One of the two DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers that deployed to Chile is en route back to the United States now that the wildfire activity has slowed and the contract has ended. It is scheduled to land at San Antonio at 6:59 p.m. CST today, March 2, after a stop in Manta, Ecuador. On FlightAware it is operating as TNKR910, N612AX. 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s headquarters is at Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The second DC-10, Tanker 914, arrived in Chile on February 11. Its contract ends next week and then it will be heading back north.
The two DC-10s have been working out of three airports stretched across 572 miles of the long, narrow country — Santiago, Concepción, and Puerto Montt.
As of March 1, the two aircraft have completed 133 missions dropping a total of 1.2 million gallons, an average of 9,022 gallons per mission, said John Gould, President of 10 Tanker Air Carrier. For the first week or two they were dropping plain water since there is no fire retardant in Chile, but later fire officials requested they use BlazeTamer, a concentrated water enhancer that can be injected into the tank using the existing equipment on the air tankers. The product was used on 33% of the missions.
A Chilean Navy P-295 (as seen below) is serving as a lead plane for the DC-10. Also known as a Casa, a P-295 served as a lead plane ahead of the 747 when it worked in Chile in 2017. He was not allowed to fly it, but former smokejumper and lead plane pilot Jamie Tackman went along as a passenger in the Casa in 2017, kneeling between the pilots, giving them instructions on where and when to drop. This year there are no U.S. lead plane pilots in the P-295.
A DC-10 very large air tanker was damaged when a tire failed upon landing at the Carriel Sur airport in Concepción, Chile Friday November 8. The tread separated on a main landing gear tire and damaged an inboard flap. John E. Gould, President of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said the crew immediately began repairing the flap and that work will be completed Monday afternoon.
When tires on a race car or aircraft disintegrate at high speed as shown in the photo, chunks of rubber flying off the tire can damage sheet metal and other components.
Very roughly translated news reports indicate that the aircraft completed either four sorties or four drops on its first day of operations in Chile before the tire failed. T-910 departed from San Bernardino, California on February 6, arrived in Chile the following day, and went to work dropping on wildfires February 8.
Mr. Gould said a second DC-10, Tanker 914 has been ordered and is en route, expected to arrive in Santiago, Chile Monday afternoon. It is not necessarily to replace T-910; CONAF, the contracting organization, wanted a total of two very large air tankers under contract.
The video below shows both a Russian IL-76 and the DC-10 making drops. It is possible that a water enhancing chemical has been added to the water to increase its effectiveness in suppressing the wildfires. The DC-10 can carry up to 9,400 gallons. The IL-76 footage may be from 2017.
One of 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s DC-10 very large air tankers is en route to Chile. Tanker 910, N612AX, departed from San Bernardino, California Wednesday. It made a stop at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala later in the day, and information on Flight Aware appears to indicate that it will also stop at Pisco, Peru.
John Gould, President of 10 Tanker said the aircraft is expected to arrive at Santiago, Chile early Thursday morning. He said it will be working for the National Forest Corporation, or CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal), which is a Chilean private, non-profit organization, through which the Chilean state contributes to the development and sustainable management of the country’s forest resources. CONAF is overseen and funded by Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture. There is no one governmental agency that has the authority, responsibility, and resources to manage wildfires in the Country.
On Tuesday Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of catastrophe in some regions of the country due to unusually hot weather and numerous wildfires. Below is an excerpt from Prensa Latina:
[Undersecretary of the Interior, Rodrigo] Ubilla said that this extreme measure seeks to strengthen the network of logistical support to deal with these disasters, and that these commanders will be responsible for ‘controlling public order, operationally support the tasks of prevention, fire fighting and adopt all necessary measures to avoid risks to the population.
More than 8,000 hectares [19,000 acres] of forests and pastures have already been burned by flames, dozens of homes have been destroyed and hundreds of people evacuated, according to reports from the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) and the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior (ONEMI).
Two years ago Global Supertanker’s 747 very large air tanker spent a month or so fighting fires in Chile working out of Santiago. Andrea Avolio, a vice president of the company, said their aircraft is presently down for several weeks undergoing heavy maintenance. She said the company has not received any inquiries from officials in Chile about it being deployed.
Dan Snyder, CEO and President of Neptune, said he has recently had some informal discussions with folks in Chile but no orders have been placed. Neptune sent one of their BAe-146s, Tanker 03, to Concepción, Chile two years ago at the same time the 747 was farther north in Santiago.
A spokesperson for Aero-Flite said as far as she knew the company has no plans to send one of their RJ85 large air tankers to South America. Currently three of them are working in Australia.
Beriev PJSC has signed orders for up to 15 Be-200ES amphibious air tankers, which are manufactured in Taganrog, Russia. The sales documents were signed at the Hydroaviasalon amphibian air show in Gelendzhik, Russia in September, 2018.
Two are being purchased by a private company, CBP Asesorías Aeronáuticas. The aircraft will be civilian registered and leased to the government of Chile during the wildfire season. The company has options to buy three more. Work has already started on the first two at PJSC Taganrog Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex n.a. G.M. Beriev, Russia. Beriev expects to deliver them in 2021.
