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Entries in Neptune Aviation (10)


Neptune tanker grounded with engine problem 

Neptune P2V in action- Neptune Facebook page file photo(HELENA)- One of Neptune Aviation's venerable P2V tankers was forced to divert for a landing in Helena last night, after it developed an engine problem in flight. 

KTVH reports the prop-driven tanker was enroute to help the Forest Service with a new fire new Dillon when the problem cropped up with one engine. The plane landed safely and crews are replacing the engine before taking to the air Thursday.

Neptune's planes have been flying hundreds of sorties this summer, especially with very active fire season in Western Montana. The remaining P2Vs are set to be retired at a special ceremony in Missoula at the end of September. 


Neptune Aviation marketing expanded business charter service

Neptune Aviation photo(MISSOULA)- Missoula's Neptune Aviation is trying a different approach with a portion of its charter air service, deciding to market one of its planes to "memberships" for business class travelers. 

Neptune is primarily known for its firefighting business, with planes that provide a key tool to fighting wild land forest fires across the country. 

But Neptune has also operated a charter business for some time now, with two planes. One is a larger Falcon 50 jet, and the second a King Air B-100 turboprop. In the past, the company has chartered the planes with an "on demand" basis. But today they announced a new marketing effort, using "memberships" for the King Air.

"For example if you came up and want our King Air it would cost you about 4-thousand dollars to go from here to Billings and back," explained Neptune Aviation C.E.O. Ron Hooper. "So what we're doing is modifying that, in that we're looking at a program where in effect we sell memberships. And what that does, say for example you wanted to go to Billings once a month. You could actually buy a membership for $750 which gives you a round trip ticket to Billings for $750 a month." 

Hooper says the company will market the new offering for the next few months, with an eye toward beginning to service by August 1st. He says Neptune will look at demand for several regional destinations, such as Billings and Boise. 


Hundreds show up to celebrate Neptune Aviation birthday

Dennis Bragg photo(MISSOULA)- Hundreds of people turned out Saturday to help Missoula-based Neptune Aviation celebrate its 20th anniversary, getting a rare behind-the-scenes look at the aerial firefighting company. 

Neptune started in the early 1990s, when a local group of business owners purchased New Mexico-based Black Hills Aviation. That gave the company its first of the venerable P2V air tankers and other gear, which was then moved to Missoula, in addition to keeping the base in Alamogordo.  

It's a relationship that fills both an economic development and business role, but also a safety role, Just like this past summer, Neptune planes frequently coming to the rescue of their neighbors when wildfire hits here in Western Montana. 

"We have over 100 employees that live here in Missoula," notes Chief Operating Officer Dan Snyder. "And of course all their family associated with them. So if you were to put a number to it it's over 300-people that are tied into the Missoula community."

People attending this weekend's open house were treated to tours of the planes, including the company's "next gen" jet-powered airtankers, free food, live music and prizes. They even got to see a few demonstration runs as the planes made water drops over the Missoula runway. 


Tester says Forest Service tanker deal puts Montana "at risk"

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)- Senator Jon Tester is upset with the Forest Service's decision to award contracts for "next generation" air tankers to companies which still don't have their jets ready to fight fires. 

The criticism came at a hearing in Washington Wednesday, when Tester grilled Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell during a budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Earlier this month the Forest Service announced it was awarding a contract for 7-new tankers to several companies after starting over on the bidding process last year. That decision left Missoula's Neptune Aviation off the list, even though Neptune had initially won the first contract last year and is one of the few operators with jet tankers ready to go. 

Neptune is appealing that decision. 

Tester says the Forest Service left "better options on the table", and not having all the tankers ready this year puts Montana communities at risk this fire season. 

“I’ve seen what’s happened in Montana’s forests, and I can’t figure out why the award was made how it was,” Tester told Tidwell.  “My problem is there are better options on the table to be taken up by the Forest Service and you didn’t do it.”

Tidwell said the new planes still need to be tested. 




First report says pilots may have lost contact with spotter plane before UT crash

Tanker 11- Neptune Aviation file photo(CEDAR CITY, UT)- A preliminary report released by federal investigators suggests the crew that died when their air tanker went down in Utah last week lost sight of the lead firefighting plane before they crashed.

The crash on June 3rd killed the 48-year old pilot Todd Tompkins and 40-year old co-pilot Ronnie Chambless who both worked for Missoula-based Neptune Aviation.

The crash renewed concerns about the safety of the nation’s aging air tanker fleet and the Lookheed P2-V planes in particular. However, the preliminary report issued by NTSB investigators suggests the crash may have been caused by poor conditions or human error, rather than any mechanical problems with the aircraft, However, the agency hasn’t ruled out mechanical problems at this early stage of the investigation.

Initial information shows the lead “spotter” plane was at about 150’ in elevation and made a turn to the right toward the final drop area. But “Tanker 11” hit “rising terrain that was about 700 feet left of the lead airplane’s flight path” striking the mountainside, according to the reported being quoted by Reuters.

This first report doesn’t indicate whether heavy smoke the half-mile-wide valley may have caused the Neptune tanker to lose sight of the spotter plane.

It usually takes about a year for the NTSB to finish a final crash investigation, taking the time to review all of the information, including data from the cockpit flight recorder, which was recovered from “Tanker 11.”