Lynden Air Cargo has finished the installation of another Retardant Aerial Delivery System (RADS) in its aircraft N402LC (T133). Flight testing and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) inspections are complete and T133 is ready to join sister ship, N405LC (T132), for a second season of fighting fires on behalf of the Coulson group of companies for the USFS. As a sub-contractor, Lynden provides a crew and aircraft to dispense fire retardant until the season ends, typically in the fall.
"It's been a very wet winter and spring, which typically produces a lot of vegetation, or fuel, for fires in the southwest states," explains James Schneider, Lynden Air Cargo Director of Maintenance. "It will be just a matter of time before California, Nevada and Arizona start drying out and desert grasses and underbrush become fire hazards."
Each aircraft Lynden leases to Coulson in support of the USFS mission is staffed with a team of five Lynden employees: the captain and flight engineer for flight operations, and three maintenance crew members, consisting of a lead mechanic, senior mechanic, and driver; the mechanics are responsible for all maintenance activities while the driver is tasked with positioning the support rig (truck and 40-foot trailer) to and from any of the 100 some USFS Airtanker Bases scattered throughout the Southwest. Lynden's crew spent considerable time at the San Bernardino, Santa Maria and Porterville Airtanker Bases last year as they fought the San Gabriel and Reservoir wildfires in California. "Now that we have converted two aircraft to dual role mission capable, firefighter or all-cargo, we are providing twice the crew as the previous season to operate, maintain and chase the aircraft," James says. "Our mechanics are dedicated to keeping the planes in top condition and ready to go at a moment's notice. We put over 20,000 miles on our support rig in ten weeks last year moving from base to base fighting fires."
The firefighting effort is a huge investment of people and equipment for Lynden Air Cargo. According to James, few truly understand the effort required to maintain the planes during a frenzied fire season. "It is a high pressure situation with a sophisticated tank system to maintain on each aircraft, in addition to normal aircraft maintenance tasks. It's a tough schedule for the employees who are away from home, too. We're very proud of their hard work and dedication to the USFS mission to respond as needed when and where needed."
Last year, Lynden's T132 transitioned to Australia to fight fires there after the U.S. fire season was finished. The second Lynden aircraft, T133, will likely do the same this fire season down-under in the New South Wales and Victoria States.