747 makes practice drop at Colorado Springs

(UPDATED at 12:08 p.m. MDT, May 4, 2016)

The practice drop by the 747 Supertanker occurred as planned this morning. After takeoff from the Colorado Springs Airport the aircraft followed a very detailed route specified by the FAA and made one dry run. After that it circled around and made a water drop between a runway and a taxiway. The FAA restricted them to half a load, only allowing them to drop about 9,800 gallons.

747 SuperTanker

747 SuperTanker

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(Originally published at 10:21 a.m. MDT, May 4, 2016)

The 747 SuperTanker will be making a dry, low pass and after that a practice water drop at the Colorado Springs airport Wednesday morning, approximately between 10:45 and noon.

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Tanker 944, a 747, at the Colorado Springs Airport Wednesday May 4 2016

The first drop from the reborn 747 Supertanker

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The first drop from Tanker 944, the 747-400. Photo by Jessie Ryan provided by Global Supertanker.

Global Supertanker has started airborne drop tests of the 747-400 Supertanker they have been working on since last year. The first drop occurred Sunday, May 1 near Marana, Arizona, and it was described by the company as a “successful test flight”. Most air tanker companies do the initial tests with water, which is far less expensive than fire retardant, and does not have as many restrictions about where it can be dropped — 19,200 gallons at a time.

Most of the retardant delivery system was taken from Version 1.0 of the 747-100 Supertanker that was built and used for several years by Evergreen. When that company declared bankruptcy Global Supertanker bought the system and the intellectual property. They refurbished the hardware and upgraded parts of it, then installed it in an upgraded aircraft, a 747-400. It was first seen by the general public at the Aerial Firefighting Conference March 22 at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento.

Evergreen’s 747-100 SuperTanker first dropped on a fire in 2009 and last received Call When Needed contracts from CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service in 2013. However, shortly after receiving those contracts, Evergreen looked at the cost of a pending very expensive c-check, and “postponed” the availability of the aircraft until the 2014 fire season. Not long after that the financial difficulties led to the demise of the program at Evergreen. Several of the folks that were involved with the system there are now working at Global Supertanker.

Ground test for the 747 Supertanker

Global Supertanker supplied this photo today of their 747 Supertanker undergoing ground tests of the retardant delivery system. The tanks can hold 19,200 gallons.

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Jim Wheeler introduces the 747 SuperTanker

An interview with Jim Wheeler about the 747 SuperTanker that can carry 19,600 gallons of fire retardant or water. Mr. Wheeler is the President and CEO of Global Supertanker Services LLC. The interview was filmed at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, California March 22, 2016 by Bill Gabbert for FireAviation.com

747 SuperTanker departing McClellan Air Field

As the sun was rising in Sacramento this morning I took these shots of Tanker 944, a 747-400, as it departed from McClellan Air Field en route to Marana, Arizona. It had been on static display during the Aerial Firefighting conference.

Tanker 944, a 747-400
Tanker 944, a 747-400, departing McClellan Air Field as the sun was rising March 24, 2016.

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747 SuperTanker arrives at McClellan

Above: Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Base in Sacramento, California, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The 747 SuperTanker arrived at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento today after flying in from Marana, Arizona where it received a new paint job. It will be on static display for attendees the Aerial Firefighting conference until Wednesday, March 23.

Bob Soelberg, Senior VP and Program Manager of Global Supertaker, said the retardant delivery system still needs a few tweaks before it can actually drop water or retardant, but they hope to have it ready to fight fire later this year.

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Retardant delivery system on Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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Retardant delivery system on Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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Retardant nozzles on Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
747 Supertanker
Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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747 SuperTanker scheduled to be at McClellan March 22

Supertanker 747 T-944
747 Supertanker just after receiving the new paint job. Global SuperTanker photo.

The reborn 747 Supertanker is scheduled to fly in to McClellan Air Field around mid-morning on Tuesday March 22. It will be one of the aircraft on static display at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento March 22 and 23. Yes, we have been assured, it really does exist and recently received a new paint job at Marana, Arizona. The paint is so fresh that Bob Soelberg, Senior VP and Program Manager of Global Supertaker, said they postponed their flight by a day over concern that the rain on Monday might damage the new paint. The weather on Tuesday is predicted to be kinder to still-curing livery on the huge aircraft.

Global Supertanker purchased all the physical assets and intellectual property related to Evergreen’s original SuperTanker except the 747-100 airframe itself. The company refurbished the 19,600-gallon retardant delivery system and installed it in a 747-400 airframe to become the third generation of the 747 air tanker.

The SuperTanker was approved by the Interagency AirTanker Board years ago so it remains to be seen how much if any additional flight or ground testing may be required to regain the Board’s certification. It would have been interesting to see the aircraft perform a demonstration drop during the conference this week but Mr. Soelberg said they still have a few tweaks to make on the delivery system before it’s 100 percent ready to drop water or retardant.

CAL FIRE is considering putting a very large air tanker on a Call When Needed Contract. Before this development there was only one choice, the DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier. Representatives from CAL FIRE will be at the conference this week and I’m sure they will be looking at the new, or reborn, kid on the block.

Supertanker 747 T-944
747 Supertanker just after receiving the new paint job. Global SuperTanker photo.