Jim Wheeler introduces the 747 SuperTanker

An interview with Jim Wheeler about the 747 SuperTanker that can carry 19,600 gallons of fire retardant or water. Mr. Wheeler is the President and CEO of Global Supertanker Services LLC. The interview was filmed at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, California March 22, 2016 by Bill Gabbert for FireAviation.com

747 SuperTanker departing McClellan Air Field

As the sun was rising in Sacramento this morning I took these shots of Tanker 944, a 747-400, as it departed from McClellan Air Field en route to Marana, Arizona. It had been on static display during the Aerial Firefighting conference.

Tanker 944, a 747-400
Tanker 944, a 747-400, departing McClellan Air Field as the sun was rising March 24, 2016.

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747 SuperTanker arrives at McClellan

Above: Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Base in Sacramento, California, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The 747 SuperTanker arrived at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento today after flying in from Marana, Arizona where it received a new paint job. It will be on static display for attendees the Aerial Firefighting conference until Wednesday, March 23.

Bob Soelberg, Senior VP and Program Manager of Global Supertaker, said the retardant delivery system still needs a few tweaks before it can actually drop water or retardant, but they hope to have it ready to fight fire later this year.

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Retardant delivery system on Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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Retardant delivery system on Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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Retardant nozzles on Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
747 Supertanker
Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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747 SuperTanker scheduled to be at McClellan March 22

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747 Supertanker just after receiving the new paint job. Global SuperTanker photo.

The reborn 747 Supertanker is scheduled to fly in to McClellan Air Field around mid-morning on Tuesday March 22. It will be one of the aircraft on static display at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento March 22 and 23. Yes, we have been assured, it really does exist and recently received a new paint job at Marana, Arizona. The paint is so fresh that Bob Soelberg, Senior VP and Program Manager of Global Supertaker, said they postponed their flight by a day over concern that the rain on Monday might damage the new paint. The weather on Tuesday is predicted to be kinder to still-curing livery on the huge aircraft.

Global Supertanker purchased all the physical assets and intellectual property related to Evergreen’s original SuperTanker except the 747-100 airframe itself. The company refurbished the 19,600-gallon retardant delivery system and installed it in a 747-400 airframe to become the third generation of the 747 air tanker.

The SuperTanker was approved by the Interagency AirTanker Board years ago so it remains to be seen how much if any additional flight or ground testing may be required to regain the Board’s certification. It would have been interesting to see the aircraft perform a demonstration drop during the conference this week but Mr. Soelberg said they still have a few tweaks to make on the delivery system before it’s 100 percent ready to drop water or retardant.

CAL FIRE is considering putting a very large air tanker on a Call When Needed Contract. Before this development there was only one choice, the DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier. Representatives from CAL FIRE will be at the conference this week and I’m sure they will be looking at the new, or reborn, kid on the block.

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747 Supertanker just after receiving the new paint job. Global SuperTanker photo.

Global SuperTanker leases hangar at Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs Airport aerial photo
Colorado Springs Airport. Google photo.

The company building Version 2.0 of the 747 Supertanker has leased a hangar at the Colorado Springs Airport. The Gazette reports that Global SuperTanker Services will occupy what has been a vacant 14,880-square-foot hangar. The space will serve as its headquarters for storing equipment for maintaining their Boeing 747-400 jet.

The company announced last August that they purchased the retardant system, related Supplemental Type Certificate (STC), and patents from the ashes of the bankrupt Evergreen company, the developer of the 19,600-gallon air tanker. They have removed the system from the 747-100 (Version 1.0) and installed it in a newer 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) (N492EV) with more powerful engines.

The aircraft is being painted now and is slated to appear at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at McClellan Airfield near Sacramento on March 22.

From the Gazette:

Global SuperTanker employs eight people with plans to add five more this year. The company plans on acquiring additional large firefighting aircraft, starting next year, [CEO Jim] Wheeler said.

The Colorado Springs Airport is co-located with Peterson Air Force Base. During wildfire season the base makes two C-130 aircraft available for deployment as air tankers outfitted with the slip-in Modular Aerial Firefighting System (MAFFS).

747 Supertanker conversion update

C check completed, painting begins

Above: artist’s concept for the paint design on Tanker 947 (N744ST). Image courtesy of Global Supertanker.

Work continues on the conversion of a 747-400BCF into a 20,000-gallon air tanker. Global Supertanker purchased all the physical assets and intellectual property related to Evergreen’s original SuperTanker except the 747-100 airframe itself, and is now refurbishing the retardant delivery system for what will be the third generation of the 747 Supertanker.

