We're Fighting Fires With Antique Planes
US Forest Service also uses parts pulled from museums
By Ruth Brown, Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2013 5:37 PM CDT
A Colorado Reserve C-130 drops water on a target during a certification flight at the Tucson International Airport in Tucson, Ariz.   (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

(Newser) – When the US Forest Service battled wildfires near Yosemite National Park in August, it did so with a fleet of restored tankers first built in the 1950s. The planes help firefighters on the ground by dropping thousands of gallons of retardant ahead of blazes, but critics say the tankers are too old and are increasingly dangerous: 22 people have died in tanker crashes since 2001, including six last year, reports the LA Times. Eleven studies since 1995 have called for the service to replace its tankers. "It's pathetic," says a former Forest Service chief of aviation. "We have brave aviators using ancient technologies and as a result they're losing their lives. It's a horrifying fact that won't change unless government action is taken."

The planes aren't just difficult to fly—they're hard to fix. Engine parts are scarce; they sometimes have to be taken from museums, and failing that, new ones have to be built based on 50-year-old blueprints. Most of the fleet is operated and maintained by contractors. One, in Montana, has eight Lockheed P-2Vs, which were first built in 1946 to hunt Soviet submarines. The service did recently contract seven new companies to fly "next-generation" planes, but the wording is questionable: one will be flying a plane that has been on display in an aviation museum for the past decade.

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Showing 3 of 30 comments
Sep 30, 2013 2:01 PM CDT
Just thank your TP, government stranglers for this f-up. It doesn't matter what has got us to the point where we are having the larger fires, they're here and since folks are insisting they live amongst the kindling nowadays more, firefighters are expected to fight these fires to protect these yuppies and 'up yours' types' homes but no one wants to pay for adequate firefighting planes. This isn't anything new, this has been an issue for DECADES. No one is willing to pay for the fuel removal either for just as long. It's one thing for the firebomber pilots to risk their lives in normal operating conditions, but they SHOULD refuse to fly unless and until they have equipment less than 20 years old, AT LEAST. They aren't allowed to fly planes THAT new, due to no tax ninnies preventing new equipment purchases.
Sep 30, 2013 1:32 PM CDT
Use what you can, just like the rest of us.
Sep 30, 2013 11:00 AM CDT
Technology doesn't age the way organisms age. If maintained, it works out fairly well. The fact is, water drops are fairly dramatic maneuvers, requiring training that no other pilots get. And if they're going to museums to find parts, the question is, why aren't they just using antiques that the armed forces still use? There are sure to be parts for those.