Electra - P-3 News
Central California Report - December 21, 2023 - Updated February 22, 2024
"Castle Airport in Atlwater...I couldn't see either the DC-4 sprayer N460WA or the DHC-4 belonging to Florida Air Transport/Carlos Gomez. Perhaps they were inside a hangar. TBM ramp...less of their own C-130's there (they also used to be parked in Fresno) but two Mexican Air Force examples, one unmarked outside the hangar...and FAM 3616...which was inside. Both in for maintenance I presume, 3616 upgrades from Royal Air Force in 2015 was done at Cascade in Abbotsford. Are there no facilities in Mexico to maintain C130's???" Many thanks to Sean for his report.
Sean Keating recently visited McClellan and Castle Airports in central California and provided the following report. "I saw five C-130's painted at McClellan but was not in a position to get a photo...tail numbers 116, 117, 118, 120, 121. It would have been a nice group shot but for fences, buildings, etc. You know...modern day security overloaded airports!!! Here's a link to a December 16, 2023 article...Cal Fire Will Finally Get Its C-130s - Fire Aviation Also, outside at the other end of the field there were two former Aero Union P3's...tail numbers 21 and 23. The only photo I took was of an ATI 757...why a jet plane? Well, I've never seen a 757 Combi and I suppose this is what replaced the DC-8 Combi on the Pacific islands run." UPDATE: Sean Keating photographed N921AU and N923AU at McClellan Airport on February 16, 2024. Does anyone know the results of the December auction?
P-3A Firebombers Offered For Sale at Court Ordered Auction - December 4, 2023 - Updated December 12, 2023
Airstrike Firefighters P-3A's N917AU/T17, N921AU/T21, N923AU/T23 along with spare parts and miscellaneous machinery/equipment will be offered for sale at a court ordered auction on December 20, 2023 at Sacramento McClellan Airport. The company acquired six former Aero Union P-3A's in 2017 with the intent of completing the federally mandated wing inspection program and getting them on a USFS firefighting contract. N923AU and Buffalo Airways N922AU/T22 completed the inspection with Airstrike leasing N922AU from Buffalo in 2020. Both saw firefighting action during the summer of 2020 on contracts with the states of California and Colorado. N917AU/T17 was undergoing the rigorous wing inspection during 2020 but I'm not sure if it was completed. The offering describes N917AU as "non-operable"; N921AU as "parts only"; and N923AU as a complete aircraft. Sadly, the auction represents the liquidation of Airstrike's assets at McClellan.
While Airstrike reportedly satisfied all federally mandated wing inspection/repair requirements, the federal firefighting contracts never materialized. My sources say that the feds were never going to put the P-3A's on contract and kept raising the bar resulting in Airstrike eventually "bleeding out" and ceasing operations. N900AU, N925AU and N927AU were stored by Airstrike at Chico, California and they are not part of the auction. For more information about the auction, check out the aircraftforsale.com website. In a related matter, Buffalo Airways filed a civil lawsuit against Airstrike Firefighters/William Douglass/Scott Schorsman in US District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento on September 28, 2023. No doubt this has something to do with the Airstrike's 2020 lease of N922AU. The wheels of justice work very slow so I'm pretty sure the liquidation auction is not a result of this lawsuit.
UPDATE: Sean Keating visited Chico, California on December 11, 2023 and photographed P-3A's N900AU, N925AU and N927AU. All appeared intact with the exception of N900AU, which was missing its props. At this time, I have no information on the plans for these aircraft but it's safe to assume that they won't be used for firefighting anytime in the near future.
For more information about Airstrike's P-3A program, check out the February 10, 2019 to July 24, 2020 reports on this website. I'd like to thank Sean Keating for giving me a heads-up on the auction and providing the December 11, 2023 photos at Chico.
Electra Ready for Ferry Flight - June 28, 2023 - Updated June 29, 2023
June 7th and June 26th, Buffalo has acquired former Conair Electra Firebomber C-FYYJ/T460 and was preparing it for a ferry flight from Abbotsford, BC to Buffalo's maintenance base in Red Deer, AB. Bjarni Henrikson reports that the props have been received and installed in he believes that flight will happen today! Many thanks to Bjarni for the photo and report. UPDATE - Bjarni reports that the ferry flight to Red Deer was successfully completed on June 29th. Robert Shields' photo shows the aircraft at Red Deer after an uneventful 1 hour/16 minute flight from Abbotsford.
Buffalo Acquires an Electra - June 7, 2023 - Updated June 26, 2023
Ken Swartz reports that Buffalo Airways acquired former Conair Electra C-FYYJ/T460 on June 5, 2023. As previously reported on May 19, 2021, April 5, 2021 and March 1, 2021, Conair retired the Electra in 2020 and it has been parked engineless at Abbotsford since then. Hopefully it will enter service with Buffalo but a more likely outcome is it will become another parts airplane. Many thanks to Ken for the heads-up.
UPDATE - Bjarni Henrikson reports that C-FYYJ is waiting for props for the flight to Red Deer. The hold-up is the overhaul facility as L188 props are low on their priority list. Many thanks to Bjarni for the photo and report.
Electra Firebombers Come Out of Hibernation - April 24, 2023
Red Deer Municipal Airport is home to Buffalo Airways and Air Spray with both companies preparing their Electras for the 2023 fire season. Alex Praglowski visited the airport on March 29, 2023 and photographed Buffalo's C-FIJX and Air Spray's C-FVFH performing engine runs. "Preparations for fire season are underway at Red Deer Regional Airport! Air Spray Airtankers and Buffalo Airways both did some engine runs with their Lockheed L-188 Electras yesterday at YQF as they wake these classic birds up from their annual winter hibernation. They usually do some test flights before they head out on their contracts - really hoping to see one of these flying!"
