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Firefighting aircraft get local builder

Aero Air of Hillsboro can finally begin building two next-generation firefighting aircraft for the U.S. Forest Service, according to Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office.

Aero Air, which is based at the Hillsboro Airport, won two contracts over the past six months to modify McDonnell Douglas MD-87s for the Forest Service. Both were protested by losing companies, prompting them to be held up.

But on Monday, Wyden’s office said the dispute has been resolved and Aero Aviation can begin work on the conversions.

Company president and co-owner Kevin McCullough said he’s glad the work can finally begin. A prototype of the converted air tanker is currently at the company’s facilities at the Hillsboro Airport.

“We decided to get into the air tanker business years ago, so this is not the beginning, just the continuation of what will be a long commitment,” said McCullough.

McCullough is the third generation of his family to own Aero Air. The co-owner is Jack Erickson, founder and former owner of Erickson Air-Crane. Both men have been involved with air tankers in previous years.

The MD-87 is a shortened version of the MD-80, a medium-size, mid-range airline produced by McDonnell Douglas. In commercial service, it can carry up to 172 passengers and has a range of up to 2,900 nautical miles.

Under the contract, Aero Air will convert two MD-87s to carry at least 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. Although McCullough declined to discuss the value of the contract, the cost of a converted MD-87 ranges between $41 million and $48 million by Fire Aviation, an online news service covering air tanker operations.

McCullough said the work is likely to be done at a company facility in Arizona. Much of the research and development work has been done at the Hillsboro Airport, however, where the company is headquartered. The finished aircraft will be based at the Madras Municipal Airport.



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