Above: Tanker 944’s flight over Israel November 27, 2016.
After being deployed November 24 to assist firefighters in Israel, the 747 Supertanker returned to Colorado Springs November 30. While overseas it dropped on two fires during two sorties, discharging the full 19,200-gallon load each time.
The Israelis were extremely aggressive in attacking emerging fires, according to Chief Pilot Cliff Hale and Sr. VP Program Manager Bob Soelberg of Global Supertanker Services. Talking with them on a speakerphone Friday they said there were more than 40 air tankers in the country while they were there, including the 14 privately owned Single Engine Air Tankers the country has under contract.
At all times surveillance aircraft were airborne, able to quickly detect new fires and track any vehicles leaving the scene. About 39 people were arrested for arson during the recent fire bust.
At times the crew was on hot standby, with orders to be wheels-up within 15 minutes if necessary.
Frequently there were multiple air tankers loitering off the coast out over the Mediterranean ready to drop within minutes on new fires. In flight planning the Supertanker crew was told to take off with enough fuel for three hours of loitering. They also carried another three hours of fuel for working over a fire.
As you can see in the screengrab from FightRadar24, they were flying a racetrack pattern as they waited for an assignment. Other air tankers loitering at the same time were, of course, flying at a different altitude.
The 747 Supertanker, Tanker 944, dropped on a wildfire in Israel today northwest of Jerusalem. This was the first drop on a fire this version of the Supertanker has made.
After a 12.5-hour non-stop flight from Colorado Springs the aircraft arrived in Tel Aviv at about 10:25 a.m. MST time on November 26, which was after dark at the Ben Gurion International Airport.
The drop made today occurred at around sunset.
Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, said it dropped the entire 19,200-gallon load of water. While sometimes air tankers in Israel drop fire retardant, he explained that the authorities often prefer water when the aircraft is working over populated areas.
Before the drop the 747 took off from Tel Aviv and loitered over the Mediterranean for a while before it apparently made a dry run over the fire and then dropped on the next pass. The entire flight lasted about two hours.
The huge aircraft departed from Colorado Springs, Colorado Thursday at 10 p.m. MST
Above: The 747 Supertanker takes off from McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
(Updated at 2:40 p.m. MST November 25, 2016)
The 747 Supertanker has been dispatched to Israel to help firefighters on the ground who are dealing with numerous wildfires.
Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, said that after sending their employees home for Thanksgiving he received a call from the Israeli government requesting the services of the 19,200-gallon air tanker. Scrambling to get the 12 personnel back to Colorado Springs who would be making the trip, the contingent departed at about 10 p.m. MST on Thursday, November 24. The flight to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv should take a planned 12.5 hours cruising at 550 mph. Mr. Wheeler said it flew non-stop with six hours to spare.
When we checked FlightRadar24 at 9:30 a.m. MST on November 25 it was over Turkey and must have had a tail wind as it flew at 615 mph at 37,000 feet. It should arrive at about 10:25 a.m. MST.
The company sent two complete flight crews, Mr. Wheeler said, each consisting of two pilots and a drop system operator who is responsible for the retardant delivery system. In addition there were four maintenance and ground personnel, one supervisor, and Bob Soelberg, Program Manager for Global Supertanker, who will liaise with the Israeli government.
The aircraft can drop retardant, foam, gel, or other fire suppressants.
This is not the first time a Supertanker has been mobilized to Israel. In December 2010 the first generation of the aircraft dropped on the Mt. Carmel Fire in which 44 people died. The aircraft was one of 30 that were dispatched at that time from countries all over the world, including six Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tankers from the U.S. military. The assistance from the MAFFS was approved and arranged late in the incident and they never took off or were turned around at a refueling stop in the Azores.
Mr. Wheeler said that even though there was no contract in place when he received the first call from the Prime Minister’s office late Wednesday night, they were able to negotiate the arrangements:
It went relatively quickly yesterday, we still have a few minor details to clean up but the Israelis were most cooperative and efficient.
Over the last three days numerous fires, some suspected of being arson related, have plagued the country. On Thursday tens of thousands of residents were forced to flee the city of Haifa.
Since the deadly Mt. Carmel fire Israel has substantially beefed up their fire aviation resources and now have 14 Single Engine Air Tankers under contract supplied by Elbit Systems and Chim Nir Flight Services. The SEATs have their place in the firefighter’s tool box, but the 747 carries far more than all of their SEATs combined.
In June Israel loaned three of their SEATs to Cyprus to help suppress large fires near Paphos and Evrychou. Now they are on the receiving end as firefighting aircraft are arriving from the U.S., Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey. In addition, Russia sent two water scooping Be-200 air tankers. One can be seen scooping in the video at the top of the page.
In spite of a report in a major east coast newspaper, the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center has not received any orders for firefighting resources. But, according to BLM spokesperson Randall Eardley, there have been some discussions about crew availability. Jessica Gardetto of the BLM said the Pentagon has inquired about the process for sending assistance internationally.
Above: three Israeli single engine air tankers have arrived in Cyprus to assist firefighters. Photo by Israel Foreign Ministry.
The government of Israel sent three single engine air tankers (SEATs) and a support aircraft to assist Cyprus in suppressing large fires near Paphos and Evrychou. Cyprus has also asked Greece for assistance.
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu said at his Sunday Cabinet meeting:
Several years ago, during the massive  Carmel fire, I contacted the President of Cyprus, he was the first I turned to, and the Prime Minister of Greece, that they should send firefighting aircraft. They had one such aircraft. They took it out of its hangar and sent it here. Last night I ordered that three of our firefighting aircraft, out of our fleet of 13 or 14, be sent to help them, and the planes are now in Cyprus. This is part of the regional arrangement we have made with Cyprus and Greece about emergency assistance. I am pleased that we are able to extend this assistance.
Elbit Systems announced on January 5, 2015, that it was awarded an approximately $100 million contract from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD) to procure six new firefighting aircraft and operate the firefighting squadron, which will consist of a total of fourteen aircraft, including eight aircraft previously procured by Elbit Systems. The contract, to be performed over an eight-year period, also covers flight hours, infrastructure upgrade, maintenance, airstrip operation, handling of fire retardants and other aspects of operating the squadron.
The firefighting aircraft, manufactured by Air Tractor, are single-engine aircraft, capable of carrying approximately 3,000 liters (792 US gallons) of water and flying three hours without refueling.
Bezhalel (Butzi) Machlis, President and CEO of Elbit Systems commented: “We are very proud to be selected for this opportunity to harness our professional capabilities and vast experience to the collective efforts of protecting Israel’sresidents and natural landscape”.
The Elad firefighting squadron was founded four years ago following the Mount Carmel forest fire and is named after Elad Riben, the fire scout that was killed in this fire. Since then, Elbit Systems has been cooperating with the IAF, firefighting units, the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority in developing the squadron’s operational procedures and qualifying designated airstrips. The aircraft will be flown by CHIM-NIR’s pilots, the project’s subcontractor.
Since its inauguration in 2011, the firefighting squadron has performed over 4,600 missions, accumulated over 2,500 flight hours and has helped extinguish over 500 potentially destructive fires across the country, providing a prompt and professional solution.