Another P-3C Hulk for Sale - April 14, 2023
P-3C BuNo 160770 is being offered for sale by GSA in Kapolei, Hawaii. It's interesting to note that, while all major components have been removed, three of the aircraft's four T-56 engines are still installed. Usually, the engines are the first items to be removed but obviously not in this case. Bids have to be submitted by 10am April 14th. Here's the description included in the announcement. "Scrap, P-3 Orion Lockheed Martin Fixed Wing, SN: 160770 includes: T-56 Engine serial numbers: 0TH7302, 0TH8309, and 0TH8757. All major components have been removed and extensively cannibalized. Small amounts of residual fuel, oil or other fluids may remain in the aircraft. No data plate available and no record. SCRAP CONDITION. BEING SOLD AS SCRAP/SCRAP VALUE ONLY. Bill of Sale (AC Form : 8050-2) will NOT be issued. SOLD AS IS. All sales are final and no warranty is implied or applied."
P-3C BuNo 161008 Update - January 6, 2023 - Updated January 21, 2023
As reported on July 30, 2022, back in July 2022 GSA was in the process of selling P-3C BuNo 161008 at auction. Bruce Kawakami recently sent me an email reporting that it has apparently made it way to Sevier County, Tennessee. "I have long followed your Connie and Propliner sites often for the latest info on surviving prop planes. Last week a mystery P-3 Orion showed up in Sevier County, Tennessee about 55 miles away. It was found roadside in pieces by a friend. His photo showed no identifiable markings. Another friend made the trip a few days later and noticed the rest of the plane (wings and nose cone) had been delivered. I checked your site first and saw that a P-3 was sold at a GSA auction last summer and figured that was the plane in question. Further searches shows that the owner bought the plane with the intention of turning it into an Airbnb in Sevier County close/in the Smoky Mountains. There was a major problem in that they could not truck the plane to the site location due to narrow and winding roads. The plane has been dumped on the side of the road on a gravel lot while they find a suitable location."
"I went out there today to see for myself. My friends took only a few distant shots. I wanted to confirm its identity. Just like the photos on your site from the auction there are no obvious identifiable markings. However, some of the paint splotches match. The real clue that did it for me is that there is a very faint "02" on the nose gear door. That is the same number that appears on 161008 when it was with the Navy. I could not find any photos of the plane in NASA markings. I don't think they ever flew it. NASA had another P-3 (N426NA) without a tail boom that they flew."
Many thanks to Bruce for his report.
GSA Selling P-3C Hulk - July 30, 2022
The General Services Administration (GSA) recently advertised the hulk of former NASA P-3C N436NA for sale. The aircraft is located at Wallops Island, Virginia and was listed July 18, 2022 on the GSA Auctions website with a reserve of $25,000. Bids must be received by noon August 2, 2022 with no bids received as of July 30th.
The advertisement reads as follows. "Lockheed P-3C Aircraft, heavily cannibalized, demilitarized, and missing major components, including engines and avionics. SN: 161008, WRHS LOC: 41-taxiway, DATE MFG: 1979; SOLD FOR PARTS ONLY. Aircraft has limited or no records available. Buyer is responsible for completing the End Use Certificate. The removal time frame will be extended so that the "End Use Certificate" DLA form can be completed by the winning bidder and must be approved by the Department of Defense before the aircraft shall be released to the winning bidder. The "End Use Certificate" form is attached below. ****WARNING TO BIDDERS: The current DoD assessment timeframe is roughly 90-120 days, but could move in either direction. NOTE: PAYMENT CANNOT BE ACCEPTED NOR CAN THE AIRCRAFT BE REMOVED UNTIL THE EUC IS COMPLETELY APPROVED. A link to the "End Use Certificate" is included below. INSPECTION: Bidders have the opportunity to physically inspect the property prior to placing a bid and prior to the auction closing date and time or thereby waive the opportunity to conduct a physical inspection. In waiving their inspection rights, bidders bear the risk for any gross omissions regarding the functionality of items, failure to cite major missing parts, and/or restrictions with regards to usage that would have been revealed by physical inspection. No inspections will be permitted once the sale has closed."
Delivered to the U.S. Navy as P-3C BuNo 161008 (msn 285A-5691) and struck off charge May 1, 2007. To USDA as N102Z October 19, 2009. To NASA as N436NA April 2, 2012. Cancelled from register January 2014. NASA Wallops Island, VA as parts donor. Heavily cannibalized, demilitarized, and missing major components, including engines and avionics. Cannibalized airframe for sale by GSA November 27, 2019 but not sold. Source: Joe Baugher s website.
Air Spray Electra Report - July 12, 2022
Martin Cooper has been traveling British Columbia in July tracking down and photographing firebombers. On July 10th and 11th he photographed Air Spray L-188C Electras C-FLJO T482 and C-GHZI T484 at the Air Tanker Base in Prince George, British Columbia.
Martin Reports "During a visit to the Air Tanker Base, it was suggested there is current plan to replace the Electras so they are likely to be in service for a few more years. As of this morning, the fleet was located as follows."
-T482 Prince George
-T484 Prince George
-T485 Fort McMurray
-T487 Fort McMurray
-T489 Fort St John
-T490 or T492 High Level
-T492 or T490 Slave Lake
"I didn't note which tanker was at High Level and which one was at Slave Lake"
MHD-Rockland Services P-3 Update - March 22, 2022
MHD-Rockland Services acquired five former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3C aircraft in late 2018 and has based them at Keystone Airpark in Keystone Heights, Florida to provide flight training of foreign military pilots. As reported on December 25, 2020, ESG Aerosystems was awarded a $64.5 million U.S. Navy contract for the training of these pilots in December 2020,with MHD-Rockland Services subcontracted to provide aircraft and aircrew.
