The Alaska Division of Forestry typically has two Convair 580 turboprop air tankers from Conair Group on contract during the Alaska fire season, one of which is based at the Mat-Su Area forestry station at the Palmer Airport, and one which is based at the Fairbanks International Airport tanker base.
This year, Conair substituted one of the Convair 580 air tankers for a Q-400 twin turboprop at the same price. The company is planning to retire the Convair 580 fleet and is trying to get the Q-400 out in the market as soon as possible so potential clients can see how it works.
Equipped with two Pratt & Whitney PW 150A turboprop engines, the Q-400 is faster, more fuel efficient and has a bigger capacity than the old, trusty Convair 580s, which have served the State of Alaska well over the years. The Q-400 has a tank capacity of 2,600 gallons compared to 2,100 for the Convair 580, it has a fully-loaded cruising speed of 370 knots compared to 270 knots for the Convair 580 and it burns 25 per cent less fuel than the Convair 580.
An additional one-hour flight range
The Q-400 can operate with a full fuel and retardant load out of any of the state’s air tanker bases, giving it an additional one-hour flight range over the Convair 580.
“If I had to design a perfect airtanker for the State of Alaska, given our remote bases, infrastructure supply lines and distances, this would be the aircraft,” Division of Forestry Aviation Program Manager Steve Elwell said.
The Q-400, which will officially be called Tanker 540 (T-540), will be based at the tanker base at the Mat-Su Area Forestry station at the Palmer Airport. It came on contract on May 12 and has yet to be utilized on a fire, but we’re excited to see how it works and how it can improve Alaska’s aerial firefighting capabilities.