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New aircraft join firefighting efforts, but numbers still lag


America’s fleet of aerial firefighting aircraft could get a boost in the coming weeks and months as a variety of new aircraft join the fight. Following two accidents involving aging Lockheed P-2V air tankers in recent weeks, several more P-2Vs have been grounded, stretching thin the resources needed to fight several massive wildfires in the West. Help in Alaska is coming in the form of the Air Boss, a modified agricultural plane on floats that can skim lakes or rivers to take on 800 gallons of water at a time. Officials will soon have three Air Bosses at their disposal, in addition to several larger tankers and water-dropping helicopters. Meanwhile, new legislation could make it easier to start using new larger air tankers capable of dropping retardant or water. Once several bureaucratic hurdles are cleared, the U.S. Forest Service will be able to call up three BAe-146 jets modified as air tankers. And eight more C-130 military transports outfitted with 2,400-gallon tanks can also be put into service. Still, the Forest Service’s air arsenal is smaller than it was a decade ago, the result of a string of crashes that grounded older planes used in fighting wildfires.