Federal firefighting agency leaders todaysaid they have a sufficient mix of aerial resources to meet this fire season.This announcement follows preliminary results of a study on P2V airtankers,which showed that they could be used in the upcoming fire season.
“While many wildland fires are effectively suppressed onthe ground without the need of air support, aerial resources remain one of themany tools that assist firefighters in stopping more than 99 percent of allfires before they ever become unmanageable,” said Mark Rey, USDA undersecretary for natural resources and environment. “In recent years, firemanagers have increased the use of smaller planes and helicopters infirefighting support because of their increased capacity and maneuverabilitycompared to the larger airtankers which offer the benefit of long-range deliveryof retardant rapidly in the initial attack of a wildfire.”
In May 2004, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management terminated thecontracts for 33 heavy airtankers due to the National Transportation SafetyBoard concerns about the airworthiness of the aircraft. In July 2004, theagencies determined the airworthiness of eight P3s and returned these planes toservice.
In February, the Forest Service initiated an engineering study to determine thelife limit of nine P2Vs. The operational service life is expressed in how manyhours an aircraft can be safely flown. It takes into account the stressesimposed on the airframe during different flight missions. Since the P2Vs were inservice before the U.S. Navy’s development of structural analysis and fatiguelife limit programs, the development of this information required additionalengineering work. In a typical fire season, a P2V aircraft flies approximately200-300 hours.
Preliminary results of the study found that some P2V aircraft may be safelyreturned to service. Once additional inspections are completed on the P2Vaircraft, two of the aircraft currently on limited service will be returned tofull service and seven additional aircraft may be awarded contracts for workbeginning in July. Minden Air ( Minden, Nev. ) owns two of the P2Vs and NeptuneAviation ( Missoula, Mont. ) owns the remaining seven.
“Airtankers are a critical component of the fire suppression program,”said
Firefighters will have the following aerial resources at their disposal thisseason:
At least six large helitankers and helicopters and more than 700 helicopterstotal; 28 single engine airtankers as well as about 70 on standby; Six CL215 and CL415 airtankers; Eight military C130 aircraft outfitted with modular airborne firefightingsystems; Seven P3 airtankers; and Up to nine P2V airtankers ( once additional inspections are completed ). The Forest Service and the Department of Interior, together with interagencypartners, continue to work on a long-term plan for aviation resources.
The P2V operated as a land-based patrol bomber in the 1950s and 1960s by theU.S. Navy and was the predecessor to the P3. The original manufacturer isLockheed Martin who produced the aircraft until 1963.
The preliminary outlook for the 2005 fire season shows normal fire potential inthe southern and eastern states. Significant fire activity in the southwest isexpected to occur mostly in the southern parts of Arizona and New Mexico atlower elevations. Recent rainfall in the west has delayed an early onset of thefire season in the northwest and northern rockies; activity in these areasshould begin in early July. Alaska is not expected to have another severe fireseason like that of last year. Currently, the main threat for high firepotential is in the western Kenai Peninsula due to large areas of bug-killedspruce.