|Quoting cbphoto (Reply 9):|
Tanker 55 can return to the skies soon! It's been a rough week for Neptune Aviation and their fleet!
Yes. I quickly had to check to see if tanker 11 or 55 were one of the crews operating on the Hewlett Gulch fire in Colorado couple weeks ago. Those aircraft (both Neptune P2
's) flew directly over my house on the way to/from the fire. They were so direct any photos would have been belly shots - so I didn't try. Neither was.
BTW - I have been on a fire where a firefighting aircraft crashed - a helo in this case (type 3). Listening to the radio traffic with the pilot, then hearing he was down a minute later, was very tough for all involved.
The heavy airtanker wildland fleet is in dire straights at this point. Only 11 (now 9) aircraft on contract nation wide. Neptune grounded their fleet after this crash (I believe they did this to allow crews time to recover from the tragedy - most appropriate, I would not want to send crews out immediately after this - what they do is extremely hazardous). So we are basically at zero (or maybe 1) for contracted air tankers. Of course, there can be at need ships brought in (aircraft that require a contract for each fire), but it is very hard to do and hard for a company to maintain an effective fleet when they are not on contract.
We do have a good fleet of SEATS (Single Engine Air Tankers) and they can be very effective. I was on structure protection on Monday (this week) on another fire near here. We had fire creeping into a small valley just below the structure I was at - no fire line or crews in that area and just me and a second FF
's in a type 6 at this structure (not much). If it had continued into the trees on the slope below us it would have been wind driven right at us. Thankfully - in the last drop of the day the SEAT on the fire was able to drop into the valley and put a retardant line in the grass ahead of the creeping fire. The fire hit it and stopped. That drop was quite impressive, the SEAT had to come in over the ridge, dive down at a significant descent angle and drop while descending below the ridge on both sides. He exited down the valley. Very nice airman-ship and a beautiful drop right on target. In this case the drop stopped the advance pretty much cold, but that is very rare. Typically we use drops to slow the fire so we can get crews in.
We were discussing the availability of heavy's in a local wildland chief's meeting just last week and we are concerned. This is a big problem.
BTW - I've been a fire fighter for 26 years and have been on many fires with fixed and rotary wing aircraft. SEAT's are commonly used in initial attack (which is what I'm usually involved in). Heavies come in later - usually 24-48 hrs to get them here.
Regarding the very large tankers (Evergreen 747, DC-10), I've never seen an instance where they would have been useful. Too big an aircraft to access, too big a load to drop. Can I imagine a perfect time when they might work if circumstances were different - perhaps, but only if the stars lined up. Example, the Crystal fire at the blowup (went from about 25 acres to 3000 in about 2 hrs'ish) - if a VLT could have dropped across the head? Would it have helped? No. Aside from the practical issues, (night, 70mph winds, difficult terrain for that size aircraft), we were getting spot fires a mile ahead of the front.
I can see those ships being useful in very large fires in flat ground - but in the mountains where I am, nope. I've never seen a fire (thankfully) where I could utilized a drop that big. We need smaller, focused, attacks.
This has been an ongoing problem for a decade. The USFS
just commissioned the 6th study on air tankers - what aircraft can be used. Many of the proposals coming out of those utilized aircraft little if any newer than the P2
BTW - you may have heard of using C-130's with "MAFFS" systems as an option. These use a pressurized pump deployment system rather than gravity dump (so does the single BAE-146 in service). The problem with these is the offload rate is not fast enough - the drop does not penetrate any canopy and get to the ground. They are not a simple solution.