These airtankers join a host of other ready firefighting equipment, including hundreds of helicopters and some 900 fire engines. “Legacy” aircraft are those that have been used as part of the Forest Service aviation program for years, and in some cases, decades. The agency is transitioning to the next generation of airtankers to replace this aging airtanker fleet.
“These legacy airtankers will continue to be part of our overall strategy as we prepare for another busy season of wildfires,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tidwell. “These large airtankers play an important role in wildfire suppression by helping slow the progress of wildfires, allowing firefighters on the ground to safely contain them.”
The Forest Service issued notices of intent this week to award legacy exclusive-use contracts to Minden Air Corporation of Minden, Nev., for one P2V and to Neptune Aviation Services, Inc. of Missoula, Mont., for six P2Vs and one BAe-146. Both companies currently hold legacy exclusive-use contracts with the Forest Service to provide large airtankers for wildfire suppression. The contracts are for a five year period.
The P2V large airtankers are piston powered, can carry more than 2,000 gallons of retardant and have a cruise speed of 185 knots when fully loaded with retardant. The BAe-146 large airtanker is turbine powered, can carry about 3,000 gallons of retardant and has a cruising speed in excess of 330 knots.
During this summer’s fire season, the Forest Service expects to supplement the large airtanker fleet acquired through legacy exclusive-use contracts with additional large airtankers available through cooperators and the military as well as with very large airtankers, single engine airtankers, water scoopers and helicopters.
The Forest Service expects to make an announcement on next generation airtanker contracts in the coming weeks. Next generation airtankers are newer aircraft that are turbine powered, can carry a minimum of 2,400 gallons of retardant and have a cruise speed of at least 300 knots when fully loaded.
Fire activity during the 2012 wildfire season resulted in about 9.3 million acres of private, state and federal land burned nationwide, the third highest amount since at least 1960, the earliest date with reliable records.