STATE OF ALASKA DIVISION OF FORESTRY T-28 PROGRAM HISTORY
By Andy Rembert (former Chief of Maintenance Alaska DOF) Reprinted with author’s permission.
In 1984 the Division of Forestry through the Federal Express Property Program (FEPP), obtained 7 T-28s and a 40’ long van of spares, including a spare fuselage and wings. Up until this time they had been operating 2 DeHaviland DHC-2 Beavers (since the mid 70’s).
Once the T-28s were received from the Navy, they went through a paint and avionics upgrade. The Division colors were applied and a very thorough and modern avionics package was installed (only 5 aircraft received these upgrades, the other two were to become cannibalized aircraft).
The aircraft have been operated by State employed pilots and maintained by contractual maintenance organizations. The main mission of the aircraft is fire suppression and fire bomber lead plane from April through September. During these months the aircraft are based in MaGrath, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. They are then dispatched, statewide to wherever the need is greatest. The State of Alaska has over 365 million acres of which the Division of Forestry has responsibility for 134 million of those acres.
Alaska has a highway system that consists of approximately 3000 miles, which is very minimal considering that she is 1/5 the size of the entire of the United States. Therefore, it is necessary to utilize aircraft for almost any type of job or travel within the state.
Due to a $0 acquisition cost and no depreciation problems, the aircraft can be run very economically for the state. Maintenance is managed from an internal position (Chief of Maintenance) and a vigorous program has been developed to maintain the aircraft in safe and airworthy condition. The operational aspect is controlled by an internal position (Senior Aviation Officer). This position handles training, Chief Pilot duties, and all other operational needs.
The Division of Forestry has had a good operational record with the aircraft. Depending on the severity of the fire season, the aircraft can average from150 to 300 flight hours each per year. Winter flying is limited due to a FEEP rule that only 10% of the total hours accumulated per year can be outside of “fire suppression.” This becomes handy in allowing a greater amount of time to perform heavy maintenance during these months.
Over 50% of the fleet are operating with freshly overhauled engines and propellers. This year will also bring a Restricted Airworthiness Certification to the fleet, in conjunction with many hours of work and research by Aviation Classics of Reno, Nevada.
The T-28 program was originally to be only a four year program, but it has proven itself to be a great asset, so it continued. But, due to the extremely long distances over very rugged and remote areas, the DOF has opted to acquire more modern, twin-engine aircraft. These aircraft will consist both contractual aircraft to allow DOF to evaluate the economic factors. We will continue to use our pilots to operate the aircraft. The future use of these twins will increase the safety factor by 100% for our pilots.
We have begun a fleet reduction of the T-28s which will continue for the next 2-3 years. These aircraft will all be returned the FEEP. The present hours on our aircraft range from over 15,000 and up to 18,000 hours per airframe. Our biggest concern is corrosion which we are beginning to discover. As all T-28 operators know, parts are becoming more and more difficult to obtain. This is also one of our concerns and reasons why we wish to modernize our fleet. I would have to say overall that these are wonderful and rugged aircraft. We have been very fortunate to have pilots who are well versed in the flight operation of the aircraft and who also care very much about them. Most of our pilots also have an A&P/IA rating.
The aircraft have and always will be a great asset in the development of DOF’s Fire Suppression Program. Many people will miss them, but all these people will have great memories to cherish forever. And to say the least, they’re not gone yet! For the next few years, people will continue to hear the roar of the Curtis Wright 1820 over their heads while create more aviation history. Originally printed in North American Trainer Association's July 1992 newsletter “Texans and Trojans.”