Global SuperTanker leases hangar at Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs Airport aerial photo
Colorado Springs Airport. Google photo.

The company building Version 2.0 of the 747 Supertanker has leased a hangar at the Colorado Springs Airport. The Gazette reports that Global SuperTanker Services will occupy what has been a vacant 14,880-square-foot hangar. The space will serve as its headquarters for storing equipment for maintaining their Boeing 747-400 jet.

The company announced last August that they purchased the retardant system, related Supplemental Type Certificate (STC), and patents from the ashes of the bankrupt Evergreen company, the developer of the 19,600-gallon air tanker. They have removed the system from the 747-100 (Version 1.0) and installed it in a newer 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) (N492EV) with more powerful engines.

The aircraft is being painted now and is slated to appear at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at McClellan Airfield near Sacramento on March 22.

From the Gazette:

Global SuperTanker employs eight people with plans to add five more this year. The company plans on acquiring additional large firefighting aircraft, starting next year, [CEO Jim] Wheeler said.

The Colorado Springs Airport is co-located with Peterson Air Force Base. During wildfire season the base makes two C-130 aircraft available for deployment as air tankers outfitted with the slip-in Modular Aerial Firefighting System (MAFFS).

747 Supertanker conversion update

C check completed, painting begins

Above: artist’s concept for the paint design on Tanker 947 (N744ST). Image courtesy of Global Supertanker.

Work continues on the conversion of a 747-400BCF into a 20,000-gallon air tanker. Global Supertanker purchased all the physical assets and intellectual property related to Evergreen’s original SuperTanker except the 747-100 airframe itself, and is now refurbishing the retardant delivery system for what will be the third generation of the 747 Supertanker.

According to Bob Soelberg, the Program Manager for Global Supertanker, the C check is complete on the jumbo jet, including compliance with numerous Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins. All major modifications to the airframe are now finished. After the engines were ground checked at maximum power and the aircraft weighed, it was taken for a test flight in the Victorville, California area before departing to be painted in Marana, Arizona.

Fluid tanks 747 supertanker
The eight fluid tanks have been inspected, tested, painted, and mounted on cargo pallets. Global Supertanker photo.

The eight fluid tanks, which will hold water or retardant, have been inspected, tested, painted, and mounted on cargo pallets. The air pressure tanks have also been painted and are ready to go. The complete system will be shipped to Marana and installed late in February.

747 Supertanker gear swing
After a landing gear swing test the 747 Supertanker was weighed. Photo by Global Supertanker.

The video below shows a landing gear swing test on a 747. (It is not the Supertanker 747.) In the video they tested just one or two at a time because the hydraulic unit on the ground did not have enough power to do them all at the same time.

Work continues on the reborn 747 Supertanker

The 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) that is being converted into the third generation Supertanker is in Victorville, California where scheduled maintenance, a C Check, is being performed.

747 Supertanker at C check
The 747 Supertanker undergoing a C Check and retardant system installation at Victorville, California. Photo by Scott Olson, VP of Maintenance with Global Supertanker.

That inspection process, which was about 60 percent complete on November 1, should wrap up in November, after which it will remain at the facility for installation of the constant flow retardant dispersal system.

The first version of the 19,600-gallon Supertanker that Evergreen built was in a 747-200 freighter with roll-on/roll-off retardant tanks mounted on pallets. Later they built another version in a non-freighter 747-100 which required a lighter-weight set of tanks and a system suitable for that aircraft. The original heavier tanks were put into storage at Marana, Arizona and for a while were lost after Evergreen went into bankruptcy.

747 Supertanker
The retardant tanks are on the left, and on the right are the rubber seals that will be installed between the tanks. Photos by Scott Olson, VP of Maintenance with Global Supertanker.

Bob Soelberg, the Senior VP and Program Manager for Global Supertanker told us:

Earlier this year, Global SuperTanker purchased all the physical assets and intellectual property related to the SuperTanker except the -100 airframe itself. The original, heavier set of tanks were located and shipped to Victorville along with the other tanks, controls and all spare parts. The heavier tanks will be installed in the -400 following minor modifications that will eliminate the RO/RO capability.

This latest, or third generation Supertanker (with more powerful engines) will have a new FAA registration number, N744ST, when the aircraft is painted following the C Check and the modifications required to install the tank system.

Some of the maintenance tasks being done at Victorville include:

  • testing for skin separation from the frames,
  • evaluation of the trailing edge flap system,
  • removing the APU, which has been inspected and shipped to the vendor for detailed inspection and AD compliance work.
747 Supertanker
The skin doubler being installed around the four 16-inch nozzles. Photo by Scott Olson, VP of Maintenance with Global Supertanker.

