747 assists firefighters on the Palmer Fire

747 supertanker palmer fire

Above: the 747 SuperTanker drops on the Palmer Fire south of Calimesa and Yucaipa in southern California, September 2, 2017. Photo by Cy Phenice, used with permission.

(Originally published at 12:50 p.m. MDT September 3, 2017.)

On September 2 the 747 SuperTanker was used on the second fire since receiving certification and a contract from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). The Palmer Fire was reported at 1:33 p.m. PDT Saturday and later that afternoon the Very Large Air Tanker was dispatched from McClellan Air Field near Sacramento. According to FlightAware it cruised south at over 600 mph at times before dropping on the fire about an hour later, then reloaded at McClellan and completed a second sortie, dropping almost 19,000 gallons again, splitting the load into two drops.

As of Sunday morning evacuations affecting about 100 homes and 450 residents were still in effect for the fire which has burned 3,300 acres about two miles south of Calimesa. CAL FIRE is in Unified Command with Redlands Fire Department, Beaumont Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office.

The working theory is the fire was caused by fireworks near Fisherman’s Retreat mobile home resort according to CAL FIRE.

On August 31 and September 1 the 747 completed at least three sorties to the Ponderosa fire near Manton, California which was the first time the aircraft had dropped on a wildfire in the United States since the retardant delivery system was removed from Evergreen’s 747-100 and reinstalled into a 747-400 operated by Global SuperTanker. In 2016 and earlier in 2017 it was used on fires in Israel and Chile.

42 thoughts on “747 assists firefighters on the Palmer Fire”

  1. Nice to see the SuperTanker active. It is a useful tool that may take time for the USFS to realize this. The amount of Water/Retardant that this plan can drop is way off the scale of what USFS uses so they just don’t know what to do with it. In other words it does not fit into one of their standard boxes to check off.

    1. I always thought the Boeing 747 I helped design, build, repair, certify and test would make a good fire bomber in my 20 years as an Engineer for Boeing. I ought to know a Boeing B17 fire bomber saved my life on the Wheatland Wyoming fire in 1964.

  2. Drop height is important. The wake turbulence caused by a B747 could create some damage on the ground and fan the flames.
    For other Tankers, 150, 200 Feet AGL is the drop height. Allowing Retardant to create a nice red cloud and covering all the aspects of the vegetation and high enough for any wake turbulence to affect the ground.
    For the VLAT’s; DC10 and B747 Maybe 300 feet AGL?

  3. Where are you Kate Brown? State of Emergency?? 747’s? National Guard?? It’s your call, and your not doing the job we elected you to do!!!!!!!

    1. The terrain in the gorge isn’t suited for the Supertanker. More than a dozen experts talked about this!!
      I would have loved to see it rumble through.. but they just aren’t maneuverable for the varied terrain

  4. Why is this not being used on the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon??????? Haven’t seen it in Montana either, where my daughter is…?????? When does money become more important than human life???? Do something!!

    1. These can be tricky to deploy in steep mountain fires. In order to fly low enough to be effective, they also fly low enough to crash into the mountainside.

      We have access to a Supertanker for the Eagle Creek fire, just waiting for enough visibility to not put the pilots in undue danger.

  5. Governor Kate Brown, OUR STATE IS BURNING UP! When are you going to declare a State of Emercancy? When are you going to come to your senses and order these tankers in to fight OUR fires? How much has to burn before you DO YOUR JOB????

    1. It is not CA’s plane. It is a private plane owned by a man named Wheeler. The individual states forestry service has to agree to the terms of use and pay the money to use. Its not cheap but compared to the damage its worth it!!!

  6. Hey California. When the tables are turned and you’re in the state of emergency; Oregon will remember, and I hope “we don’t share.” These are people’s lives that are being completely lost; humanity is disgusting.

    1. Please don’t answer trolls like ‘Stirnpot’. The name says it all. Lucas said it well above,

      “These can be tricky to deploy in steep mountain fires. In order to fly low enough to be effective, they also fly low enough to crash into the mountainside.

      We have access to a Supertanker for the Eagle Creek fire, just waiting for enough visibility to not put the pilots in undue danger.”

    2. California doesn’t own the 747 and it’s not theirs to loan. They, along with some other states, have an on-call contract with the owner. Also, the U.S. Forest Service so far hasn’t used the VLATs–Very Large Air Tankers with water/retardant capacities over 10,000 gallons.

    3. This has nothing to do with California other than Cal-Fire signed a contract with global super tanker LLC. Complain to your state/ government agencies but to blame it on California is ridiculous.

  7. The 747 fire fighting aircraft was originally developed by Evergreen Airlines that was an Oregon corporation. I worked there as we developed this aircraft. THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE ALWAYS FOUGHT AGAINST USING THIS AIRCRAFT ON FIRES. My understanding is that the “good-old-boy” network wanted to keep giving the fire business to the companies that flew the old WWII propeller aircraft that were converted to fire tanker. That is like comparing a garden hose to a fire hydrant. I am sure some readers will disagree with the claim above and that is fine.

    The 747 may not fit every forest fire application, but for the Forest Service to let prime real estate burn up because they refuse to use the best equipment available does not make sense.

    After Evergreen went into bankruptcy this activity of the company was able to be sold off by the trustee and now is owned by Global Supertanker.
    My suggestion is to write to your representatives in congress and ask for an inquiry into the U.S. Forest Service for their refusal of using this aircraft.

