Tankers over Carson City some of the first allowed to fly since grounding

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal An air tanker from Battle Mountain drops slurry on  the houses in Kings Canyon Wednesday during the Waterfall Fire.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal An air tanker from Battle Mountain drops slurry on the houses in Kings Canyon Wednesday during the Waterfall Fire.

The heavy airtanker planes fighting the Waterfall fire Wednesday in Carson City were some of the first certified to fly after all tankers were grounded in 2002.

The first two heavy tankers on the fire, Lockheed P-3 Orions originally used by the U. S. Navy, are owned by Aero Union Corp. in Chico, Calif. They were cleared to fight fire early last week.

Flying tanker 21, from the Bureau of Land Management's Battle Mountain Air Tanker Base, were pilot Jan Reifenberg from Arizona and Jim Leslie from Oregon. In tanker 22 from Grand Junction, Colo., were pilot Dean Talley and co-pilot Shawn Reigier - both from California. The aircraft were called to Carson City by interagency dispatchers in Boise.

A third plane came to Carson City Wednesday afternoon from Cedar City in southern Utah. Two more heavy tanker planes were ordered late in the day.

"It depends on other fires," said fire information officer Christie Kalkowski. "If we're the only show in town there's a good chance we could get those resources here."

Five smaller, single-engine tankers fought the fire Wednesday, as well as twin-rotor Chinook helicopters from the Nevada National Guard, 16 handcrews, 32 fire engines and 17 bulldozers.

Because of new restrictions, the heavy tankers carry only 2,500 gallons of retardant rather than their full capacity of 3,000.

The Orions were landing at Minden Tahoe Airport about every half hour Wednesday to reload with retardant and fill their tanks with GP4 jet fuel.

They have one large retardant tank on the belly of the aircraft. The amount and density of individual drops is controlled with computerized bay doors.

The pilot usually drops the reticent, while the co-pilot monitors fuel and hydraulic systems, according to pilot Len Park, co-owner of Minden Air Corp., which also has two Orion firefighting aircraft.

His planes have not yet been cleared to fly. They are scheduled to be examined by DynCorp. Technical Services on Monday.

"We have a couple planes right here, sitting on the tarmac, not being used. And the reason they are not being used is because the Forest Service is not being timely in getting the inspections done," Park said.

Air tankers were grounded by the federal government after two military surplus aircraft used for firefighting broke up in flight in 2002. Three people died near Walker, Calif., on June 17, 2002, when a C-130 lost its wings. Two died one month later when a 1944 Vultee PB4Y crashed after its left wing came off near Estes Park, Colo.

Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration listed fatigue cracks as the probable cause of both crashes. Cracks were found beneath metal reinforcements on the wings of the C-130. The aircraft, delivered to the U.S. Air Force in 1957, had about 21,863 flight hours when it crashed.

The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior have stopped using C-130 and PB4Y aircraft to fight fire.

DynCorp. Technical Services is examining 33 tanker planes one at a time. They have OK'd seven so far.

New guidelines call for operators to develop maintenance programs that consider the plane's design, mission and history. Often the complete history of military surplus aircraft is difficult to find.

The retardant tankers drop is a phosphate fertilizer with gum thickeners which coats brush, basically fire-proofing it. It contains orange dye so pilots can see previous drops.

Contact Karl Horeis at khoreis@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.


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