One of the more complex tasks of installing the retardant system is cutting four 16-inch holes in the belly of the aircraft, and installing the nozzles, the connectors to the tanks, and a skin doubler system around the nozzles. The doubler, attached with approximately 1,300 rivets, will reinforce the structure around the nozzles and the connectors.

While this is being done, concurrent work involves modifications on the flight deck to install the monitoring and control panels used to activate the system.

Evergreen’s 747 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. When it received the CWN contract the aircraft had been sitting at Marana without engines and needed a million-dollar “C” check in addition to other maintenance. The company decided that with an expensive expedited “C” check and the other needed work, it could have been ready to fight fire about the time the 2013 western fire season was drawing to a close. And the CWN contract had no guarantee of any revenue. So Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Evergreen Supertanker Services at the time, said they would wait until the next year to get the maintenance done. A few months later, bankruptcy, and the company ceased to exist.

Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services which will be located in Colorado Springs, said they have hired most of the core personnel that worked on the SuperTanker program at Evergreen, including Mr. Soelberg who managed the program there. The Chief Pilot is Cliff Hale who has previous experience as an air tanker pilot.

The retardant is forced from the aircraft by compressed air using the same principle seen in the transportable Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) that can be installed in a few hours into C-130s operated by the military. Unlike the newest version of the MAFFS2 which has two on-board air compressors, the SuperTanker will rely on suitable air compressors to be pre-positioned at an air tanker base. When MAFFS are deployed they meet up with one of the six specialized air compressor systems managed by the U.S. Forest Service that can refill the air tanks in 14 minutes when the on-board compressors fail to work properly, which is not uncommon according to a MAFFS crew member we talked with.

In August Mr. Wheeler told us they will consider installing an air compressor in a year or so.

Articles on Fire Aviation tagged “747”.
Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “747”.

Like the phoenix, the SuperTanker to rise again

747 dropping
747 dropping in Haifa Israel December 5, 2010

A phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

The 747 SuperTanker is being given new life. A newly-formed company named Global SuperTanker Services has purchased the retardant system, related Supplemental Type Certificate (STC), and patents from the ashes of the bankrupt Evergreen company, the developer of the 19,600-gallon air tanker. They will be removing the system from the 747-100 and installing it in a newer 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) (N492EV) that has more powerful engines.

Global SuperTankerThe aircraft is at Southern California Logistics airport in Victorville, California where it will undergo a C-Check and receive any other maintenance that is necessary. The company that developed the original STC for the SuperTanker, Adaptive Aerospace, will be providing an amendment to cover the new installation and improvements in the retardant dispensing system that will be added. Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, said they expect the STC to be approved by the FAA by October, 2015. After testing and crew refresher training, a new grid test will be performed this fall.

The company’s headquarters will be in Colorado Springs.

Evergreen’s 747 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. When it received the CWN contract the aircraft had been sitting at Marana without engines and needed a million-dollar “C” check in addition to other maintenance. The company decided that with an expensive expedited “C” check and the other needed work, it could have been ready to fight fire about the time the 2013 western fire season was drawing to a close. And the CWN contract had no guarantee of any revenue. So Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Evergreen Supertanker Services at the time, said they would wait until the next year to get the maintenance done. A few months later, bankruptcy, and the company ceased to exist.

Mr. Wheeler said they have hired most of the core personnel that worked on the SuperTanker program at Evergreen, including Mr. Soelberg who managed the program there. He is now the Senior VP and Program Manager for the new company. The Chief Pilot is Cliff Hale who has previous experience as an air tanker pilot.

The retardant is forced from the aircraft by compressed air using the same principle seen in the transportable Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) that can be installed in a few hours into C-130s operated by the military. Unlike the newest version of the MAFFS2 which has two on-board air compressors, the SuperTanker will rely on suitable air compressors to be pre-positioned at an air tanker base. When MAFFS are deployed they meet up with one of the six specialized air compressor systems managed by the U.S. Forest Service that can refill the air tanks in 14 minutes when the on-board compressors fail to work properly, which is not uncommon according to a MAFFS crew member we talked with.

Mr. Wheeler told us they will consider installing an air compressor in a year or so.

The first generation MAFFS1 units, no longer used, did not have onboard air compressors and were refilled on the ground. The contracts for the MAFFS2 units specified that the air tanks had to be refilled by the onboard air compressors in no more than 30 minutes. It actually takes 15 to 20 minutes to refill them while airborne.

Mr. Wheeler said in a news release, “The current worsening trends in wildfires globally demand more capable response tools. The Boeing 747-400 represents a modern, strong, high performance platform capable of flying more than 4000 nautical miles at a cruise speed of 565 miles per hour, at pressurized altitudes, fully loaded, then directly deploying nearly 20,000 gallons of a range of liquids including retardant, water, gel and foaming agents.”

