ALAMOGORDO – The Alamogordo-White Sands Regional Airport has been the fueling hub to Neptune Aviation Services for the past few days, helping to refuel and carry fire retardent to fight the Dog Head fire near Albuquerque.
fire retardant or slurry is a crimson mixture of phosphates and water.
Neptune Aviation Services is an aerial firefighting company that works with the U.S Forest to fight forest and wildfires.
“The plan is to try to stop it and help the guys on the ground,” Capt. Pete Nadaon said, who is one of the many pilots providing air support on the fire. “That’s pretty much what we do just support the guys on the ground.”
Neptune Aviation is headquartered in Missoula, Montana, according to their website. They have been the primary provider of large air tanker services to the U.S. Forest Service for more than 23 years.
The airport recently extended their runway so heavily loaded aircraft's have the ability to continue take-offs or stops if need be. It provides safe operations for jet planes, and the added runway length allows slurry bombers to take off in all-weather conditions.
The airport is one of three heavy air tanker bases in the country.
Nadaon said the fire is “High Potential” because of the dry area.
“The fire conditions are what they call a 6 on the Haines index and that’s a kind of measure of what they use to predict fire behavior,” he said. “Extreme fire behavior that’s burning in pretty heavy timber, they’ve got a lot of aircraft's on, there’s at least four heavies one VLAT (Very Large Air Tanker) and a there’s a lot of airplanes on this right now.”
Nadaon is piloting the Bae 146 along with his co-pilot. They made several trips June 14 from Albuquerque to the airport, and will make several more the next day until the fire is contained. The two pilots were just coming back from their second trip before they had to jet off for another drop.
The Slurry bombers, as they are called, can carry up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. The aircraft's are hollow with nothing in them but a big tank for fuel and slurry. When the Neptune aircraft's are light they can weigh 40,000 pounds, Talbert said.
Slurry is the heaviest item the aircraft's carry.
“Slurry is 10 pounds a gallon, gas is six pounds a gallon, it burns 4,000 pounds an hour of gas and it carries 3,500 gallons of slurry full,” Talbert said. “So times ten that’s pretty heavy. That’s why they need so much runway.”
Once the aircraft's return, they have one of three loading stations to choose from for loading gas and slurry. It takes about ten to 15 minutes to fill up one of the aircraft's, according got assistant manager Tiffany Fralie.
“We got three loading stations and because of the weight of the airplane we put big medal plates out so it won’t sink in the asphalt,” Talbert said.
The aircraft's can fly 15 minutes past sundown before they have to land, according to Nadaon. Along with the VLAT, Neptune Aviation Services will continue to battle the fire until it is contained.
Original article can be found here: http://www.alamogordonews.com