The BAe 146 was tested in a new role in late September and early October: aerial fireghter. The testing was undertaken by Minden Air, based at Minden-Tahoe airport in Nevada. They involved former Air China 146-100 N81HN (msn E1081). She was fitted with ballast equivalent to a 3,000-gallon (11,400 litre) load of fire retardant and flown over mountainous terrain, simulating typical firefighting missions. The goal is to see if the 146 can handle air tanker flying. Minden Air’s chief pilot, Tim Christy, said that “[we] believe this model will serve as an excellent air tanker. Our goal is to have one in service for the next fire season.” Minden Air has an option to buy the 146. Minden Air currently operates two Lockheed P-2 Neptunes in the firefighting role, but new US Forest Service rules will force their retirement in the near future. If the current tests prove successful, the next step would involve installing a tank to hold the retardant and a drop system. Another year of testing would then be required before the 146 could be used operationally.
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