U.S.-based Seaplane Global Air Services ordered four and has options for an additional six. Patrick Massardy of Airbus and David Baskett of Seaplane Global Air Services signed the agreement with Beriev in September.
Beriev began manufacturing the Be-200 in 2003. It is one of the few purpose-built air tankers, designed primarily for fighting wildland fires. The aircraft can land or take off on water or land, and the firefighting version can scoop water to refill its tanks which can carry up to 3,167 gallons near the end of the fuel cycle. Within two hours it can be converted to haul passengers or serve as a search and rescue aircraft, landing on water to retrieve personnel if necessary.
David Baskett, who has been associated with Pacific Skyway Airline, International Emergency Services, TTE International, and Seaplane Global Air Services has been attempting to gain support for and purchase Be-200s since at least 2009.
In 2012 the manufacturer of the aircraft, Beriev, covered the costs for two U.S. Forest Service employees to travel to Taganro, Russia, the home base of the Beriev company, to determine if the Be-200 met the criteria established by the Interagency Airtanker Board. IAB approval is necessary in order to qualify for an air tanker contract with federal agencies in the U.S. There are reports that they evaluated water drops from the Be-200 and found that it performed well. They did not test the performance with retardant.
In 2016 Mr. Baskett announced that he was working with the Beriev Aircraft Company, Global Seaplanes, and Airbus to manufacture the Be-200 in Santa Maria after the first 10 aircraft were delivered.
As far as we can tell there have been no concrete on-the-ground results from these proposals. However the agreement that Mr. Baskett and Airbus signed with Beriev in September, 2018 appears that it will result in an actual purchase of at least four Be-200ES-E aircraft.
Some Airbus personnel are involved with the project.
“They are authorized and supported by Airbus to work on the Be-200 program, which has long term recognition, and they help in development issues,” Mr. Baskett said. “Airbus is not a formal shareholder in Global.”
Mr. Baskett told us that he expects delivery of the first two in the Spring of 2020, with the next two arriving later in the year. Four more are scheduled for 2021, to be followed by the last two. The plan is for Seaplane Global Air Services to lease them to International Emergency Services for operation in the United States.
Knowing that the Be-200 does not have FAA or IAB certification I asked Mr. Baskett what he planned to do with the aircraft after receiving them.
“I plan on flying them on fires around the Western Hemisphere”, he said. “In Australia, to here, and over in Europe. So it’s a joint effort between the Europeans, the Australians, and us on using these 10 aircraft when they come off the production line. We’re in the process right now of bidding [on contracts for] the use of the aircraft with various governments.” He declined to specify which governments, other than to say it is “western governments”.
Don Oaks, the former Fire Marshall for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, is working with Mr. Baskett and Seaplane Global Air Services, providing advice and serving as a wildland fire subject matter expert for the company. He said they expect the aircraft to follow the fire seasons around the world, moving from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and to Europe.
When I asked him what the chances are of receiving FAA approval, he said “Very high”.
Explaining what work, if any, would have to be done to the Be-200 to facilitate the approval, he said, “No, there’s no additional work that would have to be done. The aircraft is approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, certified by them. The FAA has told me, and they authorized me to report what they told me, that they want 110 percent to certify the aircraft. And that was the head of the FAA International Certification Division.”
Mr. Baskett said the contract for the 10 aircraft requires that they have English language cockpits and for them to have FAA certification.
Training for two mechanics and five pilots will begin in May of this year in Russia. Mr. Baskett said engineers are working on plans for a Be-200 heavy support base that he intends to build in Santa Maria.
On Christmas Eve Billings Flying Service unloaded one of their CH-47D Chinooks off a ship in Chile. Two days later after reinstalling the rotor blades they flew it to a base just east of Concepción where it will begin a firefighting contract for one of the largest pulp and paper companies in Latin America. Compañía Manufacturera de Papeles y Cartones (CMPC ), which translates to Manufacturing Company of Papers and Cartons, employs over 15,000 people in Chile and seven other countries in South Ameria.
The helicopter that Billings shipped to Chile is N303AJ, a Boeing CH-47D manufactured in 1989 that fights fire with an external water bucket. At least one of the company’s ships was testing a new 2,500-gallon internal tank last summer. Billings became the first non-military owner of CH-47D Chinook helicopters when they purchased their first two in 2014. Gary Blain, co-owner of the company, and another pilot flew those aircraft from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River. Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.
Billings has seven other Chinooks, one Sikorsky UH-60, five Bell 206s, five Airbus AS350 B3s, one MD 500, and one Hiller 12B.
All of these photos in Chile were provided by Brian Jensen of Billings Flying Service.
Above: The 747 Supertanker being reloaded at Santiago, Chile, January 28, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
In January and February two large air tankers traveled from the United States to South America to assist firefighters in Chile that were dealing with an unprecedented number of wildfires. Global SuperTanker’s 747 left Colorado Springs on January 24 and returned on February 13. A BAe-146 operated by Neptune Aviation was down there from about February 4 to March 5.
