A jet fire tanker belonging to Minden Air Corp. will undergo a series of test drops this week as part of its certification by the U.S. Forest Service for use in fighting wildfires.
The test drops showing how well the BAe-146 is able to cover an area are taking place now at Minden-Tahoe Airport.
The forest service announced it intended to issue an exclusive contract to Minden Air last year.
It has been more than 13 years since Minden Air owner Len Parker first developed the concept of using the British aircraft as a fire tanker.
The BAe-146 can carry 3,100 gallons, and fly twice the speed of a traditional tanker, while still being able to maneuver at low speeds needed for a retardant drop.
According to Minden Air’s website the aircraft has a 1,320-nautical-mile range with a full load.
Under the contract with the forest service, Minden Air provides the aircraft, flight and support crew, and support and maintenance.
But that doesn’t mean the aircraft will spend much time in Carson Valley during fire season.
“Rarely are our aircraft anywhere close to home,” Parker said during an interview in May 2013. “It’s not unusual to be 500 miles from where it was the day before.”
The contract with the forest service is part of an effort to modernize the heavy firefighting aircraft fleet.
Many of the propeller aircraft date back to the middle of the last century.
The forest service contract is for five years with five one-year options for a total of 10 years.
The forest service hopes to have all seven turbine powered tankers in place over the next year.
The contracts allow the companies to bring on additional tankers, with the goal of reaching a fleet size of 18-28 next-generation tankers.