When the 747 SuperTanker reloads, the technician connects electronics to the aircraft which control the retardant and compressed air being loaded through hoses that descend out of the ship’s belly. Check out the video above to get the details.
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.
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.
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.
This article originally appeared on Wildfire Today.
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.
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.
This video was shot from inside the cockpit of the 747 SuperTanker as it dropped on wildfires in Chile, approximately January 26, 2017.
Video by Global Supertanker.
Mr. Wheeler is the President and CEO of Global SuperTanker. The interview was conducted at the Santiago, Chile Airport January 25, 2017 just after the 747 air tanker was flown down to Chile to assist the firefighters on the ground who were dealing with many, many wildfires.
When the 747 SuperTanker that was mobilized to help fight the wildfires in Chile pulls into the ramp at the Santiago Airport a series of tasks begin that, if everything goes perfectly, can be accomplished about half an hour. The aircraft arrived on January 25 and since then some of the procedures have been refined in order to speed up the process.
Stairs mounted on a truck, sometimes called “air stairs”, are positioned at the forward door on the left side. These are necessary because that door is quite a distance above the ground; a wild guess: 25 feet. On Thursday one of the 747’s maintenance personnel drove the stair-truck. When he was finished he moved on to other tasks. Usually one of the three crewmembers exits the plane and does a walk around inspection of the aircraft. He might be looking for tree branches stuck to the wings. (Kidding !!!!)
There is a small door on the belly of the aircraft that when opened allows access to the hoses used to refill the 19,200-gallon tank. The operator pushes a button and four of them magically descend. Two are approximately 2.5″ or larger and are the ones being used this week. There are two others about 1.5″ or 1.75″ that I have not seen being used.
Also behind that door are electronic plugs to which a cable is connected. A small folding table and a ladder are carried out by maintenance personnel and are set up below the door. The other end of the cable is attached to a suitcase-sized box of electronics placed on the table with displays for monitoring the compressed air and water (or retardant) being loaded onboard.
Water (or retardant)
The water system that firefighters set up at the airport was fairly massive in scope. In addition to two large water bladders, they had eight portable water tanks linked by large diameter hard suction hoses that automatically siphoned water from one tank to the next as the levels in the tanks lowered. There are few fire hydrants at the airport near the 747’s ramp so up to 14 large capacity fire trucks, large Type 1 engines and water tenders, shuttled water to keep the portable water tanks full. An airport crash-rescue truck pumped from the tanks through two hoses to the 747 SuperTanker.
Compressed air is needed on this air tanker to disperse the liquid out of the tank, unlike others that use the force of gravity. When the pilot wants to drop the liquid, valves are opened that allow compressed air to push the liquid through the four large nozzles on the belly. The crew can select how much of the 19,200-gallon load to be dispersed on each drop. They can make multiple drops on one load.
The crew brought a rented air compressor with them. They preferred a larger one that could refill the air tanks more quickly, but it would not fit through the door in the cargo hold. After arriving they sought to rent a large one locally but the vendor, Atlas Copco, refused. Instead he donated the use of the large machine since it was going to be used to battle wildfires. The larger one arrived just as the other began to break down. It’s a bad sign when you see jumper cables being carried out to an air tanker.
Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker, said they intend to purchase a large-capacity compressor that they will modify to fit into the airplane.
Sometimes they need to refuel. It depends on the distance to the fire or if they had to loiter, carving circles in the sky (or flying a “racetrack pattern”) waiting for an assignment. This can be one of the most time consuming tasks, and may be adversely affected by the availability of the fuel truck.
At this airport the aircraft must be connected to a small vehicle, a “tug”, that pushes the aircraft back and turns it 90 degrees so that it can exit the dead end ramp.
In the video below, Chief Paulo Gomez talks about the system at the airport to refill the aircraft.
Above: The front page of the El Mercurio newspaper in Chile, January 26, 2017, shows one of the two drops the aircraft made on Wednesday.
The arrival of the 747 Supertanker in Chile is generating a great deal of media interest, as well as capturing the attention of the Chilean people. A press conference at the airport the morning it arrived in Santiago drew a large number of reporters who shouted their questions at the government officials who were speaking.
The largest air tanker in the world combined with the busiest fire season in years and five firefighters killed (one pilot and four on the ground) would be big news anywhere.
The expectations of the aircraft may be a little high. Air tankers do not put out fires. Under ideal weather and vegetation conditions they can slow the spread of a fire, allowing firefighters on the ground to move in and construct a line around the fire and actually put it out.