SuperTanker works on a fire near Navidad, Chile

Just a quick video of the 747 SuperTanker pulling up to the reload pit at Santiago, Chile airport after completing its seventh sortie on February 1, 2017, making a total of 11 drops on the 7 sorties. Six of the sorties were near Navidad and Matanzas 115 miles (185 km) southwest of the Santiago airport where many structures were threatened. The seventh was near Concepcion, 404 miles (650 km) south of Santiago. In total, 138,400 gallons (508,759 l.) were delivered to assist the firefighters on the ground who actually put out the fires.

Helicopter Express sends four helicopters to Chile on Antonov AN-124

Above: An Antonov AN-124 after it arrived in Santiago, Chile carrying four helicopters. Photo by Tom Parsons of Global Supertanker.

An Antonov AN-124 arrived in Santiago, Chile Tuesday morning and unloaded three Bell 205 helicopters, one K-MAX 1200, and a flatbed truck with an attached goose-neck trailer. The Chilean government contracted with Helicopter Express out of Chamblee, Georgia to supply the equipment during the siege of wildfires that has been plaguing the country for the last several weeks.

Helicopter Express helicopters Antonov AN-124
Helicopter Express helicopters before loading onto the Antonov AN-124 at Atlanta, Georgia. Helicopter Express photo.

The helicopters and the truck were loaded onto the Ukrainian freighter at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport Monday for the flight to South America.

CNN Chile reported that one of the helicopters has night-flying capabilities.

Video compilation of 747 drops

This video contains shots of many water drops by the 747 Supertanker since it arrived January 25 in Chile. Some of the drops are seen multiple times recorded by different people from various angles. I guess you could call it air tanker porn.

There is one thing all of the shots have in common — the joy and exuberance that you hear every time the huge aircraft appears. Some of it comes from knowing it will assist the firefighters on the ground who may have been struggling to put out the fire that was threatening the property of the bystanders. And the rest perhaps is the novelty of it — seeing this massive machine they have been hearing about on the news and having the chance to see it in person. It is likely that none of them have ever seen in person a large or certainly not a very large air tanker. The country has some single engine air tankers but nothing like this critter.

As this is written at 1713 Chile time on January 31, the 747 just took off on its 4th mission today, carrying another 19,200-gallon load to a fire south of Santiago. (UPDATE at 2310 Chile time: the aircraft flew five missions today.)

Photos from the Santiago Airport

Above: Photo by Don Paulsen, January 29 from from the 747.

I’m catching up on some photos taken in Chile on January 29, 2017. They were taken at the Santiago Airport except for the two airborne shots which were in southern Chile.

Chilean Air Force CASA
The Chilean Air Force CASA that is serving as a lead plane for the 747.
Firefighters arrive from Venezuela
Firefighters arrive from Venezuela.
Chilean Air Force CASA
As seen from the cockpit of the 747 Supertanker, this is the Chilean Air Force CASA that is serving as a lead plane for the 747. Photo by Don Paulsen.
Jim Wheeler, President CEO Global SuperTanker
Jim Wheeler (in the blue shirt), President and CEO of Global SuperTanker, is interviewed by the press at the Santiago Airport.

IL-76 goes to work in Chile

Above: The IL-76 on the ramp at Santiago, Chile January 30, 2017. Photo by Tom Parsons.

While the 747 air tanker is taking a day off in Chile for maintenance the Russian IL-76 went to work about 9 hours after arriving at Santiago early Monday morning. FlightRadar24 showed the aircraft (RA76841) flew to and concentrated on a point northeast of Concepción near Portezuelo, an area that has had fires in recent days. As this is written at 4:08 p.m. Chile time it appears to be returning to Santiago at 15,000 feet and 343 mph.

IL-76 air tanker
Radar track of the IL-76 in Chile, January 30, 2016.

Today Tom Parsons and Marcos Valdez, pilots of the 747 air tanker, swapped tours of their aircraft with the crew of the IL-76 before the Russian air tanker took off on a fire mission.

Il-76 air tanker
Pilots Tom Parsons and Marcos Valdez (L to R) in the cockpit of the IL-76.

Video: reloading the 747 SuperTanker

This shows part of the process of reloading the 747 Supertanker with compressed air and 19,200 gallons of water. Much of the work was done by local bomberos (firefighters) who fine-tuned the process making it quicker every day.

On January 27 we wrote more about reloading the aircraft.

Two aircraft are working with the 747 SuperTanker

Above: the 747 Supertanker prepares to take off at Santiago, Chile.

Like other air tankers, the 747 SuperTanker does not work alone. It takes a village. On the ground it depends on personnel and infrastructure to service it, provide fuel, and refill its retardant tanks.

There are two other aircraft working with the 747 while it is in Chile. One is a lead plane, in this case a borrowed military CASA, a twin engine turboprop that can carry a couple of dozen passengers. A lead plane scouts ahead of the air tanker and evaluates the wind, visibility, fire behavior, and topography and determines the path the much larger air tanker will take to make a drop. After that decision is made it will fly that path with the air tanker following.

CASA lead plane
The aircraft being used as a lead plane in Chile. CONAF photo.

In North America there is usually only one person, a pilot, in a lead plane, but the one being used in Chile comes with two military pilots new to the lead plane role. Global Supertanker brought with them a highly experienced smokejumper and lead plane pilot, Jamie Tackman, who is sitting behind the pilots directing them where to go — such as height above ground, speed, direction, which drainage or slope to fly over, and how to enter and exit the drop run. The CASA is painted in Air Superiority Gray and it’s the first time the SuperTanker pilots have followed a lead plane that is intentionally difficult to see.

The other aircraft is a pimped out passenger jet, a Gulfstream G-4 usually used for hauling VIPs. It was brought on a day or two ago to improve intelligence gathering about the status of the dozens of active wildfires that are scattered across 400 miles, north to south, in Chile. Flying at 10,000 feet it can relatively quickly scout far ahead and help determine where the greatest need exists for air support and also evaluate the smoke conditions that often make it impossible to use an air tanker. This can reduce the number of times the 747 has to abort a mission due to visibility. The aircraft can also assist with communications.

wildfires in Chile map
NASA satellite photo showing smoke created by the wildfires in Chile January 27, 2017. The red dots represent heat.

747 SuperTanker protects a village and later 5 firefighters

This article originally appeared on Wildfire Today.

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Above: A fire is approaching Llico, a small village near the Pacific Ocean about 130 air miles southwest of Santiago, Chile.

The 747 Supertanker had a productive day Friday in Chile. They completed four missions and were taxiing to take off on another when the lead plane pilot called saying smoke had degraded visibility making another drop impossible.

Elena Carretero, who has been associated with the flight crew, said one of the drops in the morning helped protect the lives of five firefighters who were in imminent threat of being overrun by a fire.

747 Supertanker Chile
At middle-left is Laguna de Torca. Beyond it is the village of Llico, and just beyond the village is the fire. This is looking southwest toward the Pacific Ocean.

All of these photos were taken from the 747 by the drop system operator, Don Paulsen. The images of the fire were shot just before 6 p.m. local time on Friday near Llico, a small village near the Pacific coast about 130 air miles (209 km) southwest of Santiago, Chile (map). Elena told us the village was in danger, like the five firefighters, of being overrun by the fire until the SuperTanker used all 19,200 gallons of water to make one long drop between the fire and the village, saving it.

747 Supertanker Chile Llico
The village of Llico being threatened by the fire.
747 Supertanker Chile
Structures in Llico can be seen at the bottom of the photo.

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