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.
The 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.