On January 24, 2017 the 747 SuperTanker left its base in Colorado Springs, Colorado for an assignment in Chile. It returned on February 13 after dropping on many wildfires in the South American country, making as many as seven sorties in a day each with 19,200 gallons of water enhanced with an additive to help make the water more effective, since long-term retardant was not available.
After 17 years as a ground based wildland firefighter, with much as it as a smokejumper, Jamie Tackman transitioned to the air, becoming a lead plane pilot. He has worked off and on with the 747 air tankers since Evergreen converted the first one. Now retired from the U.S. Forest Service, he traveled to Chile to provide lead plane services for the huge aircraft operated by Global SuperTankers. This time he had a different role, or at least a different platform, flying ahead of the air tanker as usual but in an aircraft flown by military pilots.
Bill Gabbert interviewed Jamie, who began by describing the situation. Chile has no infrastructure for supervising, using, or refilling large or very large air tankers and they were unfamiliar with the concept of lead planes. In spite of these challenges the personnel working with the 747 and the other aircraft developed procedures to fight the fires from the air, while the local firefighters improvised a system on the ground for refilling the 747 and the IL-76 with water.
If you don’t have time to see the entire video, start at 15:30 where Jamie describes the benefits of having a lead plane work with an air tanker.
Above: Members of the 747 SuperTanker crew, and others, assemble after the crew received an award from the Chilean Red Cross.
The Red Cross in Chile presented each member of the 747 SuperTanker crew with an Extraordinary Services Medal, the highest honor the organization can bestow on individuals contributing to the management of emergency services.
The aircraft has been in the country since January 25 and initially flew many missions dropping water on wildfires, but Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global Supertanker, said today the fire activity has slowed greatly, and they have not dropped on a fire in the last five to six days. They expect to still be assigned there through Sunday, February 12, and while there is a slight chance they could be extended beyond that date, it is not likely unless the fire situation changes.
Just a quick video of the 747 SuperTanker pulling up to the reload pit at Santiago, Chile airport after completing its seventh sortie on February 1, 2017, making a total of 11 drops on the 7 sorties. Six of the sorties were near Navidad and Matanzas 115 miles (185 km) southwest of the Santiago airport where many structures were threatened. The seventh was near Concepcion, 404 miles (650 km) south of Santiago. In total, 138,400 gallons (508,759 l.) were delivered to assist the firefighters on the ground who actually put out the fires.
This video contains shots of many water drops by the 747 Supertanker since it arrived January 25 in Chile. Some of the drops are seen multiple times recorded by different people from various angles. I guess you could call it air tanker porn.
There is one thing all of the shots have in common — the joy and exuberance that you hear every time the huge aircraft appears. Some of it comes from knowing it will assist the firefighters on the ground who may have been struggling to put out the fire that was threatening the property of the bystanders. And the rest perhaps is the novelty of it — seeing this massive machine they have been hearing about on the news and having the chance to see it in person. It is likely that none of them have ever seen in person a large or certainly not a very large air tanker. The country has some single engine air tankers but nothing like this critter.
As this is written at 1713 Chile time on January 31, the 747 just took off on its 4th mission today, carrying another 19,200-gallon load to a fire south of Santiago. (UPDATE at 2310 Chile time: the aircraft flew five missions today.)
The Russian-made IL-76 air tanker was parked near the 747 SuperTanker at Santiago, Chili today January 30. The 747 was off duty to take care of some maintenance, while the IL-76 went on two missions, dropping water on fires south of Santiago.
When the 747 SuperTanker reloads, the technician connects electronics to the aircraft which control the retardant and compressed air being loaded through hoses that descend out of the ship’s belly. Check out the video above to get the details.