Two aircraft are working with the 747 SuperTanker

747 SuperTanker

Above: the 747 Supertanker prepares to take off at Santiago, Chile.

Like other air tankers, the 747 SuperTanker does not work alone. It takes a village. On the ground it depends on personnel and infrastructure to service it, provide fuel, and refill its retardant tanks.

There are two other aircraft working with the 747 while it is in Chile. One is a lead plane, in this case a borrowed military CASA, a twin engine turboprop that can carry a couple of dozen passengers. A lead plane scouts ahead of the air tanker and evaluates the wind, visibility, fire behavior, and topography and determines the path the much larger air tanker will take to make a drop. After that decision is made it will fly that path with the air tanker following.

CASA lead plane
The aircraft being used as a lead plane in Chile. CONAF photo.

In North America there is usually only one person, a pilot, in a lead plane, but the one being used in Chile comes with two military pilots new to the lead plane role. Global Supertanker brought with them a highly experienced smokejumper and lead plane pilot, Jamie Tackman, who is sitting behind the pilots directing them where to go — such as height above ground, speed, direction, which drainage or slope to fly over, and how to enter and exit the drop run. The CASA is painted in Air Superiority Gray and it’s the first time the SuperTanker pilots have followed a lead plane that is intentionally difficult to see.

The other aircraft is a pimped out passenger jet, a Gulfstream G-4 usually used for hauling VIPs. It was brought on a day or two ago to improve intelligence gathering about the status of the dozens of active wildfires that are scattered across 400 miles, north to south, in Chile. Flying at 10,000 feet it can relatively quickly scout far ahead and help determine where the greatest need exists for air support and also evaluate the smoke conditions that often make it impossible to use an air tanker. This can reduce the number of times the 747 has to abort a mission due to visibility. The aircraft can also assist with communications.

wildfires in Chile map
NASA satellite photo showing smoke created by the wildfires in Chile January 27, 2017. The red dots represent heat.

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10 thoughts on “Two aircraft are working with the 747 SuperTanker”

  1. Can someone chime in – At what altitude are they dropping from and how long and wide is the BEST coverage when the full load of the 19,000 gallons is dropped?

    1. The747 will slow down to a speed of 135-140 knots and an height 250-300 feet above the fire then drop.

      1. Would that be at 30 degrees / full flaps? Any slower, makes you wonder how it stays in the air! What are the normal spool up times for the PW4000 / CF6 / RB211 – not sure what’s on it? Around 6 seconds or so?

  2. You could add this to the other post.

    Do you fly with #1 & 4 engines at higher rpm and retarded throttles on #2 & 3 to get the slow speed. Or are all throttles even? Sorry, never had the opportunity on the 747.

  3. I’m no pro, but you’ve got the worst fires in history, use of the biggest and most sophisticated fire bomber in the world – how hard can it be too throw a quick coat of yellow paint on that lead/spotter aircraft??

  4. Hi there:
    The photo of the gray painted Casa is a 295 Maritime Patrol plane from the Chilean Naval Aviation. I understand that they have been working with you also.

  5. The 747 is just another airplane setting up to land with a full load of passengers( liquid). Missed approach and a go around. With passengers (water/foam/gel/retardant) released you have the performance of an air show performer. The paint issue. After extensive testing (Cal Fire) at the highest level of military approval for helicopters; only CRAYOLA TEMPERA washable paint, hot pink. Will not stain the radar absorbing paint even when “baked on” in direct summer heat. Washes off with water and a brush easily. Pyrocool is an interesting water enhancement product. Although real fire application from the air showed excellent results it didn’t or wasn’t given F.S. approval? The amount of agent (Pyrocool) that is added to water is about one quarter of that of class A foams. (I don’t work for Pyrocool)

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