A tour through the 747’s retardant delivery system

The air tanker holds about 19,000 gallons of retardant or water to aid firefighters on the ground suppressing wildland fires.

747 Supertanker

Above: Some of the tanks inside the 747 Supertanker while the system was basically in place but not fully installed and operational. McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016.

(Originally published at 12:05 p.m. October 24, 2017)

Craig notified us about this video which is a very interesting guided tour through the retardant delivery system of the 747 SuperTanker. I learned that the equipment is more complex that I realized. For example, just the compressed air, the AIR, that forces the liquid out of the tanks weighs 2,700 pounds.

The videography is very shaky and the camera is not always pointed in the appropriate direction, but if you can hear SuperTanker pilot Marcos Valdez’s narration, it is very informative. The video was uploaded June 24, 2016.

As the camera enters the plane, Marcos is on the right and lead plane pilot Jamie Tackman is on the left. Jamie spent some time with us during the crew’s deployment to Chile in January providing insight on flying lead planes in general, and operating in front of the 747 in particular — very informative.

Here is another video that shows the installation of the tank system. While it is roll-on/roll-off, it obviously takes a while.

747 Supertanker tanks
Part of the retardant delivery system on the 747 Supertanker, March 22, 2016 at McClellan Air Field.
747 Palmer Fire supertanker
Air Tanker 944, a 747-400, drops near structures on the Palmer Fire south of Yucaipa, California at 4:25 p.m. PDT September 2, 2017. Photo by Leroy Leggitt, used with permission.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Craig.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

6 thoughts on “A tour through the 747’s retardant delivery system”

  1. When Evergreen first came up with idea of a pressurized system to discharge retardant I remember a few blank aviation faces, why? From what I understand Global did an excellent job of making the aircraft, system and crew perform the mission during the California fires. I’m still sort of a “gravity guy” not too many moving part and usually won’t spring a leak. Maybe the second GST 747 (Tanker 745) will be a departure from pressurization.

    1. I don’t think it will be, Johnny.

      The main reason for the pressurized system is because of the landing gear arrangement. The discharge chutes are at the rear of the plane and I am afraid if they attempted to go with a gravity drop system, the payload would be reduced.

      1. For some reason the name Randi Coulter is associated with aircraft model building? All aviation projects start with an idea, concept of feasibility and a small scale model. FAA Part 137 applicators are like guys building race cars. Example Aero-Flite Bae 146 tank design and location.

        1. I did not mean my comment to be belittling or condescending. I was merely expressing my opinion as to why, it may not be consistent with a gravity drop system. You are correct, the aerial applicators of Phschek® are an enterprising lot. Unlike the Aeroflite RJ-85s the 747 has the centerline landing gear to contend with.

          As to your ‘model building’ comment? Yes, I am a scale modeler but, I was involved in the aerial firefighting industry in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I try, my best, to stay on top of the goings on in the industry. I am in regular contact with all of the current contractors and several of the pilots, including a couple who fly the 747.

  2. Don’t know a lot about aeroplanes and retarded I just know as a land tanker operator as I call it a portable fire hydrant they are awesome to see

  3. Great story and airplane. Terrible video – need to get a pro to do it! Got dizzy trying to watch it.

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