Aerial Firefighters OK'd To Fly
With wildfire season upon us, the Forest Service has decided that its fleet of large firefighting aircraft is fit for service, despite a fatal accident during a training run in April. The Forest Service has contracted for nine P2V tankers and seven P-3 Orion turboprops, as well as a DC-7 that will be used to gather data on wildfires. The aging aircraft have come under scrutiny in recent years after several fatal crashes caused by structural failure. "Aerial firefighting is an inherently high-risk business," Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said last week in a news conference. "Our job is to minimize that risk." Rey said the aircraft would be periodically inspected for signs of fatigue. Firefighters will have the following aerial resources at their disposal this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center: at least six large helitankers and helicopters and more than 700 helicopters total; 28 single-engine airtankers as well as about 70 on standby; six CL215 and CL415 airtankers; eight military C130 aircraft outfitted with modular airborne firefighting systems; seven P3 airtankers; and up to nine P2V airtankers (once additional inspections are completed). In the next couple of years, Rey said, the government will be looking for a new generation of aircraft to fill these roles as many in the current fleet reach their life limit, which is set at 15,000 hours for the P2Vs and 19,000 hours for the P3s.