The word “Global” in the company’s name is meant to represent their goal of marketing the aircraft around the world. In a few weeks some of their representatives will be attending a conference in Australia to help promote their services.

747 Supertanker still stored at Marana, but now has engines

747 Supertanker, Marana
747 Supertanker at Marana, AZ,, May 31, 2015. Florida Metal photo used with permission.

The 747 Supertanker, formerly owned by Evergreen until the company went bankrupt, has been in storage at Marana, Arizona for at least a couple of years. Most of that time Tanker 979 it has not had engines, but these photos from December, 2014 and May 31, 2015 show engines on the aircraft.

We attempted to call our former contacts at Evergreen, and not surprisingly, the phone number is no longer in service. So we’re not sure what’s going on with the Supertanker. Maybe it’s being prepped to be sold, or has been sold, however the registration still lists Evergreen International Airlines as the owner of #N479EV. Or maybe the owner had hoped to get one of the Call When Needed contracts that were awarded a few weeks ago.

“Florida Metal”, who gave us permission to use the May 31, 2015 photo, told us:

I saw about 3 Evergreen Supertankers there, or at least painted that way. There were another bunch of Evergreen 747s sitting there. They all had their engines on them so they might fly again, but being that these are 100 series not sure if they will bother and maybe instead convert a newer 400?

747 Supertanker, Marana
747 Supertanker at Marana, AZ, December, 2014. Photo by Nicholas Young, Nick Young Photos. Used with permission.

Evergreen produced two versions of the Supertanker that we are aware of. The first had rather crude tanks and could not carry the weight of retardant in the tanks. It was only authorized to use water, which is about a pound lighter per gallon, so it never received a contract with the U.S. Forest Service as an air tanker. Then the company converted another 747 with higher-tech, lighter tanks, which enabled it to use 20,000 gallons of retardant. It received certification from the Interagency AirTanker Board in March, 2009 and got a CAL FIRE contract in July, 2009, but only as a Call When Needed air tanker.

Evergreen's 747 "Supertanker"
Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” drops on the Railbelt Complex of fires in Alaska, July 31, 2009.

When it received a CWN contract from the USFS on June 14, 2013, the aircraft had been sitting at Marana without engines and needed a million-dollar “C” check in addition to other maintenance. The company decided that with an expensive expedited “C” check and the other needed work, it could have been ready to fight fire about the time the 2013 western fire season was drawing to a close. And the CWN contract had no guarantee of any revenue. So Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Evergreen Supertanker Services, said they would wait until the next year to get the maintenance done. A few months later the company ceased to exist.

747 air tanker 979
Tanker 979 at San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, July 30, 2010. USFS photo.

Articles on Fire Aviation tagged “747”.
Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “747 air tanker” (some of them before Fire Aviation was created in November, 2012).

 

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Joe.

Update on next-gen air tankers

Tanker 160 retardant grid test December 13, 2013
Aero-Flite’s Tanker 160 at the retardant grid test, December 13, 2013. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Five companies received contracts on May 6, 2013 for seven “next-generation” air tankers. Of those seven, only two have met all of the specifications in the contracts and received the required certifications from the FAA and the Interagency AirTanker Board (IATB) for a supplemental type certificate, a static drop test on the ground, and an airborne test of dropping retardant into a grid of hundreds of cups. The two that have passed and have flown on fires are 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s 11,600-gallon DC-10, and Coulson Group’s 3,500-gallon C-130Q.

Here is what we learned this week while talking with aviation professionals at Cheyenne.

Minden Air Corp, who received a contract for one BAe-146, has passed the static test. They have not attempted a formal monitored grid test. The retardant system they are building has some impressive capabilities, including a high flow rate and a great amount of flexibility in the flow rate. It has the ability to select two different flow rates on one drop, for example, going from coverage level 5 to coverage level 8. (The numbers refer to the number of gallons of retardant that lands on 100 square feet of flat terrain.) That feature could be used when there is a change in vegetation or topography, moving, for example from grass to timber, or flat terrain to a steep slope. In each case it would be helpful to increase the coverage level.

Erickson Aero Tanker, received contracts for two MD-87s. One of the aircraft participated in a grid test in January, and the Interagency Air Tanker Board is still reviewing the results. Even though they added a fairing to modify how the air flow affected the performance of the aircraft and the retardant flow near the fuselage, the aircraft experienced some problems in qualifying at the higher coverage levels. The engineers may need to enlarge the retardant door openings to increase the flow rates.

