Tanker base up and running
A new single-engine air tanker (SEAT) base is up and running at the Rifle Garfield County Airport, and it will shorten ground time for pilots battling wildfires in Garfield County and elsewhere.
The base allows fire crews to pump flame retardant to the aircraft in as little as five minutes, according to Adam Goeden, air tanker base manager for the Bureau of Land Management. It previously took 10- 15 minutes to fill the aircraft using an old, labor-intensive system of mixing powder-based retardant near the runway.
The new station can accommodate six planes at a time, greatly improving efficiency and getting pilots back into the sky to fight wildfires more quickly.
The station also serves as a de-icing pad in winter, and “fuel farm” for use by general aircraft hosted by the fixed base operator, Atlantic Aviation.
The slurry pump will be an amenity for the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit during wildfire season.
Airport Director Brian Condie said this is the first dual-purpose single-engine air tanker base and de-icing pad in the country.
“Talking to the BLM … they told me it was bottle-necked in here with the single-engine air tankers,” Condie said during a recent ribbon-cutting at the airport. “So on a large fire they could only load one aircraft at a time. We went to the commissioners, presented our idea to them, and they approved it. This entire project was through county funds.”
The station employs a hose that can be rolled out to the awaiting aircraft to load the slurry. The retardant is mixed in massive tanks, and pumped out to the SEAT, which can hold 800 gallons of the fire-dousing concoction.
“It’s kind of a dream for the airport and county commissioners to include us,” Goeden said.
Depending on the need, the SEATs can also be loaded with water at the station, if flame retardant isn’t required to stymie a blaze.
“The county supports the airport,” Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson added at the ceremony. “We’re glad to see the SEAT base here at Rifle Garfield County Airport … this is something that is great for Garfield County, the city of Rifle and for western Colorado.”