Old jetliners never die, they just get kitted out to go fight fires. After years of making do with an aging fleet of ex-military aircraft, dwindling each year because of crashes and airworthiness-related groundings, the US Forest Service (USFS) has awarded long-term contracts to operators for a fleet of next generation large air tankers comprising BAe 146s and McDonnell Douglas MD-87s. Yes, MD-87s.
Aero Air of Hillsboro, Oregon, expects to conduct the first static water-dump test of its modified MD-87 in the next three to four weeks. Supplement type certification is expected in late summer/early fall. The company has USFS contracts to provide two aircraft beginning with the 2013 fire season, but Aero Air has purchased seven MD-87s which it plans to modify into air tankers.
The MD-87 will carry 4,000gal of retardant, compared with 2,080gal in the ex-Navy Lockheed P-2 Neptunes now flying for the USFS. The twinjet is also much faster than the twin-piston Neptune, allowing a more-rapid response or longer-range deployment. The MD-87 will also carry more retardant than the USFS's other next-generation large air tanker, the 3,000gal-capacity BAe 146.
Photo: Neptune Aviation Services
The USFS has awarded contracts for four 146-200 air tankers, plus one modified from an Avro RJ85. Two will be operated by Neptune Aviation Services, which already has one in service (Tanker 40, above) and two more in modification to begin replacing the P-2s its operates for the USFS. The other two 146s will be flown by Minden Air and the RJ85 by Aero-Flite.
At last someone has found something useful to do with the 146...