts are the same model, P2V, a safety issue has the potential to ground the entire fleet of USFS large air tankers. One additional air tanker not affected is the jet-powered BAe-146 which is being operated by Neptune under a temporary “interim” approval from the Interagency Air Tanker Board. After a year of testing it was granted “interim” approval status last fall and is being considered for full approval.


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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 “Air tankers pass FAA mandated inspections”

  1. Bill has anyone up at Neptune said which tanker the crack was found in? It would in interesting to know.

  2. Dan Snyder’s comments implying that Aero Union’s situation was in some way similar to the cracked wing problem on the P2 is misleading. Aero Union’s contract was canceled last summer by the USFS, apparently because the Forest Service felt the company wasn’t making sufficient progress on it’s long term Continuous Airworthiness Plan and implementation, a program designed to give the P3 another 10 or more years of safe operation as a firefighter. Aero Union was not given an opportunity to respond to or address the USFS complaint (which in any case was never made clear). The P3 does not have, and did not have, safety of flight issues and is a much younger plane than the P2. The decision to have or not have P3’s is not a safety issue but a contract issue which can be readily resolved by the USFS.


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