The folks at MHD-Rockland Services are very visitor friendly and I had the opportunity to visit the company's Keystone Airpark facility on March 17, 2022. I had last visited in October 2020 and a number of changes have occurred since then. The staff had grown to ten employees, including four full time pilots; a portable hangar extension had been installed allowing the P-3's to be fully sheltered during maintenance; two of the five aircraft had been painted in MHD-Rockland Services colors; and the flight training of German pilots had begun. A training flight had been scheduled for 10:00am and I arrived at 9:00am to make sure that I wouldn't miss the event. Mark Sulfridge, who is the P-3 Maintenance Manager, met me and escorted me around the ramp and hangar areas where I photographed the five aircraft. Shortly before 9:45am the P-3s engines were started and it departed 10:00am, as scheduled, for a five hour recurrent training mission.
Mark explained that MHD-Rockland Services is currently providing recurrent and upgrade training for German pilots. Recurrent training involves two five hour missions with two German pilots, each getting ten hours in the aircraft and five hours each at the controls. The training involves air work and landings/takeoffs at nearby airports. Upgrade training involves the training and certification of new pilots in the P-3 and usually involves about 100 hours of flight time. While not in place yet, a P-3 simulator is in the plans as is a new hangar facility that will be leased from the airport. At this time, only German pilots are being trained but Mark said that other countries have expressed an interest in the program.
Since my last visit, N662JD and N665BD have been painted in very attractive MHD-Rockland Services colors. N664SD was flying the day of my visit and, along with N661MK and N664SD will be used for pilot training. N665BD has an upgraded non-standard cockpit and will not be used for training, nor will N656T. Mark provided the current status of each aircraft.
N664SD - Painted in partial MHD-Rockland Services colors and currently used for the training flights. Will be the next aircraft going to Crider Aircraft Painting in Mena, Arkansas to be painted.
N661MK - Painted in basic RAAF colors. Major inspection almost complete and will be going to Crider for painting after N664SD is complete.
N662JD - Painted in full MHD-Rockland Services colors and in the hangar undergoing an annual inspection.
N665BD - Painted in full MHD-Rockland Services colors.
N656T - Painted in basic RAAF colors and missing at least two props and one engine. Mark said that props and engines are currently out for overhaul. This aircraft will be last to be repainted.
The weather was great for photography but Murphy reared his ugly head. My D300S camera with a telephoto lens went "tango-uniform" resulting in the takeoff photos being taken using a 17-35 lens on my D700 full-frame camera. Works great for ramp shots but not so great for the takeoff.
I'd like to thank Mark and everyone at MHD-Rockland Services for their hospitality and hopefully I can return soon with a new camera to capture that takeoff shot!
Buffalo Airways Red Deer Update - March 21, 2022
Mike Golberg visited Red Deer Regional Airport on March 19, 2022 and photographed a number of Buffalo Airways aircraft from the fence line. Since John Olafson s September 2, 2021 visit to the airport, former Conair CV580 s C-GKFO #53 and C-FKFM #54 have arrived joining C-GYXC #42 and C-FKFB #47. While Buffalo doesn t fly Convairs, valuable engines and other components have been harvested for the company s Electras and smart money have the Convairs eventually being scrapped. Like John, Mike was not able gain airside access and his photos are over and through the fence. The photos provide a sense of what s happening with Buffalo at the airport and are much appreciated. Many thanks to Mike for sharing his report and photos.
Electra's C-GLBA, C-FBAQ #417, C-GXFC
Electra C-FIJX #416
CV580 C-FKFM #54, Electra C-GLBA
Electra C-FIJX #416, CV580 C-FKFM #54
Electra C-FIJX #416, CV580 C-FKFM #54
CV580's C-FKFB #47, C-GKFO #53
DC-3's C-FDTD, CF-CUE
DC-3's C-FDTD, CF-CUE
CL-215 C-FTUV #290
CL-215 C-GNCS #291
CL-215's C-FTUV #290, C-GNCS #291, C-FTXA #284, C-FYWP #292
Keystone Airpark DC-4 & Electra Update - March 2, 2022
Ronny McBryan is back in Florida working on getting DC-4 N55CW ready for a flight presumably back to Canada. As of yesterday, it was reported that three of the four engines are running so the flight can t be too far off in the future. The aircraft was just about ready to depart for Canada back in February 2020 when Ronny had a medical emergency and had to return to Canada. The COVID pandemic descended on the world shortly thereafter resulting in the two year delay. Now that the US-Canada border is finally back open, Ronny was able to return to Florida to finish the job he started two years ago.
Not such good news regarding the four former Zantop Electras (N282F, N286F, N340HA and N346HA) that were flown to Keystone Airpark from Willow Run Airport by MHD-Rockland a few years ago with the plan to convert them to air tankers. The plan was abandoned and they have been stored at various locations around the field since then. They re parked in a field surrounded by trees and haven t been moved since my October 2020 visit. On a positive note, it appears that they ve been cleaned up with the black mold removed from the fuselages.
For additional information about these aircraft, check out the October 18, 2020 report on this website. Many thanks to Tony Dann for allowing the use of his recent photos.
Red Deer Regional Airport Update - September 2, 2021
John Olafson recently visited Red Deer Regional Airport in Alberta, Canada and forwarded a report and photos. On July 29th I reported that Air Spray was building a new RADS II tank system and the obvious question at the time was what Electra would be pulled out of the boneyard for restoration. John reports that former Honduran Air Force C-GNPB had been moved to the active ramp and perhaps this long-stored airframe might be Air Spray s next tanker conversion or perhaps not. Only time will tell.
Former Conair CV580 C-FKFB #47 is a recent arrival at Red Deer and joins CV580 C-GYXC #42, which arrived some time ago. Buffalo obviously acquired them for their Allison engines since it doesn t operate CV580 s. With that said, here s John s report.
I was at Red Deer on August 25th, and sadly, and unfortunately I could not access either Air Spray or Buffalo facilities. Air Spray s director of safety was unavailable and nobody was there who was authorized to let me in. Same at Buffalo, although a sympathetic chap let me inside the gate but no further. Very disappointing. Maybe this is yet another airport where access inside is going to be near impossible. I hope not.
