Electra - P-3 News
Conair Fleet Modernization Update – May 19, 2021
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.
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.
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 Electra’s 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…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 has 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” 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. 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 Douglas 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-3’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 19 May 2021----