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Firefighting Aircraft: BT-67 is Safest, Most Economical

by Barry Hicks (MSO-64) |

The originally designed and used DC-3 was retired in 1990. The Missoulian article (Feb. 21) included pictures of a BT-67 rather than a DC-3.

The 115Z came out of remanufacture in 1991 from Basler Turbo Conversions LLC, a Wisconsin company, as a BT-67. The Basler Company made modifications to the Douglas DC-3 airframe designed to significantly improve the DC-3's serviceable lifetime.

Total flight time since remanufacture of 115Z is 5,800 hours, which is relatively low flight time.

Basler has remanufactured 65 BT-67s to date and 30 of them have been for government agencies, including N707BA, a U.S. State Department aircraft.

It would be politically untenable to declare the aircraft not airworthy given that the Department of State and the Air Force, along with the military air forces of eight other countries, are currently operating BT-67s. This makes it very important for the U.S. Forest Service to clearly state “why” they have chosen to retire this aircraft.

The BT-67 is American-made. Using performance as the basis, it is the safest and has the most capacity (16 smokejumpers) of any aircraft in the system. The capacity allows for the ability to put a Type 3 organization on a rapidly emerging fire in the shortest amount of time. During this period when fires are larger, this relates to improved safety for firefighters. It is the best, most economical smokejumper aircraft in service today.

A bigger question is: has Forest Service Fire and Aviation management applied pressure to current knowledgeable employees to not share this same public information? If so, is that a good situation for an agency that touts its “safety of firefighters” as a No. 1 priority?