It looks like many of Buffalo s stored aircraft have been moved away from the back field and are seen close to their hangars, behind locked gates and fences. Maybe that back storage area is earmarked for something else.
At any rate, I did get a few snaps, some through the blasted fence. Interesting thing is that Electra C-GNPB is on the Air Spray ramp and they are obviously doing something with it. Two engines are on it, and they are connected to the power cart. I wonder if this is the next one for the fleet. Maybe so. Sorry for the poor quality photo, it was the best I could do through the fence.
And I saw two of the former Conair CV580 s parked there, engineless. C-FKFB had just recently arrived and they still had not removed the engines. Buffalo's two airtanker Electras were back off contract up north, and it's likely they are finished for this year. I was also able to photograph Buffalo CL-215's C-FTUV #290 and C-GNCS #291. C-FTUV had just returned from contract and C-GNCS was a standby aircraft.
Many thanks to John for sharing his report and photos.
New Electra Tanker for Air Spray? - July 29, 2021
Air Spray Tankers posted two photos of a RADS II tank system on a July 6th post on their Facebook page with a teaser caption saying that is was being built in their shop for their "next" L188 Electra tanker. The prospect of a new Electra air tanker/firebomber is indeed very exciting and the question now is "what airframe will be converted?" Therre's lot to choose from in Air Spray's Red Deer boneyard.
Uncertain Future for Former Atlantic Airlines Electra - July 28, 2021
During his June 21, 2021 visit to Abbotsford Airport, Ken Swartz noted that Electra C-GYCG had been moved across the airport from the Conair ramp to Cascade Aerospace. The Electra was one of two acquired by Conair from Atlantic Airlines but never put into service. The other Electra was C-GIZU and both had been stored in Conair's storage yard at the airport since arriving from England. Buffalo Airways acquired both aircraft from Conair in the fall of 2016 with the intent of making them airworthy for ferry flights to Buffalo s maintenance base in Red Deer.
C-GIZU was made airworthy by Electra specialists Don Deyo and Tom Hastings and ferried to Red Deer shortly after the aircraft were acquired by Buffalo but, with winter quickly approaching, it was decided to wait until warmer weather to prepare C-GYCG for the ferry flight. Don and Tom returned in the spring of 2017 and were ready to hang engines and props when Transport Canada ruled that all outstanding Airworthiness Directives (AD) had to be complied with prior to the ferry flight. The "no open AD" requirement for a ferry flight is almost unheard of and one has to wonder if someone at Transport Canada still has an axe to grind with Joe McBryan.
It is obvious from Tobyn Burton's April 2021 photo that the condition of C-GYCG has gone downhill and it appears that the ferry flight to Red Deer is probably not going to happen. Mold on the aircraft is one thing but the open door is far more serious since it allows birds and the elements to enter the aircraft's interior. As for the Electra that "escaped" Abbotsford, C-GIZU was noted inside one of the Buffalo hangars in June 2019 but I don't believe that the aircraft has been put into service by Buffalo.
June 2021 Abbotsford Propliner Update - July 27, 2021
Ken Swartz visited Conair Aerial Firefighting at Abbotsford International Airport on June 21, 2021 and provided the following report and photos. "I walked the ramp at Conair at Abbotsford Airport today! The DC-6Bs are long gone but I did see the following air tankers - one L-188 Electra; three Convair 580s (two with tanks removed); one RJ85; one AT-802; one FireBoss; plus one former FlyBe Q400. I also noted former Atlantic Airliners Electra C-GYCG and S-2 FireCats C-GHDY T73 and C-FJOH T76 stored across the field at Cascade Aerospace for Buffalo Airways. In addition, Government of Saskatchewan S-2 Trackers C-GEQC T504 and C-GEQE T506 and one unmarked former Canadian Navy Tracker were stored at The University of The Fraser Valley s Aerospace Centre. The Navy Tracker has been there since 2006."
From Ken's report, it appears that Conair's once impressive boneyard has been cleared out with aircraft either being scrapped (most of the S-2 Firecats) or moved across the airport to the Cascade and university ramps. With three CV580s at Abbotsford and C-GYXC recently sold to Buffalo and stored engineless in Red Deer, it appears likely that the remainder of the fleet is on-station fighting wildfires. In the past, two CV580s were based at Palmer, Alaska but this year a single CV580 is sharing firefighting duties with one of Conair s new Q400 firebombers. 2021 could very well could be the last year a CV580 is assigned to Palmer.
For more information about Conair s operations, check out Ken s article in the current issue of Skies, Canada s national aviation magazine.
Conair Fleet Modernization Update - May 19, 2021
As reported on March 1st, Conair is replacing its vintage Electra and CV580 firebombers with Q400s. Ken Swartz recently provided some additional insight. "Conair retired L-188 C-FYYJ T60 last year and replaced it with a Q400AT for the 2021 season. The engines and propellers from the Electra will be used to support the eight aircraft CV580 fleet. Alaska s Department of Natural Resources is contracting one Q400AT and one Convair 580 this summer. Conair bought two Q400s from Angola in 2019 and 11 ex-FlyBe Q400s in January 2021. They have the capacity to convert three to four Q400s to air tankers a year since they also have to maintain more than 60 aircraft in their current fleet. Conair still has to deliver three Q400MR's to France under an existing contract. Since the Dash 8-400 production line is "pausing" this summer, they have bought two aircraft off the production line now ahead of the scheduled delivery date to France."
