Getting up to date on the DC-10 VLATs at Albuquerque

DC-10 air tanker
Air Tankers 910, 911, and 914 at Albuquerque, May 3, 2019.

On May 3 after the IAWF Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference I stopped by the headquarters of 10 Tanker Air Carrier at the Albuquerque airport. Not long ago the company moved into roomier facilities at the airport and it looks like they are settled into the new digs.

The company has four DC-10-30 Very Large Air Tankers (VLATs) now fully operational. The last one to be added to the fleet, Tanker 914, began service in 2018, joining Tankers 910, 911, and 912. T-910, the first DC-10 to be converted into an air tanker was originally a DC-10-10. In 2015 it was replaced with a DC-10-30 and now all four of the company’s aircraft are the same model, DC-10-30. The’30 series has more powerful engines and a much higher maximum take-off weight (MTOW) — 572,000 pounds which is far more than the earlier model.

When we were there one of the aircraft, T-912, had just left to start its exclusive use contract, and T-914 was going to depart in a few days to be based, for a while anyway, at Mesa, Arizona.

Two of the DC-10s spent much of February fighting fire in Chile. The original order called for just one, but on the first day at work in the country a tire failed in spectacular fashion, sending rubber shrapnel into one of the flaps, creating three holes. It took several days to fix it, working with the FAA and bringing mechanics with sheet metal expertise from the United States. John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker, said the company told CONAF, the National Forest Corporation that handles wildland firefighting in Chile, that they could send a replacement DC-10 while the repairs were made. The CONAF representative said, in effect, You have more DC-10s? Bring another and we will use it along with the first one during the fire season. So a second was dispatched and they were based at opposite ends of the long, narrow country.

The Goodyear tire failed on its eighth landing —  which obviously is very unusual.

In the gallery below, mouse-over the photos below and a caption will appear. Click on a photo to begin a slide show of LARGE images, with the caption then at upper-left.

Mr. Gould said fully loaded the DC-10 VLATs weigh 405,000 pounds with a full load of retardant and 2.5 hours of fuel and 9,400 gallons of retardant, which gives the pilots a 167,000-pound margin when maneuvering for a retardant drop, compared to if it was loaded to MTOW.

The DC-10 operates with a crew of three, two pilots and a flight engineer who monitors the aircraft systems and inputs the specifications for the retardant drop.

The aircraft has five retardant tanks, three holding 2,700 to 4,000 gallons each, and two smaller fairing tanks at the front and rear. The fairing tanks are no longer used, which gives the VLAT a 9,400-gallon capacity.

En route to a fire it cruises at 340 knots, but when returning to reload it bumps the speed up to 380 knots. It drops retardant at 200 to 300 feet above the ground at 150 knots.

The first drop over a fire by a DC-10, Tanker 910, was on July 16, 2006 after being awarded a Call When Needed contract by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE.

Each DC-10 is followed by a support crew of seven maintenance technicians equipped with a four-door pickup and goose-neck trailer carrying spare parts and equipment.

One thought on “Getting up to date on the DC-10 VLATs at Albuquerque”

  1. Love that 10 Tanker Air Carrier has expanded their fleet! They do an amazing job of slowing and stopping the advancement of fires.

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