A BAe 146 regional jet, modified for aerial firefighting, was dispatched to a wild land fire in the Eastern half of the US for the first time.
Operating under an exclusive use, US Forest Service (USFS) contract, the modern tanker—one of five BAe 146s operated and converted to air tankers by Neptune Aviation Services—was deployed to assist firefighters battling a blaze that scorched over 1,300 acres in southeastern Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest. According to Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer of the Missoula, Montana-based company, the BAe 146 had been used only on fires in the western third of the country.
As Snyder reported, the tanker was dispatched to Chattanooga (Tennessee) Metropolitan Airport on May 6, from which it flew three fire retardant-dropping missions over a two-day (May 6-7) period. Located 350 miles from the fire, Chattanooga was the closest USFS air tanker base, Snyder explained. For each mission, the aircraft carried a capacity load of 3,000 gallons of retardant.
“The Forest Service asked us to activate the tanker on May 5, which was five days earlier than originally planned,” Snyder noted. “This was the farthest east our BAe 146s have operated, and this mission really showed the capabilities of this aircraft. We had 100 percent dispatch reliability, and covered longer distances in shorter periods of time.”
Snyder also pointed out that the BAe 146 “fits very well” into the existing infrastructure of the USFS tanker support program. “We can go quickly to wherever the USFS asks us to go, and with no additional considerations for–or costs to–the Forest Service.”
On May 8, the BAe 146 was transferred from Chattanooga to Ely, Minnesota, where it is on call for duty in the upper Midwest, another area of high fire danger. “There appears to be a more aggressive fire season so far this year for the Midwest and East, than has been the case in recent years,” Snyder reported.
Neptune Aviation Services is a member of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), the Washington-based trade association which represents the industry before Congress, the US Forest Service, and other government agencies responsible for national wild land protection.