The 747 Supertanker, formerly owned by Evergreen until the company went bankrupt, has been in storage at Marana, Arizona for at least a couple of years. Most of that time Tanker 979 it has not had engines, but these photos from December, 2014 and May 31, 2015 show engines on the aircraft.
We attempted to call our former contacts at Evergreen, and not surprisingly, the phone number is no longer in service. So we’re not sure what’s going on with the Supertanker. Maybe it’s being prepped to be sold, or has been sold, however the registration still lists Evergreen International Airlines as the owner of #N479EV. Or maybe the owner had hoped to get one of the Call When Needed contracts that were awarded a few weeks ago.
“Florida Metal”, who gave us permission to use the May 31, 2015 photo, told us:
I saw about 3 Evergreen Supertankers there, or at least painted that way. There were another bunch of Evergreen 747s sitting there. They all had their engines on them so they might fly again, but being that these are 100 series not sure if they will bother and maybe instead convert a newer 400?
Evergreen produced two versions of the Supertanker that we are aware of. The first had rather crude tanks and could not carry the weight of retardant in the tanks. It was only authorized to use water, which is about a pound lighter per gallon, so it never received a contract with the U.S. Forest Service as an air tanker. Then the company converted another 747 with higher-tech, lighter tanks, which enabled it to use 20,000 gallons of retardant. It received certification from the Interagency AirTanker Board in March, 2009 and got a CAL FIRE contract in July, 2009, but only as a Call When Needed air tanker.
Five companies received contracts on May 6, 2013 for seven “next-generation” air tankers. Of those seven, only two have met all of the specifications in the contracts and received the required certifications from the FAA and the Interagency AirTanker Board (IATB) for a supplemental type certificate, a static drop test on the ground, and an airborne test of dropping retardant into a grid of hundreds of cups. The two that have passed and have flown on fires are 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s 11,600-gallon DC-10, and Coulson Group’s 3,500-gallon C-130Q.
Here is what we learned this week while talking with aviation professionals at Cheyenne.
Minden Air Corp, who received a contract for one BAe-146, has passed the static test. They have not attempted a formal monitored grid test. The retardant system they are building has some impressive capabilities, including a high flow rate and a great amount of flexibility in the flow rate. It has the ability to select two different flow rates on one drop, for example, going from coverage level 5 to coverage level 8. (The numbers refer to the number of gallons of retardant that lands on 100 square feet of flat terrain.) That feature could be used when there is a change in vegetation or topography, moving, for example from grass to timber, or flat terrain to a steep slope. In each case it would be helpful to increase the coverage level.
Erickson Aero Tanker, received contracts for two MD-87s. One of the aircraft participated in a grid test in January, and the Interagency Air Tanker Board is still reviewing the results. Even though they added a fairing to modify how the air flow affected the performance of the aircraft and the retardant flow near the fuselage, the aircraft experienced some problems in qualifying at the higher coverage levels. The engineers may need to enlarge the retardant door openings to increase the flow rates.
Aero-Flite has two RJ-85s, an aircraft similar to the BAe-146. It has passed the grid test and the company is working on obtaining dual “citizenship”, supplemental type certificates for the retardant system from Transport Canada and the United States FAA . It is likely that the aircraft will be certified very soon by the IATB for an 18-month interim approval, which will be the new standard operating procedure for air tankers that receive an initial blessing from the IATB. The interim approval provides an opportunity for field trials, to determine if anything surfaces that was not apparent during the static, STC, and grid tests.
Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” was not part of the next-gen contract, but the company did have a couple of call when needed contracts (CWN), with the last one being issued June 14, 2013. After receiving the contract Evergreen scheduled a needed C check which would have started August 2, and depending on what was found during the process would have been ready to fly in mid- to late September — about the time the western wildfire season begins to wind down. The cost of the C check is over a million dollars. But a few weeks after receiving the contract, Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Evergreen Supertanker Services, told Fire Aviation they reconsidered and decided to postpone the C check since there was “insufficient fire season remaining to justify the expense of an expedited C check as well as several system or component upgrades.”
A matter of weeks after Mr. Soelberg gave us that update the company filed for bankruptcy. The change in ownership made the CWN contract void. As of now, the 20,000-gallon 747 Supertanker is not covered by an air tanker contract.
Neptune has one BAe-146 working on the “legacy” air tanker contract, even though it now meets the criteria for a next-gen, including the required air speed and a 3,000-gallon retardant capacity. Before they modified the tanking system for the third time last fall, the tank held about 2,900 gallons and there was a problem in coverage level of the last 400 gallons exiting the tank, so the Forest Service restricted it to only carrying 2,500 gallons. The modifications increased the tank size to 3,000 gallons and made other changes in the system. At another grid test last fall it showed improved consistency for all 3,000 gallons, and in the flow rate at all coverage levels. As a result the Forest Service has now certified the tank system to carry 3,000 gallon of retardant. Their new design is innovative in that it uses GPS to measure the aircraft speed and then can automatically modulate the retardant flow rate to maintain the desired coverage level. They also have a sensor on the drop tubes which measures the actual flow rate. They system can then direct the valves or doors to change the size of the opening in order to maintain the coverage level as other factors change, such as the head pressure in the tank or if the aircraft encounters turbulence. Neptune expects to have a total of five BAe-146 air tankers available by later this summer.
After initially thinking their 747 Supertanker would be available in mid- to late September, Evergreen has reconsidered and expects to have it ready for the 2014 wildfire season.
