National media covers the lack of federal contract for 747 Supertanker

Above: The 747 Supertanker makes a demonstration drop at Colorado Springs, May 4, 2016.

(Originally published at 2 p.m. MDT July 17, 2017)

While large wildfires have been burning recently in the Southwest, California, and the Northern Rockies, many local news outlets as well as national media organizations like CBS News and the Associated Press have been covering the story about the 747 Supertanker that does not yet have a long-term contract with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

In January, 2016 the aircraft received interim approval from the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). This meant that it qualified to be used on fires, but did not include a contract. A couple of years ago the IAB began giving new air tanker designs interim approval to provide a period for real world use on actual fires so that bugs, if any, could be worked out and the users of the service could evaluate the effectiveness. The duration of the temporary approval has usually been 18 months, but the IAB only gave the 747 about 6 months, and that expired June 15, 2017. During those six months the air tanker was not used on fires in the United States (but was used extensively in Chile), so there was no evaluation in this country.

The USFS currently is soliciting bids from vendors for Call When Needed (CWN) air tankers. The closing date for the solicitation is June 20, 2017. The specifications only allow air tankers that carry between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons to apply. The 747 holds 19,200 gallons, six times more than a “next generation” BAe-146 and about 60 percent more than the 11,600 gallons a DC-10 holds, so it can’t even be considered. There are other requirements that may also eliminate Very Large Air Tankers such as the DC-10 and 747. Currently there are two DC-10’s on Exclusive Use Contracts and a third on a CWN contract.

Global Supertanker, the company that owns and operates the 747, is in talks with the USFS about this not-qualified-to-apply issue.

Last year the current version of the Supertanker was used on fires in Israel, and earlier this year it spent several weeks working on fires in Chile. On February 1, 2017 working out of Santiago it conducted a total of 11 drops on 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.

747 Supertanker first drop 2009
The 747 Supertanker operated by Evergreen drops on the Railbelt Complex of Fires in Alaska July 31, 2009. Photo by Mike McMillan, Fairbanks Area Forestry.

The initial version of the Supertanker built by Evergreen in a 747-100 made its first ever drop on a fire eight years ago at the Railbelt complex in Alaska in 2009. It last received Call When Needed contracts from CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service in 2013. When Evergreen went bankrupt Global Supertanker bought the hardware and the rights to the retardant system and installed it in a newer more powerful 747-400.

 

Photos of the IL-76 at Santiago

The Russian-made IL-76 air tanker was parked near the 747 SuperTanker at Santiago, Chili today January 30. The 747 was off duty to take care of some maintenance, while the IL-76 went on two missions, dropping water on fires south of Santiago.

IL-76 air tanker
The interior of the IL-76, showing the two tanks. Photo by Tom Parsons, pilot of the 747 Supertanker.
IL-76 air tanker
The counterweights on the levers help the large flapper valves to open, releasing the 11,574 gallons of water from the Russian IL-76. Photo by Tom Parsons, pilot of the 747 Supertanker.
IL-76 russian air tanker
The Russian IL-76 Taxiing past the 747 SuperTanker. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Continue reading “Photos of the IL-76 at Santiago”

Hoses descend out of the belly of the SuperTanker

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.

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.

Continue reading “747 SuperTanker protects a village and later 5 firefighters”

Jim Wheeler of Global SuperTanker, interview

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.

A private foundation is funding the initial deployment of the SuperTanker

Above: Ben and Lucy Ana Walton de Availés display a Chilean flag at the door of the 747 Supertanker the day before the air tanker departed for Chile. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The assignment of the 747 SuperTanker to help fight the numerous wildfires in Chile is very different in at least one respect — a private foundation is supplying the starter funds for the huge air tanker to travel to Santiago and for approximately three days of actual use on fires.

An heir to the Walmart fortune, Ben Walton and his wife Lucy Ana Walton de Availés, of Denver, have worked out arrangements with the Chilean government and the operator of the 747, Global SuperTanker, to assist the firefighters on the ground in Chile. The funds are being provided by Ben and Lucy Ana’s foundation, Foundación Viento Sur, which has a connection to the Walton Family Foundation. They hope the government will retain the services of the air tanker for as long as it is needed after they see the effectiveness of the aircraft.

747 supertanker
Lucy Ana Walton de Availés, Ben Walton, and Jim Wheeler (L to R) in front of the tanks in the SuperTanker. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Lucy Ana is originally from Chile and has strong feelings about finding a way to help the residents in her homeland to defend against the fires that have destroyed scores of homes and damaged vineyards, a very important industry in the country.

Ben and Lucy Ana visited Global SuperTanker’s Colorado Springs facilities on January 23 and received a briefing on the use and capabilities of the aircraft. Ben has some pilot training and both of them, but especially Lucy Ana, were very enthusiastic about its capabilities and its potential to assist the residents of Chile.

Working out the details with the foundation, the Chilean government, and Global Supertanker was a complex procedure that took a few days. Finally late Tuesday morning, January 24, the flight crew received the GO order and departed for South America at about 1:40 p.m. MT.

Another cause receiving assistance from the foundation includes Postpartum Support International (PSI), an organization to help women suffering perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The grant will strengthen postpartum treatment in the state of Colorado, although PSI has global connections. In 2016 the foundation helped arrange for $1.5 million worth of medical supplies to be sent to hospitals and rural clinics in Chile. And they also rebuilt a school after it was destroyed by the earthquake and resulting Tsunami in Chile a few years ago.

Lucy Ana Walton
Lucy Ana Walton de Availés enjoys the classic jet aviator’s pose.

747 SuperTanker en route to assist with wildfires in Chile

The 747 SuperTanker has been dispatched to South America to assist firefighters who are dealing with numerous fires occurring during a drought in the country. The aircraft is expected to depart from Colorado Springs sometime after 1330 MT on January 24 and should arrive in Santiago around 14 hours later after a stop in Houston to pick up a liquid fire suppression agent that will be mixed with water in the 19,200-gallon tank.

If you want to follow the track of the aircraft, it will show up as “GST944”. GST used to be used by Ghana Airlines, but the company is now out of business.

The initial stage of this deployment, the first few days, is being funded by a private foundation. We will write more about this in a later article.

I will be embedded with the crew, traveling with them in order to report for Fire Aviation on their assignment. As with any wildland fire assignment, we don’t know how long we’ll be in Chile.

747 Chile supertanker
The interior of the 747 during the gear loading process.  Bill Moody, VP of Incident Response for Global Supertanker, can be seen climbing the stairs to the upper deck. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The fire siege in Chile has been going on for several weeks destroying more than 60 homes and portions of vineyards, an important industry there. As far as we know, Chile has not received much assistance from outside the country.

A recent emergency declaration by the President has authorized the use of military assets to help combat the fires.

Unusually high temperatures for the last 30 days have contributed to extreme fire behavior. On January 15 three firefighters were entrapped and killed and the pilot of a single engine air tanker was killed December 28 when the aircraft crashed about 15 kilometers from the town of Santa Juana after working on a wildfire in the Bío Bío region.