Twelve firefighting aircraft worked out of the base supporting the North Hills Fire
The Helena, Montana Air Tanker Base set some records over the last several days while supporting the North Hills Fire. Thanks to the fire being only 9 miles north of the airport and recent improvements made at the base, on Sunday air tankers reloading there completed 68 loads for a total of 231,000 gallons of retardant.
In recent days fixed wing firefighting aircraft at Helena included a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, four Large Air Tankers, two Single Engine Air Tankers, three Air Attack ships, and two Lead Planes.
Over the last year at the base the Forest Service upgraded the plumbing and installed two new pumps, two 25,000-gallon retardant tanks, and one 25,000-gallon off-load tank.
According to KTVH the DC-10 was recently able to load, make a drop and reload in a short amount of time. We checked with John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker, who consulted the data submitted by the fight crews that were flying the North Hills Fire. The flight times for each sortie on July 27 and 28, off the runway to back on the runway, ranged from 10 to 24 minutes with most of them in the 15 to 18 minute range. That does not include taxi and takeoff on the 9,000-foot runway. The time the DC-10 spent in the reloading pit getting another 9,400 gallons of retardant was usually around 19 to 21 minutes, block in to block out.
The fire eventually burned 120,000 acres south of Provo, Utah
In this video a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker drops fire retardant on the Pole Creek Fire that eventually burned 120,000 acres south of Provo, Utah. The video was shot September 20, 2018 from a mapping aircraft operated by Owyhee Air Research, Inc.
— Bureau of Land Management Idaho Fire (@BLMIdahoFire) July 14, 2019
It is interesting that the lead plane was much lower than the DC-10. If the tanker had dropped at that height it would have been an extremely low drop and the retardant would have been rapidly moving forward when it impacted the ground. Maybe the lead was low to give the following air tanker pilot a better 3-D perspective of what piece of ground it was over when they released smoke or said “start here”, and they have already agreed on the drop height.
This is a very impressive video of a Very Large Air Tanker, a DC-10, dropping on the Pawnee Fire in Lake County, California in June, 2018. It was shot by Jackie Sissel of ABC7 and posted to Facebook by Wayne Freedman, also with ABC7.
The Pawnee Fire burned 15,000 acres in Lake County, California about a month before the Ranch fire, several miles to the west, burned 459,123 acres.
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 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 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.