As far as I know this is the first time that any large air tankers from North America have assisted with wildfires in South America. One limiting factor is that up until recently most of the U.S. air tankers were former military aircraft which were not allowed to be used outside the country. With the industry converting to used civilian airliners and cargo aircraft that restriction does not apply to the newer privately owned aircraft.
In January, 2017 I had been following the increased wildfire activity in Chile and had written about it several times on Wildfire Today. Here is an excerpt from an article published on January 3, 2017:
Wildfire burns 100 homes in Chile
On Monday a wildfire burned approximately 100 homes in Valparaiso, Chile. There are reports that 19 people were injured and hundreds were forced to evacuate. The fire was fought by firefighters on the ground assisted by [single engine] air tankers and helicopters dropping water.
Pushed by strong winds it burned about 120 acres of vegetation 75 miles northwest of Santiago.
But the fires in Chile were receiving very little notice in the mainstream media in the U.S.
Eduardo Frugone, who is kind of a mysterious person in Chile with many connections, read the articles on Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation about the fires in his country and the fatal air tanker crash. I had never heard of him, but on January 18 he sent me an email message through the Contact Us page on Fire Aviation that read, in its entirety:
“We need fire figthing [sic] planes to fly to Chile, need to know if your company can establish contacts right away.
I, of course, do not have any air tankers, but I forwarded his message to air tanker companies that I thought might have some available. Selecting the companies was a pretty quick decision that I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on. I figured the chances of the person that contacted me having any influence in deploying North American air tankers to South America was very, very slim. As far as I knew the paradigm of contracting for air tankers was limited to federal, state, or provincial governments, not a random person who only had links to private companies in his automatic email signature. So I didn’t want to waste the time of every air tanker company in the world.
I did not contact any company that I knew had 100 percent of their tankers committed to Australia. And I limited the short list to companies that had deployed air tankers on fires in 2016, or that I knew had recently received certification from the Interagency Air Tanker Board, and that I knew how to reliably contact. Not all air tanker companies will return my phone calls or respond consistently to my emails.
I forwarded the email to 10 Tanker Air Carrier, Neptune Aviation, and Global Supertanker. I wrote to them, “I don’t know if this is legit or not, but it might be an opportunity to use your aircraft in Chile.” Two of those companies, Global Supertanker and Neptune, followed up.
So, Eduardo got the ball rolling, through Wildfire Today.
What followed, in the case of Global Supertanker, were eight days of phone calls, email messages, and negotiations.
During the week of January 22 an heir to the Walmart fortune in Denver, Ben Walton with his wife Lucy Ana, got involved. She grew up in Chile and still maintains very strong ties to the people and the country. They have used their foundation in recent years to help the residents in her homeland. In 2016 the foundation helped arrange for $1.5 million worth of medical supplies to be sent to hospitals and rural clinics in Chile. And they also rebuilt a school after it was destroyed by the earthquake and resulting Tsunami in Chile a few years ago.
The Waltons had been following the escalating fire situation in Chile and were familiar with my web sites, Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation, after I had written about wildfires in Colorado. They knew the 747 Supertanker was based in Colorado Springs just an hour south of their Denver home.
In discussions with Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global Supertanker, they offered to have their foundation, Foundación Viento Sur, provide the funds for the 747 to ferry to Chile and back, and for five days of firefighting in Chile. They hoped that after they saw the effectiveness of the aircraft, the government would retain the services of the air tanker for as long as it was needed .
Working out the details with the foundation, the Chilean government, and Global Supertanker was a complex procedure that took a while. Ben and Lucy Ana visited Global SuperTanker’s Colorado Springs facilities on June 23 and received a briefing on the use and capabilities of the aircraft. Ben has some pilot training and both of them, but especially Lucy Ana, were very enthusiastic about its 19,200-gallon capacity and its potential to assist the residents of Chile.
Attorneys in the U.S. and Chile got involved, and finally late Tuesday morning, January 24, the flight crew received the GO order and departed for South America at about 1:40 p.m. MST.
Mr. Wheeler offered me one of the 12 seats on the 747 for the trip south, and I accepted and became embedded with the crew. I returned on my own February 5 and the aircraft flew back to Colorado Springs nine days later.
Eduardo Frugone, who initially came up with the concept for the deployment of North American air tankers to Chile, helped to facilitate the missions before and during the assignment in exchange for a salary.
The Chilean government was very reluctant to bring in aircraft from outside the country, possibly because they had existing contracts with European companies for single engine air tankers. Questions have been raised about irregularities related to the activities of those companies in Europe and an investigation is underway now in Chile about procedures, before this year, about the acquisition of firefighting aircraft.
Chile is also considering the creation, for the first time, of a “Forest Service”-type agency that would assume the role of coordinating wildfire suppression, a task that presently is done by CONAF, a private, non-profit organization funded by the government and responsible for initiating air tanker contracts.