It may not be as dramatic of a location, and not as visible as its sister plane the Missoula airport entrance, but Neptune Aviation's legendary "Tanker 12" will be playing a more important role in telling the story of Missoula's history with firefighting when it moves to a new location.

Neptune Aviation Services and the National Museum of Forest Service History announced a new partnership Tuesday that will use the celebrated aircraft as a key tool in telling the history of firefighting to future generations.

The plane is an example of Neptune's long commitment to aerial firefighting and will showcase how fire teams on the ground and in the air make a potent combination for fighting wildfire.

Montana Talks logo
Get our free mobile app

The Neptune tanker made aviation history

'T12' is one of the remaining planes from Neptune's fleet of Lockheed Martin P2V aircraft that not only formed the backbone of Neptune's operations until just a few years ago but is also a prime example of a plane that was re-purposed for a critical mission for firefighters. Originally, the P2V was designed for anti-submarine warfare and then outfitted with tanks to carry retardant and other equipment for mountain flying.

Neptune Aviation photo
Neptune Aviation photo

“The National Museum of Forest Service History is a perfect home for Neptune’s T12,” according to Jennifer Draughon, Neptune Aviation Services’ President. “The Forest Service has a long history of aerial firefighting operations and Neptune’s T12 will help the museum tell the story of how aircraft play a role in protecting our communities.”

All told, Neptune's P2Vs performed 47,000 firefighting missions and dropped 97 million gallons of retardant before being phased out by jet-powered tankers just over a decade ago.

Plans for Tanker 12 took time

Neptune and the Forest Service have been working on the project for some time. Neptune mechanics have been busy getting the plane for display, and the museum staff has been prepping for its new home. "T12" will only be moving a couple of miles, but the preparation is complicated.

“Moving the aircraft is no simple task – we need to remove fences, shore up bridges, and make sure the soil is dry enough to handle the weight of the 49,500-pound plane,” Museum Executive Director Lisa Tate said. “The team at the Missoula Airport has been instrumental in making sure that T12’s journey is safe.” Knife River and MorrisonMaierle were also integral partners in the preparations for this project.

Part of a new "world-class" museum

The tanker will be showcased on the Museum's Forest Discovery Trail, near the future National Conservation Legacy Center, which is planned to be a "world-class museum".

The plane will be the second of the Neptune P2Vs to go on display. "Tanker 10" was moved to the new entrance of the Missoula Montana Airport in 2016.

Hot Air Balloon Rides in Montana: What to Expect

A step by step guide of what to expect during your hot air balloon ride in Montana, including costs, locations, how long you fly, where you take off, and where you land. We've got all the info right here, so you can have more fun. If you thought Montana was pretty on the ground...

More From Montana Talks