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Near Disaster For Firefighter Plane

The vintage Lockheed ran into one of the most common hazards, and it almost cost them dearly.

Lockheed Electra
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A Lockheed Electra firefighting plane operated by Air Spray Ltd, a Canadian outfit, suffered minor damage while fighting a fire in Central California a couple of weeks ago, and the investigators’ narrative paints a picture of an accident that could have disastrous.

The Lockheed Electra C188-C is a model you might not be familiar with, though if you are it’s probably because it was featured on a few episodes of Ice Pilots. This Electra is not Amelia’s Lockheed but a much larger model that came out in the late 1950s as a regional airliner. The four-engine turboprop model could carry as many as 98 passengers and cruise at 325 knots.

Lockheed built 170 of them in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and the Orion utility transport operated by the United States military is an offshoot of the Electra.

Today a number of them are operated as firefighters, modified to carry fire retardant.

That’s what the plane registered as C-GHZI was doing near Chino, California, when things went south in a hurry, and the flight came within feet of catastrophe.

The narrative, written by Transport Canada (Air Spray, the operator, being a Canadian firm) is a short but frightening read. The plane was on short final for a drop when it, “…inadvertently entered smoke in short final and dropped retardant load. Exiting the smoke, the flight crew observed trees tops near left wing level.”

Well, as it turned out, the crew might have heard the trees at wing level, because it hit some of them. After that first run, the Electra, TSB wrote, “performed a second bomb run without incident. Evidence of tree strikes was discovered during maintenance post-flight inspection. Aircraft was ferried back to company’s maintenance base for repair.”

Neither of the two flight crew members was injured. Thank goodness. And once again, the close call underscores the valiant work these crews are doing in the face of the worst wildfire season on record.

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