Conair Replacing Electra and CV580s with Q400s - March 1, 2021
Conair has retired Electra C-FYYJ Tanker #60 and it was recently noted parked engineless at Conair's Abbotsford, BC base. The Electra will be replaced, along with the CV580s over the next few years by eleven former Flybe Q400s. According to an article published on the Fire Aviation website, the first Q400 has arrived in Abbotsford after the long ferry flight from Europe. It s sad that the Electra and Convairs are being retired and hopefully some will finds homes with other operators. I've included a photo taken of the Electra in better times by John Olafson at Campbell River, BC on September 3, 2015.
P-3 Flight Training Contract Awarded - December 25, 2020
MHD-Rockland announced in a December 1, 2020 press release that ESG Aerosystems had been awarded a $64.5 million flight training contract by the U.S. Navy. MHD-Rocklnd will act as the sole-source aircraft subcontractor. The scope of the contract involves development of a training curriculum and flight training of air commanders, co-pilots, instructor pilots, flight engineers, instructor flight engineers. Training began in December at MHD-Rockland facilities at Keystone Airpark in Keystone Heights, Florida. The contract was funded by the Federal Republic of Germany under the Foreign Military Sales Program to secure the training of German aircrew. For more information, check out the press release along with October 20, 2020 and February 10, 2019 reports on this website.
MHD-Rockland P-3C Training Center Update - October 20, 2020
I originally reported on MHD-Rockland's planned P-3C flight training center in a February 10, 2019 post and recently made a return visit to the company's Keystone Airpark facility. With the U.S. Navy's retirement of the P-3C, VP-30 at NAS Jacksonville no longer provides P-3C aircrew training and MHD-Rockland has set up a facility to train military pilots from those countries still operating the P-3C. Much progress has been made during the past 18 months, with pilots from the German navy scheduled to arrive in early November to give their stamp of approval on the company s P-3C aircraft.
Three of the five former Australian navy P-3Cs have been painted in MHD-Rockland colors with N662JD N665BD and N664SD parked adjacent to the company's hangar. N662JD has been flown periodically since arriving from Australia while N664SD was recently flown and will likely be the first aircraft to go into service as a flight trainer. N665BD has undergone a major flight instrument upgrade with the installation of a state-of-the art glass cockpit and will most likely not be used for flight training due to its non-standard configuration. In addition, work stations have been removed from N665BD and antennas along the bottom fuselage have been removed from all three aircraft.
N656T and N661MK were parked a short distance from the hangar facility. The current plan is for these aircraft to be used for flight training but retain their antennas and equipment for the possibility of test and evaluation if the opportunity arises. For the time being they will not be painted in MHD colors and both appeared to be in good condition. As reported in February 2019, MHD still has plans to build a new hangar and install a flight simulator.
MHD-Rockland acquired the hulk of former NOAA P-3C N44RF in February 2017 when that agency retired the aircraft and stripped it of engines and many other components. The nose section and wings are currently stored in one of the company's storage yards at Keystone. The aircraft was former US Navy BuNo 161330 and was one of three P-3Cs operated by NOAA. N42RF and N43RF remain in service and are based at Lakeland Linder International Airport in central Florida. I'd like to thank Mark Sulfridge for taking the time to show me around the facility and answering my many questions.
End of the Line for Former NRL NP-3C - October 19, 2020
As reported on February 18, 2020 former Naval Research Lab NP-3C BuNo 153442 has been stored at Reynolds Airpark in Green Cove Springs, Florida for a number of years. The aircraft was originally slated to go to a now-defunct museum at Keystone Airpark and its landing gear assemblies were recently removed in preparation for scrapping.
Keystone Airpark Electras & DC-4 - October 18, 2020
I visited Keystone Airpark on October 16, 2020 and, in addition to visiting MHD-Rockland, I had the opportunity to photograph the four former Zantop Electras (N282F, N286F, N340HA and N346HA) and Buffalo Airways DC-4 N55CW that have been parked at the airport for a number of years. After Zantop ceased operations in 2001, the four Electras were stored in Ypsilanti, Michigan for quite a few years before being acquired by MHD-Rockland. One by one they were made airworthy and flown to Keystone Heights in late 2014/early 2015 using one set of engines provided by Buffalo Airways. MHD-Rockland teamed with Electra expert Don Deyo of Mercair and Buffalo Airways with the goal of restoring the aircraft as freighters and/or firebombers. For whatever reason, the venture never gelled and the Electras were parked at the southwest end of the airport near the approach end of runway 5. They have since been moved to a grassy area near t-hangars at the northeast corner of the airport. I witnessed the arrival of two of the Electras and it s sad to see how quickly they have deteriorated. All four aircraft are covered with dark mold and, as reported on September 1, 2020 unless a last minute buyer appears, the aircraft will most likely be scrapped.
DC-4 N55CW was parked at the approach end of runway 5 and, as reported on March 15, 2020, was being prepared for a ferry flight to Buffalo's maintenance base in Red Deer, Alberta by Ronny McBryan in February 2020 when he fell ill and had to return to Canada. The aircraft was just about ready to make the flight but then COVID-19 happened, the U.S.-Canadian border was closed and the airplane has remained parked at the airport ever since. Like the rest of the Buffalo DC-4 fleet, the aircraft is for sale and, with the demise of Alaska Air Fuel s DC-4 N96358 a few weeks ago, Joe McBryan may have a buyer for the aircraft. There are very few airworthy and near-airworthy DC-4s and N55CW would make an ideal fuel hauler since it was last used as an oil dispersant sprayer and it comes complete with tanks.
More Bad News re Keystone Electras - September 1, 2020
As reported on May 5, 2020, the four former Zantop Electras stored at Keystone Airpark are in very real danger of being scrapped. Connor Zantop relayed a disturbing message yesterday on the Zantop Facebook page that he received from Paul Linder. "OK folks, I just heard back from my contact. I fear our endeavor has run its course. He told me they are not interested in donating an airframe. They will not lower the price. They have a company that wants to buy structural components such as cargo doors, etc., and that a couple of them will be cut up for that customer. At this time, they will entertain written offers for them, but as I said, at least two are slated for the chop saw... sorry to be the bearer of bad news at 7am." Paul goes on to say that the owners want "half-a-million each, as-is, where-is, no props, no engines, otherwise complete, log books and records on-hand." It's a sad ending to what looked like a promising future for the four aircraft when they arrived at Keystone Heights in late 2014/early 2015.
