Aerial Wildland Fire Control and Suppression

P-3 Overview

The P-3A Orion is the optimal tanker design for aerial firefighting.  It was built to military specifications so it can handle the stresses the air tanker encounters during sharp banking turns fully loaded required for aerial firefighting maneuvers.  It also has a short wingspan and is designed for take-off and landing on short runways.  In addition, the “straight leading edge” wing shape is designed to give maximum lift and responsiveness at slow speeds which is critical for the safety of pilots, as the typical drop height is less than 150 feet above ground level usually on uneven, mountainous and descending terrain.  The overall design of the aircraft allows it to descend slow enough with a nose down attitude so the pilots can see the fire line, the on-ground firefighters, the lead aircraft, and the drop zone.

Each aircraft is powered by four Rolls Royce Allison turbo-prop engines providing 17,000 total horse power to lift weight and maneuver steep mountain canyons often encountered when firefighting.  Also, the engines are always operating at 100% RPM, and forward thrust is applied by manipulating the propeller blade angle.  This allows the pilots instant power when climbing out of an airport or drop zone.  Turbo-fan (jet) powered large air tankers with are limited, cannot lift/haul enough weight and are slow to react as they need to “spool up” their engines to gain forward thrust and altitude, and the wing design is not optimal for slow airspeeds.


Airstrike’s P-3A Air Tanker Specifications


• Cruise Speed Fully Loaded – 300+ knots

• Carrying Capacity – 3,000 gallons of payload and a minimum of 6 hrs fuel

•  Aerial Dispersant Pattern – the Airstrike P-3As have previously passed all USFS and IAB requirements for aerial dispersant patterns


The P-3 Orion aircraft is a US Navy aircraft and approximately 750 were produced.  These aircraft are still operational today for all branches of the US military, NASA and NOAA, and are used for:


Submarine hunting – designed to loiter at slow speeds and low altitudes over the ocean.

AWACS – enhanced structural integrity to handle the weight and drag of the radome.

Storm chasing – enhanced structural integrity to fly into the eye of hurricanes and gather data.

Surveillance – ability to loiter and surveil for long periods to identify drug traffickers, etc.

Airstrike Firefighters, LLC   •   Email: