Navy plane confused for tanker

I noticed a tanker plane Thursday night that was similar to the ones that operate in and around Medford during fire season. It appeared to land, circle and repeat well into the dusk. Is this a sign of fire season — hard to believe with all the rain — or was it a training mission for firefighters?

— Harold J., via email

Don't worry, Harold, it's not quite that time of year when tankers fill Southern Oregon skies en route to fight fires here and in neighboring counties. The "tanker" was actually a Navy submarine chaser using the Medford airport for training purposes.

Cyndi Ash of Medford Air reports the plane was a P3-Orion, whose primary missions are over the ocean rather than inland valleys.

The flight was one of many made by military pilots training in Southern Oregon, and Medford Air has the local refueling contract.

"Some years we get up to a couple hundred aircraft — from helicopters to jets," she said.

Although military aircraft frequent Rogue Valley airspace, they aren't required to indicate their intentions ahead of time.

"They file a flight plan with the FAA, which sometimes gives us notice," said airport director Bern Case. "I know they train both day and night, but that one definitely got my attention."

He said the military planes don't necessarily get priority when they're in the area.

"Unless they are on a mission, they are equal with everybody else and the tower works them in."

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