747 Supertanker receives certification from FAA

The company hopes to obtain approval from the Interagency Air Tanker Board.

Global Supertanker took another step toward obtaining every certification necessary for their 747 to be fully qualified as an air tanker for the federal land management agencies in the United States. A month or two ago they received a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA but just recently got the agency’s Federal Aviation Regulations Part 137 certificate. At this point many state organizations and other countries would be comfortable employing the air tanker that can carry 19,200 gallons of water or fire retardant, especially since the delivery system is basically the same that was used in version 1.0 of the air tanker when it was developed and operated for several years by Evergreen.

The company’s next step is to obtain approval from the Interagency Air Tanker Board for the aircraft designated as Tanker 944, which would qualify it to be used on federal fires in the United States.

“Global SuperTanker has completed the requested USFS testing and we are now awaiting the outcome from the Interagency Air Tanker Board (IAB),” said Harry Toll, Managing Partner of Alterna Capital Partners LLC, whose portfolio company, Cyterna Air, LLC, owns Global SuperTanker. “This is a busy time of year for the IAB members, but we are confident they will review the test materials in the very near future. We are volunteering to do all that we can to receive their final approval.”

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.

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

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

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.