Neptune Aviation has had to retire one of its older planes, but won permission to put its newest firefighting jet into service this season.
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jennifer Jones said Neptune’s BAe-146 jet tanker received a contract to fly starting Saturday through Oct. 5. Neptune has spent several years preparing the jet as its next-generation aircraft for dropping retardant on forest fires. The BAe Tanker 40 received an interim contract for active duty last fall.
“This will be our ninth aircraft on contract,” Neptune president Dan Snyder said on Friday. “And we expect to have several more BAes flying this year.”
The Forest Service is expected to announce awards for new firefighting aircraft in the next few as part of a campaign to replace an aging fleet of Orion P2V bombers dating back to the Korean War. Neptune had nine of those P2Vs — the largest single fleet of private large air tankers in the nation.
But one of them, Tanker 10, was pulled from service in February after a routine inspection revealed a crack in part of a wing support. Snyder said the company decided to retire the plane rather than try to repair it.
At least one other aerial firefighting company, Minden Air of Nevada, has also been developing a BAe tanker for the new contract competition. Jones said in a previous interview that several other companies had submitted aircraft to the Forest Service’s testing program in hopes of landing firefighting work.
Neptune spent the past two years concentrating on its BAe retardant tank design, trying to ensure it dropped slurry in the proper patterns and volumes needed to suppress fires. The airplane itself had already passed the stress and performance tests necessary to serve on a forest fire, Snyder said.
“We’re hoping for more contracts based on what we find out about this aircraft’s performance this year,” he said.
While the company has options to lease more BAes, Snyder said he didn’t know how many the Forest Service might ask for until the contracts are released.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.