Aero-Flite has two RJ-85s, an aircraft similar to the BAe-146. It has passed the grid test and the company is working on obtaining dual “citizenship”, supplemental type certificates for the retardant system from Transport Canada and the United States FAA . It is likely that the aircraft will be certified very soon by the IATB for an 18-month interim approval, which will be the new standard operating procedure for air tankers that receive an initial blessing from the IATB. The interim approval provides an opportunity for field trials, to determine if anything surfaces that was not apparent during the static, STC, and grid tests.

Bonus coverage:

Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” was not part of the next-gen contract, but the company did have a couple of call when needed contracts (CWN), with the last one being issued June 14, 2013. After receiving the contract Evergreen scheduled a needed C check which would have started August 2, and depending on what was found during the process would have been ready to fly in mid- to late September — about the time the western wildfire season begins to wind down. The cost of the C check is over a million dollars. But a few weeks after receiving the contract, Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Evergreen Supertanker Services, told Fire Aviation they reconsidered and decided to postpone the C check since there was “insufficient fire season remaining to justify the expense of an expedited C check as well as several system or component upgrades.”

A matter of weeks after Mr. Soelberg gave us that update the company filed for bankruptcy. The change in ownership made the CWN contract void. As of now, the 20,000-gallon 747 Supertanker is not covered by an air tanker contract.

Neptune has one BAe-146 working on the “legacy” air tanker contract, even though it now meets the criteria for a next-gen, including the required air speed and a 3,000-gallon retardant capacity. Before they modified the tanking system for the third time last fall, the tank held about 2,900 gallons and there was a problem in coverage level of the last 400 gallons exiting the tank, so the Forest Service restricted it to only carrying 2,500 gallons. The modifications increased the tank size to 3,000 gallons and made other changes in the system. At another grid test last fall it showed improved consistency for all 3,000 gallons, and in the flow rate at all coverage levels. As a result the Forest Service has now certified the tank system to carry 3,000 gallon of retardant. Their new design is innovative in that it uses GPS to measure the aircraft speed and then can automatically modulate the retardant flow rate to maintain the desired coverage level. They also have a sensor on the drop tubes which measures the actual flow rate. They system can then direct the valves or doors to change the size of the opening in order to maintain the coverage level as other factors change, such as the head pressure in the tank or if the aircraft encounters turbulence. Neptune expects to have a total of five BAe-146 air tankers available by later this summer.

Evergreen postpones availability of their 747 Supertanker

747 dropping
747 dropping in Haifa Israel December 5, 2010

After initially thinking their 747 Supertanker would be available in mid- to late September, Evergreen has reconsidered and expects to have it ready for the 2014 wildfire season.

The U.S. Forest Service awarded the company a Call When Needed contract on June 14, but the aircraft was sitting in Marana, Arizona with the engines removed and safely in storage. After receiving the contract Evergreen scheduled a needed C check which would have started August 2 and depending on what was found during the process would have been ready to fly in mid- to late September — about the time the western wildfire season begins to wind down. The cost of the C check is over a million dollars.

Today Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Supertanker Services, said they have reconsidered, and…

…concluded there was insufficient fire season remaining to justify the expense of an expedited C check as well as several system or component upgrades.  The availability of a facility certified to complete the inspection and the unknown return on investment implied in a CALL WHEN NEEDED contract only complicated the decision.

Evergreen is going to defer the required airline level maintenance until later this year or early in 2014. Mr. Soelberg said they expect to have the 747 Supertanker in a position to be fully operational with all checks, inspections and carding complete before the 2014 season begins.

Our view

In a perfect world the U.S. Forest Service would get their shit together and issue all aerial firefighting contracts no later than December, to begin in the following spring or summer, instead of procrastinating as they have been doing issuing them in mid-summer. Giving a vendor zero time to get a multi-million dollar aircraft up and running is not realistic. The companies that received the next generation air tanker contracts and those that will be competing in the next few weeks for a scooper contract would no doubt agree.

Air tanker status update, August 20, 2013

As we move into national Preparedness Level 5 today for the first time since 2008, and we have more than 48 uncontained large fires, it’s a good time to see what air tankers are available. These numbers are provided by Mike Ferris, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.

Today, not counting 2 air tankers that are on their days off and five that are down for maintenance, there are 13 in service.

Overall, if none were on days off or down for maintenance, we would have:

  • 7 P2Vs on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 2 BAe-146s on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 2 DC-10s on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 4 CV-580s borrowed from Canada and Alaska
  • 5 MAFFS borrowed from the military

This amounts to 11 that are on federal contract and 9 that are borrowed, for a total of 20.

Six of the seven air tankers that received “next generation” contracts, and the 747 that will be under a CWN contract, are weeks or months away from being physically ready and fully certified. However, these are counted when the USFS distributes misleading stats claiming, “Overall, we could have up to 26 airtankers available for wildfire suppression.”