    1. Thank you, Steve. You covered (accurately!) everything that I’ve learned about the beginnings of the Global Supertanker. I was very proud to read that it came from Oregon and to search out all the videos showing it at work. I also agree with your remarks in regard to the USFS and their blatant refusal to
      use this amazing tool. I have no doubt that there’s a ‘good ol’ boy’ network there and maybe even some greasing of palms; an investigation should reveal the ‘truth’. It’s impossible to put out a fire of 100,000+ acres with only 3-4000 gallons in each drop. As for height needed for the Supertanker I would suggest that anyone doubting the capabilities of this beast go to YouTube and type in Evergreen Supertanker and you will see things that make your heart swell with pride at American ingenuity. Thank you again, Steve for your honest, accurate, and blunt speaking. We need a whole lot more of that. I’d also like to know why the USFS is no longer part of the Department of the Interior and who decided to put them under the FDA’s control? What does the Department of Agriculture have to do with public owned lands????

      1. The Forest Service has always been part of the USDA – Gifford Pinchot asked Teddy Roosevelt to put the FS there because he thought the Dept of Interior was corrupt. It was put there on the basis that the FS grows trees and has stayed there ever since.

        The FS has not refused to use the Supertanker, but it has limited use. There are few airports that can handle its weight. It needs a certain level of visibility and manuverability, which make smoke filled days and canyons hard to navigate. There are other resources that are better suited for those situations.

        Finally, as awesome as the air tankers are, you cannot successfully fight a fire with aviation resources alone. They can slow a fire down, but they can’t stop it. That takes ground resources building firebreaks and performing burnouts to do that.

        It’s easy to second guess a situation, but there are wildland fire experts out there, and they are doing their job. I’d recommend letting them do it.

      2. US Forest Service has always been under the Department of Agriculture. It is officially the USDA Forest Service.

    2. Thanks Steve,
      I was on this project from the first test on the ground unit. What you said is the truth!!! Once the public can see what this system can provide, everyone will want this service to save property and life.

    3. Did you know Del Smith? No doubt he would be very pleased to see what has been done with his supertanker pioneering.

  8. As an experienced aerial fire fighting pilot who flies SkyCranes I feel I can say That’s not entirely true, the CH-54 SkyCrane can dump up to 2000 gallons of water per drop and can do up to 30 drops per cycle, (which is about 2 hours) 4 cycles a day. If you do the math that’s up to 60 thousand gallons per 2 hours cycle. That’s about 240 thousand gallons per day! The 747 can do 19 thousand every 2 hours. Many people have the misconception that just because the 747 can dump a lot of water in one load it is the most effective way of fighting fire. It’s not.

    1. Erickson’s SK-64 Helitanker has a capacity of 2K gal, but has to refill after each drop. The math reflects greatly inflated numbers and does not account for the variety of operational factors that often decrease the optimal. Both aircraft are effective wildfire tools. No need to disparage the use of one because it’s not the same as another.

      1. Actually they are not inflated, today we had almost 60 dumps in 4.5 hours, totaling over 80 thousand gallons of water and we did it at 1/3 the cost of the super tanker. On top of what we did there were 3 other type 1 (heavy lift) helicopters that all did about the same and all of us together probably didn’t even cost what the tanker would cost per day. I agree that the tanker can be a great tool but it has a time and place to be used, unfortunately that place might not be where we are working in the Columbia gorge because of terrain and visibility issues. Also, large planes tank a very long time to make their drops and sometimes that cuts into the other operations, like helicopters and ground crews thus costing the government more money which is of course paid by us, the tax payers. All in all, there is a tool for every job, most people don’t realize that the best tools are already being utilized.

    2. You’ve got to be kidding! You said “the” Sky Crane, so I’m assuming you’re talking about a single helicopter. 30 drops in a two hour cycle, or 15 drops in one hour, or FOUR MINUTES per drop??? Doesn’t it have to fly to a water source, refill, and fly back to the fire? All in FOUR MINUTES????

  9. Yep, when you’re pretty close to the water source and the fire it doesn’t take long. It takes less than a minute to fill the water tank. There are times when the water is farther away, that, of course eats at the time and the amount of work and water we can drop. There are lots of factors that come into play but when the winds are right and the water source and fire are relatively close, a lot of water can be dumped, more than many realize.

  10. I agree, the right tool for the job is not what the public think it is. The VLAT and other LAT were used in Nevada (2013) and if my memory is correct they were flying out of CA, therefore, travel time was a factor in the use and placement of the drops when they (VLAT/LAT) returned. However, the helicopters (Sky Crane & Huey’s) were base closer at KVGT; I can see how a helicopter can out do a fixed aircraft easily since they (depending on the intake system of the tank) can hover over ANY water source to fill and “run” back to the fire. So if your pool is close enough and has the clearance the helicopter pilot needs, lol there goes your water to help save lives and properties including yours.

  11. I enjoyed reading the comments regarding use of large planes for fighting fires. As a retired USFS Boise National Forest employee, I can safely say there is a good-ol-boy community alive and well within the agency. Maybe not so much in the fire realm, but it is there. I have witnessed the let burn attitude to green the pockets. Mismanagement by managers who should not be in charge of an outhouse. Sorry to say not all is kosher in the ranks.

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