Airstrike P-3A On Contract in California - July 24, 2020
Airstrike Firefighters announced on July 22nd that their second P-3A firebomber, N923AU/Tanker #23, was on contract in California. "It's official! Airstrike now has two shiny cool P-3 airtankers working wildfires. One is in Colorado and one is in California. We are vectoring to have a third online next year, then another, then another. Keep your eye to the sky as the mighty firefighting P-3 is on the prowl for pesky wildfires!" Redding Air Attack Base was a busy place on July 21st with a wide variety of aircraft fighting the Gold and Hog fires. Maureen Bonessa captured some nice photos of Tanker #23 in action that day.
Airstrike P-3A On Exclusive Use Contract in Colorado - July 8, 2020
As reported on September 18, 2019, Airstrike Firefighters has two P-3A's on a "Call When Needed" (CWN) contract with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC). DFPC recently activated N922AU Tanker 22 for 75 days and will have exclusive use of the aircraft to combat summer wildfires throughout Colorado. N922AU arrived in Colorado on June 27th and was seen two days later at Jeffco Airport working the Chatridge 2 fire. The two P-3A's meet all federal CWM requirements and Airstrike is working with the feds to get them approved for federal contracts. For the time being, Airstrike will continue to support firefighting efforts under their California, Oregon and Alaska CWN contracts.
Airstrike also owns former Aero Union P-3A's N900AU, N917AU, N921AU, N925AU and N927AU with plans on completing the mandated wing inspections and bringing one aircraft on line every year until all are operational. N917AU #17 is currently underdoing inspection and Airstrike plans to have it on line for the 2021 fire season. It s great to see these veteran aircraft back in action and hopefully the feds will eventually see their way clear to including them on federal firefighting contracts. Many thanks to Brad Fox and Paul Filmer for the photos.
Buffalo P-3A Aircrew Training at McClellan - May 12, 2020
As reported on April 30th Buffalo Airways has leased P-3A N922AU #22 to Airstrike Firefighters for use on their California aerial firefighting contract alongside N923AU #23. Sergio Maraschin photographed the aircraft on May 10, 2020 at Sacramento McClellan Airport undergoing aircrew training. After being grounded for many years, it's great to see these two aircraft flying again. Many thanks to Sergio for sharing his photos.
Keystone Electras in Danger of Being Scrapped - May 5, 2020
When Zantop International Airlines ceased operations in 2005, 13 Electras were left parked at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Some were purchased and some were scrapped with N290F, N343HA and N344HA going to Canadian operator Air Spray in 2011. Two of the three were restored and converted to firebombers with both currently airworthy and fighting fires in Canada. By 2014 there were four Electras remaining in Ypsilanti when MHD-Rockland, Mercair and Buffalo Airways formed a partnership to restore the aircraft and ferry them to Mercair headquarters at Keystone Airpark in northern Florida. With one set of engines, the aircraft were made airworthy and ferried to Keystone in September and November 2014 and January and April 2015. The plan was to convert them to firebombers and/or freighters but the partnership broke up and the aircraft have been parked at Keystone ever since.
Fast forward to 2020 and the four Electras are in real danger of being scrapped. MHD-Rockland is building a P-3 training base at the airport and the aircraft are taking up space needed for the new facility. Conner Zantop, Duane Zantop s grandson, is spearheading an effort to save one of the aircraft and return it to Ypsilanti. He recently posted the following message on the Zantop International Airlines Facebook Group page. "There are four former Zantop L-188 Electras owned by MHD Rockland at Keystone Airpark or also known as Keystone Heights Airport. MHD Rockland has put a price of $500,000 each and all four planes are missing their props and engines. The planes only have until September when they will be scrapped because of an airport expansion project. Right now I working with Paul Linder and Marilynn Lard to save at least one of these planes but I need more help. If you would like to help me please private message me in Facebook Messenger."
Paul Linder replied to Conner's post. "We have until late September-early November to put a deposit down. That would be 10% of the agreed price. I feel the price is set way too high, and will be working to possibly get it lowered. My contact stated that they are worth more as scrap and spare parts then whole airplanes. The airport will be starting an expansion project in Q1-21, and apparently the Electras are in the way. Big hurdles are Price; Props; Engines; Inspections; Ferry permit; Crew. I am told that other than the missing props and engines, they are complete. Not one single screw has been turned in the cockpit. It would really be a shame to let these girls go to scrap. I'd be happy to answer any questions anyone may have. Feel free to message me as well."
After all the expense and effort involved in moving these aircraft from Michigan to Florida, it would be a real shame if they were scrapped. While they appear to be in good condition, $500K per aircraft seems a little steep, especially when the price doesn t include props and engines. I wish Conner and Paul good luck and hopefully these aircraft can be saved!
Buffalo Airways Leases P-3A Firebomber to Airstrike - April 30, 2020
Buffalo Airways acquired former Aero Union P-3A N922AU #22 in 2014 and ferried it from McClellan Airport, California to Keystone Airpark, Florida for safe keeping. The goal was to recertify the aircraft as an airtanker and get it on a U.S. or Canadian firefighting contract. I photographed the aircraft at Keystone in April 2015 shortly after it arrived while it was still wearing full Aero Union colors and titles. By 2017 a Buffalo green accent stripe and titles had been added and, as reported on February 10, 2019, the aircraft departed Keystone Airpark in 2018 for McClellan, where Airstrike Firefighters would perform the federally mandated P-3A structural integrity inspection program.
