Mike Eliason of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department is one of the best Information Officers when it comes to providing information on social media about the status of wildfires. He is prolific on Twitter and judging from his production since the Cave Fire started at about 4 p.m. Monday, he may not have gotten much sleep in the last 24 hours. These five photos of air tankers were all taken Tuesday are just a sample of his work.
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 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.
The article linked to above has the details about Airstrike’s recent projects.
Coulson’s T-134, a C-130Q, has come a very long way since April, 2017. Check out these photos, here and here, taken as the project was just getting started. It is amazing what private industry can do in 16 months when they want to convert an aircraft into an air tanker. The Air Force dithered for almost five years when they were supposed to be converting seven former Coast guard HC-130H aircraft into air tankers for the U.S. Forest Service, and never fully completed any of them. Now it appears the state of California will get the reborn air tankers, when and if the USAF completes the work.