Smaller Tanker Proves Effective on Wildland Fire

Wildfire the 2003 Season
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Tuesday’s fire was a first test in this area for a new firefighting tool, a small single engine air tanker.

The small planes have been called into service after a number of larger, older tankers were grounded following two fatal crashes last year.

There's been concern about the loss of those big tankers. And a lot of people have the impression that all of them are gone.

However that's not true.

Two of the oldest model planes - those involved in those crashes - are gone.

There are others still flying and being joined by a craft we haven't seen here before - at least in this capacity.

In years past the flight line at the tanker base at Minden presented an impressive display of airpower. The aging military planes are the heavy bombers of the fleet, valued for their ability to deliver up to 3000 gallons of retardant on a growing fire.

But following last year's fatal crashes a number were permanently grounded and that's created room for a new smaller, more agile member of the fleet.

It's an Air Tractor 802 and, if it looks familiar, it may be because this plane has another career - in agriculture and pest control.

It's much the same kind of plane as we saw spraying Mormon crickets in Red Rock earlier this spring.

Tanker Triple-4 is now Minden's first responder to fires. And when the Highway 50 fire broke out yesterday, Tanker Triple-4 was busy flying seven missions to help the fire fighters on the ground.

Pilot Mike Dilley shared duties with a big P-3 Orion on yesterday's fire. He says the two have different missions, although they have different capabilities.

While his Air Tractor carries only 800 gallons of retardant, size can matter in a much different way. Dilley says that, while all of the airplanes can get into most locations, the smaller Air Tractor can get out of tighter spots.