The inspection was successfully completed and Mikey McBryan reported today on Facebook that N922AU was on lease to Airstrike and would be joining their P-3A N923AU #23 on a California state firefighting contract. "I m super excited to see our P-3 Tanker 22 freshly painted and ready to fight fire out of California this year! It has been leased to AirStrike and will be operated alongside her sister ship Tanker 23 (owned by AirStrike)." Kudos to Airstrike and Buffalo for resurrecting these great aircraft. The P-3A is a great firefighting aircraft and hopefully the feds will see the light and allow USFS contracts.
Former Varig Electra on Display at Brazilian Museum - April 11, 2020
Former Varig L188A Electra PP-VJM is on display at the Aerospace Museum of Brazilian Air Force (Museu Aeroespacial) at Campo dos Afonsos, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The museum has a collection of about 100 aircraft, with almost all having a historical connection to Brazilian military or civil aviation. Varig operated a total of 15 Electras from 1962 to 1992 most notably on the Ponte Aerea Air Bridge connecting Rio's Santos Dumont Airport with Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport. Prior to being sold to Varig in March 1962, PP-VJM was operated by American Airlines as Flagship Washington N6104A from 1959 to 1961. PP-VJM is the sole surviving Electra in Brazil with the others either being scrapped or sold abroad. As can be seen from the photos, the aircraft s exterior has been beautifully restored and work is currently underway restoring the interior.
Northern Florida Propliner Tour - February 18, 2020
I hooked up with Irish enthusiasts Michael Kelly and Paul Birney on Febrary 17, 2019 for a quickie northern Florida Propliner tour. I think they must have brought some of their Irish weather with them because it was cloudy and foggy during the better part of the day. The sun didn t come out until later that afternoon as I was driving home on I75 South.
Our first stop was Reynolds Airpark in Green Cove Springs, where a former U.S. Naval Research Lab NP-3C BuNo 153442 is stored less engines and other components. The aircraft was slated to go to a now-defunct museum at Keystone Airpark and has been stored at Reynolds for a number of years. Although we gave it a good try, we were not granted permission to get up close to the aircraft so we had to settle for some long lens photos. The airpark is a former U.S. Navy airfield and is adjacent to the St. Johns River near Jacksonville. The U.S. Navy built a large number of 1,500 foot piers into the river and tied up surplus ships there after WWII. A very large Space Shuttle fuel tank that was slated for the same museum was stored on its side in the waterfront area.
We had originally planned to visit MHD-Rockland at Keystone Airpark but they were closed because of the Presidents Day federal holiday. I knew that Ronny McBryan was working on getting DC-4 N55CW ready for a flight back to Red Deer, Alberta so we decided to press on figuring that Ronny wouldn t be taking the day off. Sometimes you get lucky and we spent about an hour talking to Ronny and photographing the DC-4 and five MHD-Rockland P-3Cs. These are former Australian aircraft that MHD acquired for the P-3 pilot training facility they are setting up at Keystone Airpark. For more information about this interesting project, check out my February 10, 2019 post on this website. Ronny said that he arrived on January 7, 2020 and, while there's still lots to complete, he hoped to have the aircraft ready for the flight in a week or two.
Camp Blanding was the third stop on our agenda. Michael and Paul had heard that there was a DC-3 and some other aircraft there and, since it was only a short distance away, we decided to give it a try. Turns out that Camp Blanding Joint Training Center is an active military training base but luckily the aircraft were part of a museum located just outside the security gate. The DC-3 was actually C-47A BuNo 12436 and was in need of some TLC. It was marked as 100597 with both main tires flat and in need of a paint job. In addition to the C-47A, A-6E BuNo 155661 and A-7E BuNo 157503 were on display with a few helicopters and quite a bit of ground equipment. Both the A-6E and A-7E were also in need of some TLC.
P-3A Firebomber Returns to Service After Eight Year Absence - September 18, 2019
The P-3A firebomber returned to service with gusto on September 7, 2019 when Airstrike's Tanker #23 N923AU made no less than ten sorties dropping retardant on the Swedes and Red Bank fires in northern California. These were the first drops made by a P-3 type aircraft on an actual fire since the Feds shut down Aero Union in June 2011. Airstrike currently has "Call When Needed" contracts with California, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon but none with the Federal Government. For more info, check out Bill Gabbert's article on the FireAviation website and a February 10, 2019 article on this website.
Air Tanker #23 Water Drop Video- July 14, 2019
Airstrike's P-3A N923AU/Tanker #23 was captured on video making a demonstration water drop at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland, Colorado. As reported on this website on February 10, 2019, Airstrike has a "Call when Needed" contract with the State of Colorado for fighting wildfires.
Former Atlantic Airlines Electra Receiving TLC in Buffalo's Red Deer Hangar - July 10, 2019
Michael Baldock visited Buffalo Airways at Red Deer Municipal Airport on June 2, 2019 and noted that former Atlantic Airlines Electra C-GIZU was inside one of the Buffalo hangars. The aircraft, along with C-GYCG, was acquired from Conair in the fall of 2016 and ferried to Red Deer shortly thereafter. It's been parked at the airport since arriving and hopefully its presence inside the hangar means that it will be entering service with Buffalo Airways. I had heard that import paperwork issues needed to be resolved and hopefully this has happened. In the meantime, Buffalo's other former Atlantic Airlines Electra C-GYCG remains in Abottsford almost three years after the sale. Transport Canada has decreed that all outstanding AD s must be resolved before it will allow the aircraft to undertake the short ferry flight to Red Deer. This is a very puzzling decision considering that ferry permits are routinely issued for the purpose of moving non-airworthy civil aircraft to other locations for a variety of reasons, including maintenance. One has to wonder if the Joe McBryan-Transport Canada feud continues.
