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.
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.”
Yesterday we showed you a couple of videos produced by Global Supertanker, the company that resurrected the 747 air tanker first created by Evergreen. Here are two more featuring the new Tanker 944. I was surprised how interesting it was to see a HUGE aircraft being painted and having the retardant delivery system installed.
Above: A screen grab from the 747 Supertanker video, “Mountain Flying”.
Global SuperTanker bought the retardant system and the intellectual property formerly owned by Evergreen, the organization that first put it in a 747-100 air tanker. It now resides in a 747-400 operated by Global SuperTanker which in recent weeks has been going through some of the final stages of installation, testing, and crew training.
On June 17 the aircraft traveled to Moses Lake, Washington to conduct crew training in mountainous terrain on the Colville Indian Reservation near Moses Lake, Washington. Training flights were under the direction of experienced Lead Plane pilot Jamie Tackman flying a King Air 90, and were recorded by video cameras located on the Keller Butte fire lookout tower and in a helicopter orbiting overhead.Tanker 944, along with the Lead Plane, made seven round trips to the training area, completing a mix of “show me” and low level dry runs plus various full load and segmented water drops.
Three FAA inspectors from Denver and Seattle observed the flights.
Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, said they do not know if the aircraft will have to go through the retardant drop testing in which the liquid is caught in hundreds of cups placed on the ground. The retardant system is basically the same that was used in Version 1.0 operated by Evergreen, which was previously approved by the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). The Board wants some additional data from static drops that will be conducted soon, then a decision will be made about what other data or testing they will need, if any.
Global SuperTanker Services is now preparing the aircraft, ground crew and their facilities for inspections by the FAA, CAL FIRE, U.S. Forest Service, Interagency Airtanker Board, and other state or regional fire agencies interested in CWN (Call When Needed) contracts for the 2016 fire season.
The company has produced videos showcasing the rebirth of the 747 air tanker, Tanker 944. Some have been removed but here is one of them. It appears to have been filmed during the training at the Colville Indian Reservation.
And here is a bonus video at no additional charge. Just after the 747 began taxiing before take off, three F-18’s landed. They taxied pretty close to where I was standing. A little military aircraft porn.
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.
(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.