IL-76 goes to work in Chile

Above: The IL-76 on the ramp at Santiago, Chile January 30, 2017. Photo by Tom Parsons.

While the 747 air tanker is taking a day off in Chile for maintenance the Russian IL-76 went to work about 9 hours after arriving at Santiago early Monday morning. FlightRadar24 showed the aircraft (RA76841) flew to and concentrated on a point northeast of Concepción near Portezuelo, an area that has had fires in recent days. As this is written at 4:08 p.m. Chile time it appears to be returning to Santiago at 15,000 feet and 343 mph.

IL-76 air tanker
Radar track of the IL-76 in Chile, January 30, 2016.

Today Tom Parsons and Marcos Valdez, pilots of the 747 air tanker, swapped tours of their aircraft with the crew of the IL-76 before the Russian air tanker took off on a fire mission.

Il-76 air tanker
Pilots Tom Parsons and Marcos Valdez (L to R) in the cockpit of the IL-76.

Russian IL-76 arrives in Chile

Above: The IL-76 and 747 SuperTanker (L to R) at Santiago, Chile airport, January 30, 2017. Concierto.cl photo.

At 5 a.m. Monday morning an IL-76 very large air tanker arrived in Santiago, Chile after 9,300-mile flight that included three refueling stops. It was welcomed in the darkness by officials from the Chilean government.

According to the Russian news service Sputnik International the aircraft can carry up to 42 metric tons of water which converts to about 11,574 gallons. In comparison, most of the air tankers in North America carry 1,400 to 4,000 gallons. The DC-10 holds 11,600 and the 747 has a 19,200-gallon capacity.

Accordign to T13.cl (in an automatic translation from spanish by Google):

Alexander Markov, the colonel and group leader who will operate the ship in Chile, said that the year the aircraft was used in operations in Israel, Portugal, Greece and Indonesia and that the pilots of the aircraft have extensive experience in fighting fires.

There were no reports Monday morning that it brought two helicopters or came with a second IL-76 as was speculated.

The air tanker was expected to remain in Santiago for most of the morning before moving on to its temporary base at La Araucanía International Airport, also known as Temuco Airport, in southern Chile.

More air tankers en route to Chile

The extended drought and a siege of wildland fires has brought to light the fact that Chile does not have any large air tankers or an infrastructure for supporting the aircraft. However the bomberos (firefighters) have done an outstanding job creating a very elaborate temporary water system for refilling the 747 SuperTanker at Santiago. Now that the the aircraft has been in the country since January 25 and proven to be a valuable tool in the firefighters toolbox additional air tankers are reportedly enroute to assist those on the ground. Most of the following information is preliminary and subject to change.

Russian Ilyushin IL-76

IL-76TD air tanker
IL-76TD air tanker. Photo by Shahram Sharifi

There is no doubt at least one Russian IL-76 is en route but we have not confirmed the number. It appears there will be two of the planes with a slip-in 11,574-gallon tank (43,812 liters) with each aircraft bringing two helicopters in their cavernous cargo holds. Instead of working out of Santiago along with the 747 it may be based at La Araucanía International Airport, also known as Temuco Airport, in southern Chile.

On July 1, 2016 an IL-76 working on a fire in Russia was reported missing. Two days later the wreckage was found. Ten people died in the crash.

Brazilian MAFFS

maffs c-130
The first version of a MAFFS with retardant exiting out of the rear cargo ramp. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Koenig.

An aviation publication in Chile, TallyHo, is reporting that the Brazilian Air Force is sending a C-130 with a slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS). From the description, it must be a MAFFS Version 1.0 since it has multiple retardant tanks, no built-in air compressor, and the retardant exits through two tubes sticking out of the rear cargo ramp. Brazil is also bringing a second C-130 carrying a compressor and portable water tanks.

(UPDATE 1446 January 30, 2017: the Brazilian C-130’s arrived Sunday and are expected to move to Concepción today.)

