Four new air tankers allow faster CDF response |

Four new air tankers allow faster CDF response

California is getting a new fleet of wildfire-fighting air tankers that fly faster, climb better, and carry more fire retardant than the old fleet.

Four airplanes come online this season, and two will be stationed at the Nevada County Airpark by July 1.

“We are jazzed. We feel pretty lucky,” said Kate Dargan, air attack supervisor for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection out of Grass Valley.

The first shipment of planes will go to air attack bases in Grass Valley and Sonora because they have “the shortest runways and the highest surrounding terrain,” explained Marshall Graves, chief of CDF aviation.

“They have the most critical needs,” Graves added.

The new air tankers are Grumman S-2 craft from the 1970s. They’re surplus Navy planes the state got for free.

The state paid $22 million to have an Arizona aviation firm overhaul eight planes, which included installing new turboprops, a quasi-jet engine.

The new planes cruise at 300 mph, compared to 200 mph for the old planes, which have been used since the ’70s.

“The significance of an upgrade from an operational standpoint is we’ll be able to arrive sooner, they carry a larger pay load, and their turn-around time is quicker,” said Bryce Keller, CDF battalion chief.

“This is just one component to our firefighting arsenal available to the town of Truckee and the greater Truckee area. Additionally, they are a safer aircraft.”

“They’re going to be able to serve the east side of the county much faster,” Dargan predicted, since they can climb more than three times faster.

The new planes also will carry 1,200 gallons of fire retardant, compared to 800 gallons.

“Now you get three air tankers in lieu of two,” said Keller.

The new turboprop-driven planes should require less maintenance and will be operational seven days a week, compared to the current six, Dargan said.

The only drawback, she said, is that the new turboprop planes will make a quieter, higher-pitch noise, instead of the reassuring drone of the old tankers.

“In the skies of Nevada County, we’ll miss the sound of the old tankers. People love that sound,” Dargan said.

The state eventually hopes to acquire 23 new planes and phase out its old fleet by 2004.

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