The U.S. Forest Service awarded the company a Call When Needed contract on June 14, but the aircraft was sitting in Marana, Arizona with the engines removed and safely in storage. After receiving the contract Evergreen scheduled a needed C check which would have started August 2 and depending on what was found during the process would have been ready to fly in mid- to late September — about the time the western wildfire season begins to wind down. The cost of the C check is over a million dollars.
Today Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Supertanker Services, said they have reconsidered, and…
…concluded there was insufficient fire season remaining to justify the expense of an expedited C check as well as several system or component upgrades. The availability of a facility certified to complete the inspection and the unknown return on investment implied in a CALL WHEN NEEDED contract only complicated the decision.
Evergreen is going to defer the required airline level maintenance until later this year or early in 2014. Mr. Soelberg said they expect to have the 747 Supertanker in a position to be fully operational with all checks, inspections and carding complete before the 2014 season begins.
In a perfect world the U.S. Forest Service would get their shit together and issue all aerial firefighting contracts no later than December, to begin in the following spring or summer, instead of procrastinating as they have been doing issuing them in mid-summer. Giving a vendor zero time to get a multi-million dollar aircraft up and running is not realistic. The companies that received the next generation air tanker contracts and those that will be competing in the next few weeks for a scooper contract would no doubt agree.
Since the Evergreen 747 Supertanker may be coming back into our lives it might be a good time to refresh our memories of what it can do with 20,000 gallons.
These two photos was taken by a firefighter in Mexico in 2011. (UPDATE: Walt said in a comment June 20 the two photos below are from an “unpressurized ‘clean out’ (jettison)”. Videos of T979 dropping on fires show appropriate drop altitudes. One of the pilots on the clean-out jettison was a highly regarded 16-year initial attack airtanker pilot that would have mutinied if a drop on a fire was done at that AGL altitude.”)
The first video, below, is a KABC-TV News segment from May 31st, 2006 covering the 747 Supertanker demo in San Bernardino, CA. The video also includes some stock footage of the aircraft dropping during the Interagency AirTanker Board tests.
The second video below shows the 747 dropping water at Central Ciudad Real in Spain, July 21, 2009.
And next we have the 747 dropping on the Crown Fire at Anaverde, which I believe is near Palmdale, California, July 31, 2010.
And finally, below, a water dropping demo at McClellan in California, June 11, 2009.
We will classify this as Breaking News. Evergreen has not had a Call When Needed (CWN) contract for their 20,000-gallon 747 Supertanker for a while, but they will get a new three-year CWN contract beginning July 1, 2013.
When the company had a CWN contract before, the aircraft was very rarely used, making it difficult for the company to justify maintaining the ship and the flight crew in a ready to go state. It will be interesting to see if it sits, or actually drops retardant on fires.
Maybe the U.S. Forest Service, the agency that awarded the contract, is looking for a stop-gap, to fill the void until the all seven “next generation” air tankers that recently received exclusive use contracts become fully certified. Only one of the seven is, the DC-10.
The CWN contract for 10 Tanker’s second DC-10, Tanker 910, will also be renewed for three years on July 1. It was activated Friday morning and flew to Albuquerque.
The other DC-10, Tanker 911, recently got a five-year exclusive use contract. It has been busy for the last two weeks dropping on fires in California, New Mexico, and Colorado
(UPDATE June 15, 2013)
Thanks to John, we have the numbers in the contracts:
For the $250 million price tag, Erickson will get 52 helicopters and 12 fixed wing aircraft from Evergreen Helicopters. The 64 aircraft are a mix of leased and owned. Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker”, which can carry up to 20,000 gallons of fire retardant, is not part of the deal and will remain with Evergreen. The 747 is still configured as an air tanker but has not fought fire recently. The company has not been interested in accepting the U.S. Forest Service’s only offer of a call when needed contract.
From Air Amazonia Erickson will receive 14 passenger transport and medium-lift helicopters, (7) S-61, (5) Bell 212, and (2) A350 that have been used in the oil and gas industry. At this time Erickson has no plans to use the Amazonia helicopters for aerial fire suppression.
Erickson Air-Crane, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, for decades has built, operated, and sold Erickson S-64 heavy-lift helicopters, using a license acquired from Sikorsky. Up through 2007 the company concentrated on firefighting (53% of their business) and timber harvesting (38%). With the planned diversification the company expects to add contracts for Department of Defense work amounting to approximately 43% of their revenue, as well as increasing the oil and gas component. They think that about 30% of their work will be in Afghanistan. After the acquisitions, firefighting will provide about 19% of Evergreen’s revenue.
Since the company went public in April 2012 their stock price has risen from $8.00 to $15.11 today. According to Zacks.com:
In 2012, the company generated revenues of $180.8 million, up 18.4% year over year. The increase in revenue was driven by new firefighting contracts, an active fire season and the company’s expansion of infrastructure construction, especially in support of the oil-and-gas market in South America.
Maybe we’re entering a period of merger-mania. As we reported December 12, 2012, Aero Air of Hillsboro, Oregon, purchased the air tanker operations of Butler Aircraft from Travis Garnick. Aero Air acquired Butler’s three DC-7 air tankers, support equipment, and spare parts in Madras, Oregon. Kevin McCullough, now the President of Aero Air, and Jack Erickson, founder and former owner of Erickson Air-Crane, became co-owners of Aero Air in 1998. Aero Air is currently converting some MD-87s into air tankers and hopes to snag a contract for “next-generation” air tankers, when and if the U.S. Forest Service ever issues the contracts. It has been 476 days since the U.S. Forest Service issued a solicitation for next-generation large air tankers, but no contracts have been awarded.
Below are examples of the aircraft Erickson will be acquiring.