The DC-10 is one of the air resources used to drop retardant in the path of the Gorgonio Fire last week. Photo by Jenny Kirchner

The U.S. Forest Service recently issued a contract for new next-generation air tankers, which will begin the effort to rebuild its air tanker fleet. The agency is working to bring all seven next-generation air tankers into service over the next year.

Nearly a year ago, Forest Service Director Tom Tidwell told Congress that the current fleet was aging and the agency needed to begin acquiring new air resources.

Existing aircraft have been used as part of the Forest Service aviation program for years, and in some cases, decades. All of the next-generation air tankers are turbine-powered, can carry a minimum of 3,000 gallons of retardant and have a cruise speed of at least 300 knots when fully loaded.

“We are moving ahead to modernize our fleet as part of our overall strategy to secure the best, safest air tankers available for fighting wildfires across the country in the years to come,” Tidwell said. “It is critical that we complete the next-generation air tanker contracting effort as quickly as possible as we face the prospect of another challenging wildfire season with a dwindling legacy air tanker fleet.”

Five companies will receive contracts to prepare seven next-generation air tankers for wildfire suppression. Their proposals offered the best value to the government based on a technical evaluation of their air tanker concepts, organizational experience and past performance, combined with pricing, according to the Forest Service’s press release. The contracts are for a base period of five years with five one-year options (a total of 10 years if all contract options are exercised).

The companies and aircraft involved are: Minden Air Corporation, Minden, Nev., for one BAe-146; Aero Air, LLC, Hillsboro, Ore., for two MD87s; Aero Flite, Inc., Kingman, Ariz., for two Avro RJ85s; Coulson Aircrane (USA), Inc., Portland, Ore., for one C130Q 10; and Tanker Air Carrier, LLC, Adelanto, Calif., for one DC-10.