It seems that the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 is following the path set by the Douglas DC-9. That is to say, it is an airplane that keeps on going. The latest version of this airplane is finding a new life as a water bomber. The process started earlier this year.
Wild fires are extremely dangerous and cause tremendous damage. USAToday reported last year that 2012 was looking like the worst year on record – in August 7 million acres had been burned. By year’s end the total damaged was roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. July 2012’s Colorado fire created $450m in damages and total fire damage for the year was estimated at $1 billion. The damage on the surface is what one sees, but there is more one does not see. The Washington Post reported that “Water quality, for example, is being compromised up to 100 miles from burn sites.” Global re-insurer Aon Benfield estimated the 10-year annual average for fire damage at (2002-2011) $1.2 billion.
This makes fire fighting a big business. Which brings us to Erickson Aero Tanker. This firm was created out of Aero Air and Butler Aircraft (both Oregon based). The company has added some former SAS MD-87s and converted these to water bombers. The water tanker fleet in the US has been based on very old airframes so this is a significant upgrade. Aviation Week had this good summary of the “next generation” water bomber fleet.
Here is short video showing the MD-87 in its new role.