Thursday, November 29, 2012

SBD Tanker Base in Action

I was supposed to be getting ready for the Darwin trip. Maintenance on the Jeep, equipment checks and pre-loading stuff for the journey. That kind of stuff. I happened to be walking by the TV and heard the "BREAKING NEWS" jingle. I looked up and saw a BA-146 air tanker dropping retardant on a fire in the Cajon Pass.

I was interested, as I have never seen a BA-146 tanker before, in fact I hadn't seen a BA-146 anything for many, many years. Not since the Mid '80s when Air-Cal flew them around here in the Golden State.

I knew that several aerial firefighting contractors were working on BA-146 platforms, but I also knew that contract issues, complaints from othe contractors and the usual politico-bureaucratic morass had led to many delays in getting the BA-146 installed as the "next generation" air tanker. The drop I saw on TV was the first on that I had seen.

From the shot on the TV, it appeared to be burning pretty good. The talking head on the TV was saying that it was reported to be 200 acres or so, from what I could tell it looked bigger than that. I looked out my window and could see drift smoke from the fire as it worked it's way to the southwest. It was going to be burning for a while.

I really didn't feel like driving around the Cajon Pass to try and find a spot to shoot from, I-15 was closed as a result of the fire - the traffic mess would be humongous. I had a lot of stuff to do and a tight schedule. I decided to drive over to San Bernardino Intl. Airport and watch the air tankers load up at the U.S.F.S. Air Tanker base. They have an observation area, so I wouldn't waste a lot of time driving and scouting a vantage point. I could get a few practice shots (every shot is a practice shot for me) and be on my way. In the end, I'm kind of glad that I did.

When I first got there, some S-2Ts  were loading. We see them all of the time, they are based in Hemet which is not too far from where I worked.

 I have taken a few great shots of them in action and have actually been dropped on by them so it doesn't seem that unusual to see them around. These are owned and operated by the state (Cal-Fire) at various bases around the state. There were four of these assigned to this fire, two from Ramona ( in San Diego County) and two from Hemet - Ryan located about 50 miles from me in Riverside County.

The S-2Ts are kind of unique as they were built to hunt submarines during the cold war. They were originally equipped with radial piston engines, but were converted to turbo-prop power plants some time ago. They are pretty bad-ass and must be a hoot to fly. I think they look pretty snappy with the five bladed props too.

There were a couple of PV-2 Neptunes assigned to this fire as well. They are owned by contractors and are operated under contract to the Forest Service.

These aircraft were built about the same time I was and were operated as land-based maritime patrol aircraft and as anti-submarine aircraft. They were in service with our navy for many years and were also exported to other countries.Probably around a dozen or so remain serviceable as aerial firefighting tankers.

After a bit, the one I was waiting for showed up - the BA-146.

This one started life as an airliner in Hawaii back in 1989. It has spent time in Britain and France and is currently owned by Neptune Aviation.

These always intrigued me, I don't remember ever flying in one. There are several that have been converted into air tankers, it is hoped that they will become the mainstay of the fleet. The time, money, BS and red tape that is required to bring a new tanker on-line is immense. It is good to see these actually start to fly.

There was a Sikorsky Skycrane that flew in to refuel while I was there. These are Viet Nam war era heavy lift helicopters that have found a second career in the fire service.

I spent an hour or so at SBD and saw plenty to photograph. It was kind of a challenge however, as I was stuck on the wrong side of the fence. I need to work on that.

I will say that the Forest Service gets it, and provides a great viewing area for civilians to observe the loading operations. They provide bleachers and shade, both of which were welll used when I was there.

There were a few people there with small children. It brought back memories, both when I was a kid and when my kids were small. The practice of taking kids to watch airplanes is a dying activity, it's too bad about that.

There is also a monument in the viewing area, one memorializing aerial firefighters who have died in the line of duty. It is a poignant reminder how dangerous the job of aerial firefighting can be, one that is present while watching the operations.

I kept looking at my watch, knowing that I really had stuff to do. I took plenty of photos, a couple of which I actually liked. My favorite one was captured moments before I called it quits and headed back to my chores.

The second of two Ramona based S2Ts, this was caught with a long lens either over the top of the fence or through it. There is just enough blur of the pavement and grass to give the impression of motion yet the aircraft was still pretty sharp. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.


Sorry for the lack of posts this week, I have been fussing with Google/Picassa over posting photos on the blog. Apparently, I exceeded the amount of storage allowed on the free account yet and I couldn't access Picassa to delete some files. After som thought, I realized that deleting files from Picassa would delete them from the blog.

Google won, I now pay to have photos posted here. There is no free lunch I guess.

Thanks for reading,


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