According to Bob Soelberg, the Program Manager for Global Supertanker, the C check is complete on the jumbo jet, including compliance with numerous Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins. All major modifications to the airframe are now finished. After the engines were ground checked at maximum power and the aircraft weighed, it was taken for a test flight in the Victorville, California area before departing to be painted in Marana, Arizona.

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The eight fluid tanks have been inspected, tested, painted, and mounted on cargo pallets. Global Supertanker photo.

The eight fluid tanks, which will hold water or retardant, have been inspected, tested, painted, and mounted on cargo pallets. The air pressure tanks have also been painted and are ready to go. The complete system will be shipped to Marana and installed late in February.

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After a landing gear swing test the 747 Supertanker was weighed. Photo by Global Supertanker.

The video below shows a landing gear swing test on a 747. (It is not the Supertanker 747.) In the video they tested just one or two at a time because the hydraulic unit on the ground did not have enough power to do them all at the same time.

Work continues on the reborn 747 Supertanker

The 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) that is being converted into the third generation Supertanker is in Victorville, California where scheduled maintenance, a C Check, is being performed.

747 Supertanker at C check
The 747 Supertanker undergoing a C Check and retardant system installation at Victorville, California. Photo by Scott Olson, VP of Maintenance with Global Supertanker.

That inspection process, which was about 60 percent complete on November 1, should wrap up in November, after which it will remain at the facility for installation of the constant flow retardant dispersal system.

The first version of the 19,600-gallon Supertanker that Evergreen built was in a 747-200 freighter with roll-on/roll-off retardant tanks mounted on pallets. Later they built another version in a non-freighter 747-100 which required a lighter-weight set of tanks and a system suitable for that aircraft. The original heavier tanks were put into storage at Marana, Arizona and for a while were lost after Evergreen went into bankruptcy.

747 Supertanker
The retardant tanks are on the left, and on the right are the rubber seals that will be installed between the tanks. Photos by Scott Olson, VP of Maintenance with Global Supertanker.

Bob Soelberg, the Senior VP and Program Manager for Global Supertanker told us:

Earlier this year, Global SuperTanker purchased all the physical assets and intellectual property related to the SuperTanker except the -100 airframe itself. The original, heavier set of tanks were located and shipped to Victorville along with the other tanks, controls and all spare parts. The heavier tanks will be installed in the -400 following minor modifications that will eliminate the RO/RO capability.

This latest, or third generation Supertanker (with more powerful engines) will have a new FAA registration number, N744ST, when the aircraft is painted following the C Check and the modifications required to install the tank system.

Some of the maintenance tasks being done at Victorville include:

  • testing for skin separation from the frames,
  • evaluation of the trailing edge flap system,
  • removing the APU, which has been inspected and shipped to the vendor for detailed inspection and AD compliance work.
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The skin doubler being installed around the four 16-inch nozzles. Photo by Scott Olson, VP of Maintenance with Global Supertanker.

One of the more complex tasks of installing the retardant system is cutting four 16-inch holes in the belly of the aircraft, and installing the nozzles, the connectors to the tanks, and a skin doubler system around the nozzles. The doubler, attached with approximately 1,300 rivets, will reinforce the structure around the nozzles and the connectors.

While this is being done, concurrent work involves modifications on the flight deck to install the monitoring and control panels used to activate the system.

Evergreen’s 747 SuperTanker first dropped on a fire in 2009 and last received Call When Needed contracts from CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service in 2013. When it received the CWN contract the aircraft had been sitting at Marana without engines and needed a million-dollar “C” check in addition to other maintenance. The company decided that with an expensive expedited “C” check and the other needed work, it could have been ready to fight fire about the time the 2013 western fire season was drawing to a close. And the CWN contract had no guarantee of any revenue. So Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Evergreen Supertanker Services at the time, said they would wait until the next year to get the maintenance done. A few months later, bankruptcy, and the company ceased to exist.

Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services which will be located in Colorado Springs, said they have hired most of the core personnel that worked on the SuperTanker program at Evergreen, including Mr. Soelberg who managed the program there. The Chief Pilot is Cliff Hale who has previous experience as an air tanker pilot.

The retardant is forced from the aircraft by compressed air using the same principle seen in the transportable Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) that can be installed in a few hours into C-130s operated by the military. Unlike the newest version of the MAFFS2 which has two on-board air compressors, the SuperTanker will rely on suitable air compressors to be pre-positioned at an air tanker base. When MAFFS are deployed they meet up with one of the six specialized air compressor systems managed by the U.S. Forest Service that can refill the air tanks in 14 minutes when the on-board compressors fail to work properly, which is not uncommon according to a MAFFS crew member we talked with.

In August Mr. Wheeler told us they will consider installing an air compressor in a year or so.

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