Air Spray Electra Emergency Landing - July 8, 2019
Air Spray Tanker #490 C-GZCF made an emergency landing on June 22, 2019 at Red Deer Airport in Alberta, Canada after experiencing landing gear problems. None of the four crewmembers were injured and the 3,000 fire retardant tank and right side props/engines seemed to have taken the major brunt of the forced landing. From video of the landing and post-crash photos, it appears that the nose and right main gear failed to retract.
The incident appears very similar to the gear-up landing of Buffalo Electra C-FBAQ at Yellowknife on March 5, 2012. That aircraft was repaired and is currently active with Buffalo as firebomber #417. Hopefully #490 can be quickly repaired and put back into service.
Former Zantop Electras Linger on at Keystone Heights - June 5, 2019
Electra fans had cause for optimism five years ago when four former Zantop Electras that had been stored at Willow Run Airport in Michigan for many years were one by one made airworthy and flown to Keystone Airpark in Florida. A consortium, consisting of MHD-Rockland, Mercair and Buffalo Airways, planned on restoring the aircraft as either freighters or firebombers but unfortunately the partnership fell apart and the aircraft have been sitting idle since then. I visited Keystone Airpark on May 9, 2019 and, while there is talk of a possible deal to return the aircraft to service, it is safe to say they face an uncertain future. Things have turned out better for the three former Zantop aircraft that went to Air Spray in Canada, with two of aircraft currently active as firebombers.
Former Conair Electra Remains at Abbotsford - February 10, 2019
Buffalo Airways acquired two former Atlantic Airlines Electras from the Conair Group in the fall of 2016. C-GIZU and C-GYCG were never put into service by Conair and had been stored at the company s headquarters in Abbotsford, B.C. since arriving from England. C-GIZU was made airworthy and ferried to Red Deer shortly after the aircraft were acquired by Buffalo but, with winter quickly approaching, it was decided to wait until warmer weather to prepare C-GYCG for the ferry flight.
Electra specialists Don Deyo and Tom Hastings returned in the spring of 2017 and were ready to hang engines and props when Transport Canada ruled that all outstanding Airworthiness Directives (AD) had to be complied with prior to the ferry flight. The "no open AD" mandate for a ferry flight is almost unheard of and one has to wonder if someone at Transport Canada still has an axe to grind with Joe McBryan. This new requirement put an end to Don and Tom s efforts and the aircraft remains parked in Abbotsford. Meanwhile, C-GIZU has not been put into service by Buffalo and remains parked in Red Deer.
Airstrike Firefighters Signs Contract with Colorado - February 10, 2019
In August 2018 Airstrike Firefighters signed a five-year call when needed contract with the State of Colorado to fight forest fires in the state. Airstrike was incorporated in September 2016 with Aero Union veteran Bill Douglass serving as company president. The company acquired six former Aero Union P-3A aircraft and set about in 2017 to get the first one certified for firefighting.
A hangar was leased at Sacramento-McClellan Airport and N923AU was the first aircraft to undergo the rigorous federally mandated structural integrity inspection program. N900AU, N917AU, N923AU, N925AU and N927AU had been stored at McClellan and N921AU in Tucson after the demise of Aero Union. With N923AU in the hangar undergoing inspection, the remaining four McClellan aircraft were flown to Chico, California for storage and N921AU returned to McClellan. N923AU has completed the inspection program and is awaiting certification by the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). N917AU was returned to McClellan from Chico and is currently in the hangar undergoing inspection alongside Buffalo s N922AU. Airstrike hopes to have three operational P-3As by the spring of 2019.
Buffalo P-3A to McClellan for Inspection - February 10, 2019
Buffalo acquired P-3A N922AU #22 in March 2014 and until recently it had been parked at Keystone Heights Airport in Florida. It departed for Sacramento, California on February 6, 2018, where it is currently undergoing the federally mandated structural integrity inspection program for P-3A firebombers. The work is being performed by Airstrike Firefighters, who recently completed the same inspection on P-3A N923AU. Buffalo hopes to find firefighting work for the aircraft in the U.S. and ultimately in Canada, which currently prohibits the use of former military aircraft as firebombers. This is quite interesting since the P-3A is very similar to the Electra, which is the Canadian government s aircraft of choice for aerial firefighting. Go figure!
Former Australian AP-3C's Arrive in Florida - February 10, 2019
Exciting things are happening at a sleepy general aviation airport in Keystone Heights, Florida. MHD-Rockland is building a P-3C aircrew training center at Keystone Airpark and recently acquired five former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3Cs. The first was registered N656T (RAAF A9-656) on October 5, 2018 and departed Avalon Airport for the U.S. on October 23rd. The second was registered N664SD (RAAF A9-664) on November 14, 2018 and departed Avalon the next day. The remaining aircraft departed RAAF Base Edinburgh, with N665BD (RAAF A9-665) departing on December 12th and both N661MK (RAAF A9-661) and N662JD (RAAF A9-662) on the 14th. The three aircraft joined up at Pago Pago and made the flight to Keystone Airpark together with stops in Hawaii and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
With the U.S. Navy s retirement of the P-3C, VP-30 at NAS Jacksonville no longer provides P-3C aircrew training. A number of foreign countries continue to operate P-3 type aircraft and their aircrews in the past had trained with VP-30. This created a business opportunity for MHD-Rockland and they seized upon the opportunity. The company moved into hangar/office space at the airport and has a two year plan for building an additional large hangar, warehouse, classrooms and a P-3C flight simulator facility. With sensitive equipment having been removed before delivery to MHD-Rockland, the interior configuration of the aircraft will be maintained with none of the work stations removed or significantly modified. The aircraft will be painted in red/white with MHD-Rockland titles.
As you may recall, a few years ago MHD-Rockland was involved in a joint venture with Electra specialist Mercair and Buffalo Airways that restored and ferried four former Zantop Airlines Electras from Willow Run Airport to Keystone Heights Airport. The plan was to return them to service as firebombers or freighters but the aircraft remain parked at the airport.
----Created 10 February 2019------Updated 21 December 2023----