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.
If it actually is assigned to a fire in Israel after it arrives it will be the first time this version of the SuperTanker has dropped on an actual fire. The previous version had a call when needed contract with the U.S. Forest Service and was used sparingly, making its first fire drop on the Railbelt Complex of fires in Alaska, July 31, 2009.
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.