USFS adds a DC-10 and three more CV-580s to the temporary list of air tankers

Two, DC-10 air tankers
Two, DC-10 air tankers
10 Tanker Air Carrier’s two DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers. Photo: 10 Tanker

The U.S. Forest Service has activated the Call When Needed contract for one of the DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers and has also called in three more air tankers from Canada, CV-580s borrowed from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. The DC-10 carries 11,600 gallons of retardant, five times more than the CV-580 which holds a maximum of 2,100 gallons.

The CV-580s are modified Convair CV-340 or CV-440 aircraft manufactured between 1947 and 1954 which have had the piston engines replaced by turbo-props.

On June 6 the USFS announced they were borrowing two CV-580s, and they have been working on the High Park fire in Colorado, reloading at the Rocky Mountain Metro Airport. Now there are a total of five CV-580s temporarily in the lower 48 states; one borrowed from the state of Alaska and four from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Those five plus the DC-10 which may be hired for only a short time as well, bring the total of large air tankers under the control of the USFS, counting two S-2Ts, to 17 — for now.

CAL FIRE recently reached out to the USFS and allowed the federal agency to arrange to bring on two S-2T CAL FIRE air tankers one month earlier than they would have come on duty otherwise. These two aircraft will only be used in California. An S-2T carries 1,200 gallons of retardant, 10% of the capacity of a DC-10.

To summarize the current 17 large or very large air tankers that are currently available:

  • eight P2Vs (exclusive use contract)
  • one BAe-146 (exclusive use contract)
  • five CV-580s (borrowed temporarily from Alaska & Canada)
  • one DC-10 (brought on with “Call When Needed” contract)
  • two S-2Ts (in California only, brought on 1 month early)

We talked with Rick Hatton of 10 Tanker Air Carrier who told us that one of their DC-10s, Tanker 911, will be airborne this afternoon en route to Phoenix and will be available there for fire duty tomorrow, Tuesday. Only one of their two DC-10s is on a CWN contract, since it is not economically feasible for them to have two large expensive airplanes with crews available, when there is no guarantee that either will be used. Mr. Hatton is hopeful that both will receive exclusive use contracts when the USFS’s “next-gen” contracts are announced. That announcement was expected in May.

A Call When Needed contract can fit into the business model of the owner of a helicopter nicely, if their main source of earning income is passenger transport, TV news and traffic reporting, agricultural spraying, construction, or other uses. But an air tanker is a huge investment for a piece of equipment that is single-use; dropping retardant on wildfires. If they are not used for that, they sit, earning nothing, while the pilots and mechanics may sit too, but might still be earning a salary. That can’t go on forever.

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+

15 thoughts on “USFS adds a DC-10 and three more CV-580s to the temporary list of air tankers”

  1. It is a shame that hardly any mention is made of the 75 or so SEATs that are available of which only a hand-full are being utilized. Four SEATs equal more than one Heavy and they deliver more retardant at less cost. The USFS has a mentality set for Heavies yet they have ruined the program. Where is the common sense approach here? Most SEATs are on CWN and as you said Bill how would SEAL Team 6 do if they were CWN? We need a national program to put SEATs on 24/7, their advantage is initial attack where the fire does not become an issue of national interest. Where is the common sense here?

  2. Why are Canadian aircrews and aircraft being hired while American aircrews and aircraft sit idle?

    1. What american tankers sitting idle are you talking about? If any are it is because they do not have an active contract or do not meet safety standards & I would rather have a Canadian tanker flying over my house then one that does not meet FAA minimum qualifications

      1. Jon, just for the record – 10 Tanker Air Carriers T910 has been sitting idle since October 30 2011 as they do not have a contract. T911 also with 10 Tanker Air Carrier has also been sitting idle but since late August/early September 2011, until yesterday when she was called in to service on a CWN contract. Neither of these 2 Air Tankers are, or were sitting idle, because “they do not meet safety standards” They both have always and still do “meet FAA minimum qualifications” So Marc does have a point.

      2. Aeroflite still has one of their 215s in Kingman not on contract…..although not technically an airtanker. It could certainly backfill to free up a retardant ship.

  3. Extremely pleased to see 10 Tankers T911 called up at last! Better late than never Mr H! Hoping that 10 Tanker Air Carrier receives a contract, An Exclusive Contract, For BOTH DC-10s, in the upcoming weeks.

  4. I live in the Columbia River Gorge, and early this afternoon I saw a DC-4 or DC-6 (not sure which, it was 4 engine and had a red tail) flying east. I presume it was an air tanker headed for a fire but I see nothing in the press release info to indicate what it was or where it came from. Any idea?

  5. 2 CV-5800 on their way to Boise then Grand Junction tomorrow from Saskatchewan. More help from up north.

  6. I saw a news article yesterday that said a total of 5 CV-580’s were being “activated”.. 1 from AK… 4 from Canada… Saw another news article saying 8 CV-580s…

    The number of airtankers flying are getting muddled… and rumors are flying that even the few remaining DC-7s were thrown into the mix.

    If correct, help from Alaska and Canada just doubled the fleet of available U.S. airtankers.

    “U.S. Forest Service adds additional aircraft to wildland firefighting inventory”

    1. Mr. or Ms. Anonymous: the information in my article above came directly from the USFS office in Boise. — five CV-580s, one DC-10, and two S-2Ts coming on a month early.

  7. Good thing Canada does not have it own fire season or too many tankers. I still believe that Mr H’s plan of Vlats on CWN will not work. Only 1 of 3 can be obtained this way and how long with that last? Three or four 146s will not replace all the P2s if that is the direction and its current pattern needs to be doubled up. Other likely “Next Gen” options have not even flown yet. What we have now is very limited initial attack and hardly any extended attack capabilities.

    1. Gary, I agree with you when you say “I still believe that Mr H’s plan of VLATs on CWN will not work. Only 1 of 3 can be obtained this way and how long with that last?” Here is your answer; Not long, in fact, November 2012 if not before.

    2. For the record- I completely agree with all the above comments regarding the need for security of work for your home-grown companies. From my perspective both the lack of VLAT’s and the under-implementation of SEAT’s is a huge problem…

      But- as your northern partners in wildfire management it is in sometimes the right call to share resources in the short term, right? We have crews from the states come up and CIFFC mobilizes resources down to the lower 49 and Alaska several times a year, the mobilization of aircraft is just the same— helping out in time of need. That, and Nationaly we’re in a prep level 1 and have a whole hellava lot more aircraft available as that’s the business model up here.

      Just sayin- we’re happy to help.

      Also, shows CIFFC mobilizations OOP updated at 1300 daily, That should stop some rumours.

    3. Neptune plans to have 11 (yes, eleven) -146s inn service by ~2015… completely replacing their P-2s on a BETTER THAN 1:1 basis!

      Minden Air also plans a replacement of their P-2s with -146s… they have 1 flying this year in an evaluation contract, and are preparing to buy & convert 2 more if they get approval for them.

      1. Jon: are you positive that Minden has a BAe-146 “flying this year in an evaluation contact”? Minden is converting one, but I have not heard that they have conducted any official drop tests for the Interagency Air Tanker Board. Neptune has interim approval from the IATB for their BAe-146 and they began flying it last fall as “additional equipment” on their existing P2V contract.

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