According to Jim Maloney, Libby Air Tanker Base manager at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the two former Navy P-3 Orion aircraft are based in Prescott and Winslow. The Prescott tanker is administered from the Prescott National Forest. The Winslow tanker is administered out of West Yellowstone, he said.
When the heavy air tankers were grounded in mid-May over to safety concerns, air fire suppression support was provided by single-engine tankers and helicopters, according to park fire suppression manager Jim Kitchen.
“Now we have two more air tankers available,” he said.
Also bolstering fire support is an air tanker base at Grand Canyon Airport. While the heavy tankers aren’t based there, the airport is equipped for them to land and refuel and refill fire retardant. When the Long Jim prescribed burn escaped control in early May, the heavy air tanker out of Prescott had to return to its own base for a second load of fire retardant – a trip of about 45 minutes one-way.
The two tankers in Arizona are among five that successfully passed inspection and were returned to service last week. Three more are undergoing inspection. The aircraft are owned by Aero Union Corporation in Chico, Calif.
In May, the Forest Service and Department of the Interior terminated contracts for 33 large air tankers, a decision based on safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board following its investigation into three fatal air tanker crashes related to in-flight structural failures.