The first conversion has started, with a freshly painted 737 rolling out of the paint shop in Spokane today.
The next step is to add a gravity-based tank which will have the same technology used on their C-130’s.
The air tanker is being designed as a multi-use aircraft with the ability to haul passengers. Britt Coulson said, “With a full retardant load and 4.5 hours of fuel we are so far under max gross weight we are going to leave the full interior and galleys in even when just in airtanker mode.”
Above: 747 Supertanker in Chile, January 26, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
A Colorado county on Tuesday approved a deal that sets the stage for a response from the largest firefighting aircraft in the world if and when major wildfires flare up near Denver, marking the culmination of a first-of-its-kind contract.
Commissioners in Douglas County on Tuesday approved the one-year, $200,000 deal with Global SuperTanker Services LLC that gives the county access to the mammoth Boeing 747-400 aircraft that can drop roughly 20,000 gallons of water or retardant — nearly double the capacity of its closest rival, the DC-10.
The deal is unique in that it gives the 800-square-mile county situated between Denver and Colorado Springs exclusive access to the SuperTanker.
“Douglas County is establishing a model for wildland fire-prone municipalities to follow,” Bob Soleberg, senior vice president and program manager for Global SuperTanker, said in a statement Tuesday night to Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation. “Their planning is comprehensive and designed to protect lives, property and the natural resources.”
The county’s office of emergency management requested approval of the deal, citing “ongoing dry conditions in and around Douglas County and coupled with the limited air resources in the region for the purpose of wildland fire suppression,” according to county documents proposing the contract.
Director of Emergency Management Tim Johnson told the newspaper the move was part of a multi-pronged effort ensuring adequate air power existed when fires ignited. From The Post:
Douglas County has firefighting contracts with Castle Rock-based Rampart Helicopter Service, Broomfield-based HeliQwest, Loveland-based Trans Aero Ltd., and 10 Tanker Air Carrier, which uses DC-10s carrying more than 11,000-gallons capacity on board. It also has access to state and federal firefighting air resources.
“We need redundancies in our abilities during fire season because the resources may not always be available — we want to be able to go down a list,” Johnson said. “We’re leaning forward in terms of preparedness.”
Coulson Aviation is adding not only additional air tankers to their fleet, but is branching out into a different model of aircraft. The company has purchased six 737-300’s and intends to convert them into 4,000-gallon “Fireliner” air tankers. Britt Coulson said they saw an opportunity when Southwest Airlines made a decision to replace their 737-300’s with the new 737-Max. Since the FAA only allows Southwest pilots to fly two of the 737’s with the same rating, the airline opted to sell the 737-300’s even though they have a relatively low number of hours in the sky.
The first conversion has started, with a freshly painted 737 scheduled to roll out of the paint shop in Spokane on May 22, 2017. The next step is to add the gravity-based tanks which will have the same technology used on their C-130’s.
The air tanker is being designed as a multi-use aircraft with the ability to haul passengers. Mr. Coulson said, “With a full retardant load and 4.5 hours of fuel we are so far under max gross weight we are going to leave the full interior and galleys in even when just in airtanker mode.”
The company likes the three C-130’s that they have already converted to air tankers, but finding additional C-130’s for the civilian market is very difficult.
A 737 will be able to use some air tanker bases that larger aircraft, like the C-130, can’t, with a wingspan that is about 38 feet shorter.
Mr. Coulson said they expect to begin installing the retardant system in June with a completion date of December of this year. When that is complete they will start on another. The first conversion will be done by Coulson Aircrane Canada.
The fire grew to 1,500 acres by Sunday morning, though crews made progress overnight, aided by cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels, Cal Fire reported. No structures have been damaged, and no injuries were reported.
Five airtankers and three helicopters were making drops on fire at one point Saturday, said Cal Fire Capt. Isaac Sanchez, according to the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper. Fire crews from several agencies were helping on the ground.
Efforts are underway in Colorado to better evaluate how water enhancers delivered from a single engine air tanker can be more effective than retardants in fighting wildfires.
Colorado historically has only loaded long-term retardant into SEATs. These chemical concentrates are mixed with water and alter fuels so they do not support combustion. Retardant is dropped adjacent to — or ahead of — the fire to create a chemically induced fire break at its perimeter.
Molecular bonds from water enhancers, however, slow evaporation by creating a thermal protective coating. SEAT drops of water enhancers are mainly used in direct attack to slow or halt the fire’s rate of spread long enough for ground resources to access the fireline and mop up or supplement the knockdown process.
These gels have generally been limited in use in recent years, and field testing has been minimal. Information about water enhancers’ availability, use and effectiveness is sparse at best.
Observe and evaluate drops of water enhancers on wildfires and record information about 1) whether the water enhancer stopped or slowed the forward advance of the fire; 2)whether the water enhancer reduced fire intensity to a sufficient level for ground crews to manage the fire; and 3) whether the water enhancer persists on the surface fuels long enough to prevent hotspots from redeveloping or the fire from burning through the drop.
Determine whether water enhancers delivered from a SEAT are effective on wildfires in Colorado. Effectiveness will be viewed in terms of how effective the products were in achieving the desired suppression objectives.
Collect as much data as possible regarding the effectiveness of water enhancers used during initial attack and on emerging fires.
Share lessons learned from the evaluations with interested parties, including cooperators and researchers.
Test and evaluate newly developed ground-based mixing/batching equipment to assess the efficiency of the mixing and loading processes and the ability of the equipment to reduce response times.
“SEATs loaded with water enhancers will respond to fires on State and private land, as well as to fires under the jurisdiction of BLM, the National Park Service, and USFS. Mixing will be at the recommended ratios in the USFS Qualified Products List for each product on all drops. For the first load on each fire, State and Federally contracted SEATs will respond to the incident with water enhancer unless the ordering unit clearly specifies the need for LTR instead.
Decisions regarding where, when and how to apply a particular aerial retardant or suppressant are typically under the discretion of the Incident Commander, so if at any time the Incident Commander or the Air Tactical Group Supervisor feels that the enhancers are not performing as desired, the Incident Commander can immediately order that the SEATs be loaded with retardant.
The three water enhancers being evaluated in the study are: FireIce HVO-F, BlazeTamer 380, and Thermo-Gel 200L — each is approved by the U.S. Forest Service for use in SEATs.
The Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, with support from the Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Aviation Unit and the Bureau of Land Management, is conducting the study.
After weighing input from researchers and firefighters, investigators will compile a preliminary and final report about the project’s findings.
The conversion of the fourth DC-10 into a Very Large Air Tanker is nearing completion. Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said he expects Tanker 914 to be finished with the modification process in June, including the incorporation of their Next Gen tank controller.
Tanker 914 will join the other three DC-10’s that can each hold up to 11,600 gallons of fire retardant.