Fighting the Fourmile fire near Boulder, CO


Wildfire in the mountains NW of Boulder CO. It’s up to 7100 acres (11 sq mi), 0% contained, with at least 92 structures lost. It’s a heavily populated area in the rugged foothills adjacent to Boulder. The city itself is not at risk, but my prayers go out to the people who have lost their homes and pets, or who wait for ANY news.
Local news story, Denver Post, and the CBS, ABC, and NBC TV affiliates.

For much of today, 7 heavy air tankers were in use, apparently these:
00, 21, 25, all P-3s;
07, 10, 45, 48, all P-2s.

The air is bad, but the sounds have been sweet. These pilots are my heros, ever since about 10 years ago when I first noticed what they do.

They don’t fly at night, and often can’t fly in thick smoke. I began to wonder whether modern avionics (including synthetic vision) could break those barriers and keep them flying, or whether targeting accuracy and safety would never be adequate. They aim to hit the marks within 10 ft, at 100 knots from 100 ft altitude.

Very helpful website. I learned that these air tankers, coming from various operators, use abbreviated (2-3 digit) tail numbers several ft tall, for easy ID from the ground. There are few enough air tankers that 2 digits is almost enough. Of course they also have regular N-numbers in smaller lettering.


That is one tough job, I agree with you and hats off to all of them.
Not from firsthand experience but flying at low level right in the smoke column I would imagine would be similar to flying through a thunderstorm. In other words even with all the new fangled equipment in the world I wouldn’t want to be there. Severe turbulence, massive updrafts and if you get low enough not enough oxygen to feed the engine.
I remember one tragic accident not far from where I live, must be 30 years ago, there was some sort of Scout tour of the local fire base when a call came in regarding a small brush fire in a fairly flat area. So the Cessna Skymaster loaded up a couple of Scouts and went out to recon the fire, sure enough it was already up to a couple of acres so he called in a tanker. In between tanker runs the pilot dropped down to take a close look and sure enough crashed. Ground crews said he was level at about 100 feet when both engines quit right over the fire. The reports blamed oxygen starvation and not enough altitude to restart either one.


I just found an article saying the heavy air tankers are getting phased out in 2012 - age and operating costs. Leasing newer planes will not be affordable (?) so buying new planes is the only way, and the cost is $2.5 billion (with a B). If they can find congressional support.
In the meantime they’ll rely on heavy helicopters and modified crop dusters (AT-802F).

The AT-802 carries 800 gallons of slurry, while the P-2s and P-3s carry 2550 gallons. That suggests that to get the same amount of retardant per hour onto the lines you need 3 times as many planes. I’d bet that’s a little logistical problem.


At one point there was talk about taking retired A-10s and converting them for retardant drops. The aircraft has many qualities that make it well-suited for that role, but I guess the USAF and ANG want to hang onto their inventory of planes for as long as they can.


I love the A-10 - ugly but very very effective, and designed for low altitude maneuvering. Evidently it can carry 22000 lb payload, which I think is comparable to a 2500-gal tank full of fire retardant. Much more than I expected. Looks like it might be crowded between the mains if you attach a tank to the belly.

Cascade has also developed a Dash-8 Q400-MR modified to serve as a heavy air tanker (2600 gallons) or freighter or passenger transport. That sounds like a good match to the P-3s, and since the basic aircraft new is apparently $32M, it seems unlikely the MR conversion is up over $75M (the quote given to the Forest Service).


Other advantages of the A-10 are fairly modern avionics with FLIR, a great power-to-weight ratio, the ability to deploy quickly across regional areas of responsibility, and the ability to operate from relatively short and improvised runways.

The payload would be even higher than 22,000lbs when the Avenger is removed, but obviously that would upset the CG. I’m thinking you’d get the most useable capacity from putting the drop system forward and maybe feed it from tanks attached to hardpoints.


The A-10 is planned to continue in service until at least 2028.

Its predecessor, the Douglas A-1 Skyraider, has also been supposedly considered as a replacement for the present fleet of aged fire fighting aircraft.

Allegedly there’s a bunch of them in storage and still in serviceable condition.


They had a lot of aircraft in the air yesterday… This is one of the videos I took…


This shot is kinda cool too.


This shot is kinda cool too.


This shot is kinda cool too.

They took that water in fast![/quote]