Coulson’s Tanker 132

air tanker 132 at Avalon
Air tanker 132 at Avalon during the 2015-2016 Australian fire season.

Coulson’s Tanker 132, an L-382G commercial variant of the C-130 platform, has worked in New South Wales Australia during their last two summer bushfire seasons. Their current contract began September 6, 2016 and was extended for a month and since then has been extended week by week. Amid reports in Chile that T-132 was going to be working in the country, we checked with Britt Coulson who told us that their company has been contacted about sending one of their C-130 class air tankers to Chile but they are still under contract. He said “it’s really heating up in Australia” and it seems unlikely they will release them. The company’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, is also under contract in Australia, in Victoria.

Air-Cranes

There has also been talk about bringing in Air-Crane helicopters, but nothing is confirmed yet.

Two aircraft are working with the 747 SuperTanker

Above: the 747 Supertanker prepares to take off at Santiago, Chile.

Like other air tankers, the 747 SuperTanker does not work alone. It takes a village. On the ground it depends on personnel and infrastructure to service it, provide fuel, and refill its retardant tanks.

There are two other aircraft working with the 747 while it is in Chile. One is a lead plane, in this case a borrowed military CASA, a twin engine turboprop that can carry a couple of dozen passengers. A lead plane scouts ahead of the air tanker and evaluates the wind, visibility, fire behavior, and topography and determines the path the much larger air tanker will take to make a drop. After that decision is made it will fly that path with the air tanker following.

CASA lead plane
The aircraft being used as a lead plane in Chile. CONAF photo.

In North America there is usually only one person, a pilot, in a lead plane, but the one being used in Chile comes with two military pilots new to the lead plane role. Global Supertanker brought with them a highly experienced smokejumper and lead plane pilot, Jamie Tackman, who is sitting behind the pilots directing them where to go — such as height above ground, speed, direction, which drainage or slope to fly over, and how to enter and exit the drop run. The CASA is painted in Air Superiority Gray and it’s the first time the SuperTanker pilots have followed a lead plane that is intentionally difficult to see.

The other aircraft is a pimped out passenger jet, a Gulfstream G-4 usually used for hauling VIPs. It was brought on a day or two ago to improve intelligence gathering about the status of the dozens of active wildfires that are scattered across 400 miles, north to south, in Chile. Flying at 10,000 feet it can relatively quickly scout far ahead and help determine where the greatest need exists for air support and also evaluate the smoke conditions that often make it impossible to use an air tanker. This can reduce the number of times the 747 has to abort a mission due to visibility. The aircraft can also assist with communications.

wildfires in Chile map
NASA satellite photo showing smoke created by the wildfires in Chile January 27, 2017. The red dots represent heat.

747 SuperTanker protects a village and later 5 firefighters

This article originally appeared on Wildfire Today.

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Above: A fire is approaching Llico, a small village near the Pacific Ocean about 130 air miles southwest of Santiago, Chile.

The 747 Supertanker had a productive day Friday in Chile. They completed four missions and were taxiing to take off on another when the lead plane pilot called saying smoke had degraded visibility making another drop impossible.

Elena Carretero, who has been associated with the flight crew, said one of the drops in the morning helped protect the lives of five firefighters who were in imminent threat of being overrun by a fire.

747 Supertanker Chile
At middle-left is Laguna de Torca. Beyond it is the village of Llico, and just beyond the village is the fire. This is looking southwest toward the Pacific Ocean.

All of these photos were taken from the 747 by the drop system operator, Don Paulsen. The images of the fire were shot just before 6 p.m. local time on Friday near Llico, a small village near the Pacific coast about 130 air miles (209 km) southwest of Santiago, Chile (map). Elena told us the village was in danger, like the five firefighters, of being overrun by the fire until the SuperTanker used all 19,200 gallons of water to make one long drop between the fire and the village, saving it.

747 Supertanker Chile Llico
The village of Llico being threatened by the fire.
747 Supertanker Chile
Structures in Llico can be seen at the bottom of the photo.

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