Minden Air to try out new tanker | RecordCourier.com

Minden Air to try out new tanker

by Susie Vasquez

Minden Air Corp could purchase a new type of fire bomber. Built by British Aerospace, the BAe146-100 is expected to land at Minden-Tahoe Airport some time this weekend.

The plane will be tested and inspected by Minden Air employees and United States Forest Service officials next week for certification. It should be on line for next year’s fire season, said Tim Christy, chief pilot for Minden Air.

“We’re in the phase of contracting where one of the things we have to do is kick the tires,” he said.

This is the first time these planes have been considered for use as fire bombers, but they meet the criteria, Christy said.

“When they were first built in the early 1980s, the designers didn’t realize they were building a perfectly good airplane for our mission,” he said. “This airplane is designed for short fields and slow flight.

“We should have had this plane for the Waterfall fire,” Christy said. “It’s twice as fast as any airplane we’re flying, yet capable of slowing down.”

The plane’s four turbine-driven (turbo-fan) engines need less maintenance and are more reliable than piston-driven planes and they’re about the same size as the P2V, so they’ll fit well into the current loading facilities, he said.

Minden Air currently flies the P2V, a plane that was designed and built in the 1960s.

“We’d like to keep our current aircraft operating, but parts are getting harder to come by,” Christy said.

Each new plane will cost about $2 million.

Minden Air officials have been looking at the planes for four years and are considering the plane in part, because the Forest Service will be requiring an all-turbine force by 2008. At that time, Minden Air’s PV2 will be obsolete, Christy said.

Because this will be the first of its kind to work as an air tanker, the Forest Service will probably approve just one plane to see how it performs.

Each new plane will be contracted individually and if successful, more contracts for this type of plane could be approved, Christy said.

— Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 213.