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Air Tankers in Florida

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I thought some of you may be interested in seeing this. Though summer wildfires are an annual ordeal

in the US, Florida doesn't get center stage too often. Mostly the fires are a major problem in the West.


This year is an exception and Florida is having the worst year since 1998. Our summer rains don't usually

begin until mid-June, so we have a month of the fire season remaining.


Ocala airport has been pressed into service as a temporary tanker base for some of the aircraft fighting

the wildfires rampant in Florida. There are something around 240 active fires. One particularly large

one is about 100 miles north, having begun in Georgia and spread south into FL. Authorities are trying

to keep it from crossing I-10, a major E-W freeway in the north part of the state. These tankers are

flying in support of that effort.


Ocala was chosen because it is relatively close, but mainly because it has a 5000+ foot runway, an ILS,

a VOR on the field and has relatively little traffic, and a large ramp area that's not used much (unless

Travolta's 707 is parked there).


The smoke from the fires can be severe. We had visibility less than a half mile for a few hours a

couple of days ago, and the nearest fires are over forty miles from us. Thus the ILS here was probably

an important factor in choosing KOCF.


The US Forest Service has set up a mobile facility for mixing and loading the retardant chemical.

These may be once in a lifetime photo op for me, as this hasn't been this severe here in nine years, and

it's just chance that my local airport was selected as a base.


So far the Lockheed K3's are the only type I've seen, but will keep my ear to the ground for others if

they appear.


These are all 640 X 480 shots, some at extreme zoom, and are short on artistic content or editing.


Downwind leg



Connecting a hose. I couldn't tell if this was from the retardant mixing station of from the fuel tanker.



Mixing tanks and portable pumps





Good size reference. These are big aircraft.





Mixing retardant



The pumpkin, a water holding tank.



Pre-staged skids of retardant







Gulag view



00 arriving



One loading, one arriving















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Very good shots, you certainly were 'lucky' to have that series of events unfold.

It must be quite an interesting and challenging job for the pilots of those aircraft

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An informative and very interesting post, really enjoyed that. Those are beautiful aircraft - if I could find a good model for FS I'd love to take it for a spin. Thanks for posting - really enjoyed that.


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Camera is a rather dated Sony Mavica, but is set to 640 X 480. It does have a 16X digital zoom, at the

expense of quality. This is the model that can use either a memory stick or a 1.4MB floppy (really!!).


It's old, but serviceable.


It is capable of about 1.3 MP, but since I knew I'd be posting, set it down to a lower resolution.



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Hi John,

Thanks for posting.

After we spoke the other day it was on our news about the fires in California and in Florida. They mentioned that it was the worse fires for quite a while and showed shots of the aircraft dumping the retardant. I'm not sure if it was the Florida aircraft they showed but they were certainly were the same aircraft.

You said in your mail the fires were about 40 miles away, these shots really bring it home. I hope they are getting no closer.

All the best

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A new player has appeared - a Lockheed P2 Neptune, with two big old radial engines and a pair of

turbojets - two turning and two burning, as they say. Took a couple of pics with the wife's cell phone

and they're lousy - too lousy to post. I should know better than to go by the airport without a camera.


Will try to make my way there again tomorrow with a real camera and get some shots.


The new arrival is in the same orange and white Aero Union livery as the Orions pictured in the original post.


Anyone up for an aviation trivia question? Name some aircraft that had both piston engines and jets

simultaneously. I found a reference today by accident. It's a surprisingly short list and we've seen one

here in this forum.



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Right on the nose, John - terrific photos and a very topical subject. I guess you must live in Florida - pretty disturbing to be so close to a major disaster actually taking place on your doorstep. Are the fires a regular occurence -or is it getting more of a problem with global warming?

Hey, take care, John and good luck. :yes:

Cheers - Dai.

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Yes, I'm a Floridian now, approaching four years here after a lifetime in frigid Michigan. Best thing I

ever did, except possibly convincing my wife that I was worth taking a chance on...


There are wildfires in Florida every spring, but this has been a bad year, the worse since 1998.


Scrub and low lying vegetation is the problem. The state has an ongoing program of controlled

burns to try to keep it down, but budget shortages, tree huggers and the NIMBY folks (Not In My

Back Yard) tend to limit it far below the level required. One in a hundred controlled burns

gets out of control and the anti-everything people use that as ammunition to argue

against doing it at all.


Florida has a very predictable annual dry season from about February through mid-June. Everything

looks green and lush, but the humidity is low, the ground is dry and fires (often from lightning)

propogate like....well, like wildfire.


The firefighters have done a great job, and though there have been evacuations, few if any

buildings have been lost. That's not always the case, particularly in the western US.


Soon this will pass and the hurricane season will be upon us, another opportunity for the media

to sensationalize nature. Unfortunately, that particular natural phenomenon doesn't

bring any local aviation activity.



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New shots of the latest arrival...a Lockheed Neptune. The Navy referred to them as P2. They were

replaced in the long-range ASW patrol role by the other AC type you see in the background, the P3 Orion,

which still serves with the USN and flies daily from Jacksonville FL, about 100 miles NE of here.

Not sure what made me think this was the same livery as the Orions. Obviously a different

company and different livery altogether.




This is the Montana state flag.



Jets plus radials…very unusual in the aviation world. Anyone give any thought to the trivia question above?



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Hi John,

Thanks for posting these wonderful shots and comments. That's quite an impressive line up of metal and ancillary vehicles and so much going on.

It makes a nice change from the run-of-the-mill airliners.

I think I know the aircraft you are referring to in your trivia as I have one (Now :yes: )

I hope those wild fires are retreating but with 88° and breezy I guess everyone is on high alert.


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You do indeed have a piston + jet bird.


I suspect they did it in the Neptune to try to make them carrier capable and probably also to get them

off conventional runways with as large a fuel load as possible. They routinely flew these on some

very long ASW patrol missions. At one time one flew from somewhere in Australia to the central US un-refueled,

obviously rigged with a lot of non-standard auxillary fuel tanks. It held the record for many years until

the Rutan Voyager trumped it.


I've seen a photo of a Neptune taking off from a carrier, but it was using RATO bottles and making its

own IFR conditions behind it.


There were two more piston + jet aircraft listed in the reference I found by accident. One came from

your part of the world.



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All the tankers and support equipment are gone now. The summer rain patterns have set in and though many fires are still burning, most if not all are contained and will eventually be put out by the near-daily rain.


I didn't generate much interest about piston + jet aircraft, but here's what I found in a reference - there were four types, all from about the same time period....


  • B-36 Peacemaker
  • C-123 Provider
  • P2 Neptune
  • Avro Shackleton


The latter was a ringer - only the later versions had the jets and they were fitted into the aft part of the inboard engine nacelles - thus were not very obvious.



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Hi John,

I'm really pleased to hear that the fires are abating although the rainy season is not so good news. Still, if you're in the hot tub or the pool it doesn't really matter! I really enjoy a good light show from the weather too :yikes:

This was one of those questions I forgot to go and research although I knew about the provider, sorry John.


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