All three of the DC-10 air tankers were in the same place at the same time Saturday, October 1, which is a rare occurrence. Tankers 910, 911, and 912 were all parked at McClellan Air Field. This happened at least one other time that we are aware of, August 30, 2014 at Castle Airport near Merced, California.
The trio will be split up again in the near future when Tanker 910 begins preparing for its contract in Australia where it will begin in less than four weeks. Tankers 911 and 912 will continue their work for CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service for the remainder of the season.
Known in the United States as Tanker 910, the aircraft is one of four large air tankers from North America currently under contract in Australia for their 2015/2016 bushfire season. Down under they call it the Southern Belle.
If I’m interpreting correctly the data at the top-right in this first video by the NSW RFS, the tanker is about 15 to 20 km from the camera. Shot at the Buddah Creek Fire near Hawkesbury, it was uploaded to YouTube on December 10.
The next video shows the DC 10 dropping on the Maddens Plain Fire December 11, 2015. NSW RFS video by Kallie Rayner.
More information about the bushfires in New South Wales is at Wildfire Today.
The second air tanker from North America has arrived in New South Wales for their summer bushfire season. Tanker 910, one of three DC-10s operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, arrived on September 28 after flying from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The aircraft flew at 28,000 feet and 512 mph in between stops for fuel at Hawaii and Pago Pago. It dropped into Brisbane, Australia to go through customs and is expected to arrive at RAAF Base Richmond in Sydney at 10:08 p.m. US Mountain Time on September 28.
Tanker 910 joins Tanker 132, an L-382 Hercules operated by Coulson, which has been down under since the first part of September. New South Wales has contracted for the two of them to help ground-based firefighters during the Australian summer. They will be stationed at RAAF Base Richmond in Sydney.
Coulson says the L-382 has their latest Coulson SMART 4,400-gallon (16,655 liter) retardant tank system. The DC-10 carries 11,600 gallons (44,000 liters).
Victoria will have two large air tankers under contract again this summer, beginning in November unless they are needed earlier. A year ago during Australia’s 2014-2015 summer two large air tankers from North America were under contract in the state, Coulson’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, and Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ-85. The two aircraft dropped more than a million liters (264,000 gallons) of fire retardant across the state, completing 81 drops across Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.
Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service in Boise, was interviewed by KVPR about air tankers. It began with a discussion about the HC-130H, Tanker 118, a USFS owned/contractor operated air tanker that has been used for a few weeks working out of McClellan Airport. She was very well-spoken and knowledgeable, and generally did an outstanding job.
However, she said “…nobody manufactures off the line air tankers”, which illustrates the apparent bias of the USFS against the purpose-built “SuperScoopers”, the CL-215 and the CL-415 used by the dozens in other countries in North America and Europe. The USFS contracted for their first one last year.
The Air Tractor single engine air tankers could be considered purpose-built. They were first designed as crop sprayers in 1973, but the conversion from dropping pesticides to fire retardant in 1990 was not a huge leap and the mission profiles are similar.
And don’t forget the Russian-built Be-200. I consider it a hybrid, since it was designed as an amphibious scooping air tanker, but has provisions for carrying passengers when its not suppressing fires. This may have been a compromise during the design process, when a high-ranking politician could have said, “But what if it could also do this, and this….”. Much like the convoluted process of designing the Bradely Fighting Vehicle. So many additional functions were added that it could no longer efficiently and safely function in it’s intended role; transporting troops.
While we’re on the subject of purpose-built air tankers-
I am impressed by the design of some purpose-built aircraft that do not have a single wasted or unused cubic foot. Think about the K-MAX and the Sikorsky S-64 (Erickson Air-Crane) that are built to do one thing — lift heavy loads. No compromises there. Looks that only an aircraft engineer could love, but very efficient. The Air Tractor is another pretty good example.
An air tanker is not required to have a cavernous unused space inside like Tanker 910 below. Imagine how much the weight and air resistance could be reduced if an air tanker was not built around space to carry 380 passengers. This is not a criticism of the DC-10 air tankers. They selected one of the best air frames available at a reasonable cost and figured out a way to turn it into a very effective and useful firefighting tool.
I’d like to see the K-MAX engineering team design from scratch a fixed wing air tanker built around the following components, glue them together, and then configure them to be airworthy, capable of flying at least 350 mph, and able to take off from Ramona, California with a full load of retardant on a 90 degree day;
5,000 to 10,000-gallon tank,
cockpit for two (no passengers; possibly a third seat for an inspector pilot or trainee),
On April 18, 10 Tanker Air Carrier wrote on their Facebook page:
Last week our “new” 910 finished the conversion and came out of the hanger. Yesterday she made her first flight. She’ll head back to Albuquerque this week for Forest Service checks, and be ready for the fire season. What a beautiful addition to the fleet!
The aircraft was converted in 2004, and began working in California under a CAL FIRE contract in 2006. Since that time Tanker 910 dropped on over 500 fire missions in California, and over 750 across the country. It has been joined by two other converted DC-10s, with the third one being introduced to the fleet on August 30.
The “new” Tanker 910 is a newer air frame that will carry the same “T-910” designation as the plane that retired last fall. The work on the replacement began in early September, 2014.
“The new T-910, like T-912, is one of the last DC-10s built, and will standardize our fleet on the DC-10 -30 model,” Rick Hatton, President and CEO of 10 Tanker, said in January. He said the DC-10-30 is certified to fly at gross weights up to 590,000 pounds. On a typical firefighting mission with three hours of fuel the aircraft would lift off weighing approximately 390,000 pounds. The company says this allows a margin of nearly 200,000 pounds below the previously certified weight, which greatly enhances performance, maneuverability, and safety.
Mr. Hatton said three of their DC-10 airtankers will be available for the 2015 fire season — T-911, T-912, and the “new” T-910.