747 was used Tuesday on California fire

The Supertanker dropped on a wildfire 13 miles northeast of Oroville, California.

(Updated at 12:45 p.m. PDT August 31, 2017)

For the first time in several years the 747 SuperTanker dropped retardant on a wildfire in the United States. In 2016 and earlier this year the 19,000-gallon aircraft was used on fires in Israel and Chile, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that it had all of the inspections, tests, approvals, and very importantly, a contract in place.

On one sortie to the Ponderosa Fire northeast of Oroville, California at 7 p.m. MDT Wednesday August 30 Tanker 944 made two drops, half a load on each pass.

747 Supertanker
A flight of the 747 Supertanker (Tanker 944), 12:45 p.m. PDT, August 31, 2017. FlightAware.

As this article was updated at 12:45 p.m. PDT August 31 the Tanker 944 was on another sortie in the same general area. (see above)

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One of the first tests of the re-installed retardant system on the Global Supertanker 747-400, May, 2016. Global Supertanker photo.

This aircraft is the second version of the Supertanker that was developed by Evergreen Aviation, originally in a 747-100. After buying the retardant system and the intellectual property, Global SuperTanker installed it in a newer more powerful 747-400.

747 SuperTanker receives firefighting contract with CAL FIRE

Above: Air Tanker 944, the 747 SuperTanker, at Colorado Springs, May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Originally published at 2:23 p.m. MDT August 28, 2017.

Jim Wheeler President and CEO of Global SuperTanker said today their 747 SuperTanker has received a call when needed (CWN) contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). The aircraft and crew were also issued cards by CAL FIRE, meaning they passed the inspections and meet the qualifications. The U.S. Forest Service participated in the process but they do not issue cards until a USFS contract is in place.

Mr. Wheeler said the air tanker is presently at McClellan Air Field and is available.

The first time the 747 was used on a U.S. fire was on the Railbelt Complex of Fires in Alaska August 1, 2009. About a month later it assisted firefighters on the Station Fire near Los Angeles.

Photos of five air tankers at McClellan, August 5, 2017

Above: Tanker 105 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. It is a good view of the external tank, or pod, that was fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowered the release point by 46 inches. The intent was to keep the flow of the retardant away from the engines. Photo by John Vogel.

(Originally published at 6:04 p.m. MDT August 5, 2017)

John Vogel shot these excellent photos on August 5 of air tankers at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento.

Thanks John!

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Tanker 911 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
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Tanker 62 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
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Tanker 133, Coulson’s most recent air tanker conversion, at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
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Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. On August 4 the company moved the aircraft out of Colorado Springs to avoid a hailstorm. They hope to get it carded by CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by John Vogel.

There are a couple of more hurdles before the 747 SuperTanker is certified to fight wildfires

Chief Dennis Brown of CAL FIRE, when describing under what conditions his agency might use the 747: “You don’t use a sledgehammer to do your finish work.”

Above: The 747 Supertanker at McClellan Air Field March 22, 2016.

(Originally published at 4:21 p.m. MDT July 27, 2017.)

On July 25 the 747 SuperTanker achieved probably the most difficult step toward its goal of being able to drop retardant on wildfires, it received a 17-month interim approval of the retardant delivery system from the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). But it still can’t operate over fires. The next items on the To Do list of Global SuperTanker (GST), the company that operates the 19,200-gallon Very Large Air Tanker, is to have the pilots “carded” and the aircraft inspected. That process will be starting in a day or two while the ship, Air Tanker 944, sits at Victorville, California.

GST signed a Call When Needed (CWN) contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) on June 6 of this year hinging on the aircraft receiving approval by the IAB and the aircraft and the pilots being approved or carded.

Dennis Brown, the Chief of Flight Operations for CAL FIRE, told us today that his agency is working with the U.S. Forest Service to review the required information about the 747 and the personnel so that the cards can be issued if everything is in order. He said if they receive the data they need from GST, everything looks good, and there are no stumbling blocks along the way, the most optimistic scenario is that the cards could be issued by the end of next week, around August 4.

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747 Supertanker taking off at McClellan Air Field at sunrise March 24, 2016.

But Chief Brown said, “It’s a little longer process than carding a Cessna 182, for sure”, adding that there are about 600 Airworthiness Directives to consider.

We asked if GST had any Initial Attack (IA) qualified pilots. “No, and we would not use them IA nor do we use the DC-10 IA”, Chief Brown said. “They would all be required to have an [Aerial Supervision Module] Lead Plane in front of them just like the [Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems] and the DC-10’s.”

We mentioned a widely reported quote attributed to CAL FIRE spokesperson Janet Upton, who reportedly said earlier this week, “Would we use [the 747] if approved? Absolutely we would use it.”

According to Chief Brown that is not what Ms. Upton said. “If the SuperTanker was approved it could be considered for CAL FIRE use”, he said, elaborating on Ms. Upton’s remarks to the reporter. “And then she went on to explain that it could absolutely become another tool for Incident Commanders to consider using along with other assets available to them.”

Mr. Brown said if the aircraft and pilots are completely approved it does not mean his agency will call them up on every fire they have. “It’s a specific tool for certain situations”, he said. “It’s certainly not going to be the tool we use on half-acre fires. If it gets approved we will consider it just like we do with anything else. There are some situations where a scooper will work the best, a [Single Engine Air Tanker] might work the best, a [Large Air Tanker] or a [Very Large Air Tanker]. But not every aircraft fits every role. You don’t use a sledgehammer to do your finish work, you know?”

National media covers the lack of federal contract for 747 Supertanker

Above: The 747 Supertanker makes a demonstration drop at Colorado Springs, May 4, 2016.

(Originally published at 2 p.m. MDT July 17, 2017)

While large wildfires have been burning recently in the Southwest, California, and the Northern Rockies, many local news outlets as well as national media organizations like CBS News and the Associated Press have been covering the story about the 747 Supertanker that does not yet have a long-term contract with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

In January, 2016 the aircraft received interim approval from the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). This meant that it qualified to be used on fires, but did not include a contract. A couple of years ago the IAB began giving new air tanker designs interim approval to provide a period for real world use on actual fires so that bugs, if any, could be worked out and the users of the service could evaluate the effectiveness. The duration of the temporary approval has usually been 18 months, but the IAB only gave the 747 about 6 months, and that expired June 15, 2017. During those six months the air tanker was not used on fires in the United States (but was used extensively in Chile), so there was no evaluation in this country.

The USFS currently is soliciting bids from vendors for Call When Needed (CWN) air tankers. The closing date for the solicitation is June 20, 2017. The specifications only allow air tankers that carry between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons to apply. The 747 holds 19,200 gallons, six times more than a “next generation” BAe-146 and about 60 percent more than the 11,600 gallons a DC-10 holds, so it can’t even be considered. There are other requirements that may also eliminate Very Large Air Tankers such as the DC-10 and 747. Currently there are two DC-10’s on Exclusive Use Contracts and a third on a CWN contract.

Global Supertanker, the company that owns and operates the 747, is in talks with the USFS about this not-qualified-to-apply issue.

Last year the current version of the Supertanker was used on fires in Israel, and earlier this year it spent several weeks working on fires in Chile. On February 1, 2017 working out of Santiago it conducted a total of 11 drops on 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.

747 Supertanker first drop 2009
The 747 Supertanker operated by Evergreen drops on the Railbelt Complex of Fires in Alaska July 31, 2009. Photo by Mike McMillan, Fairbanks Area Forestry.

The initial version of the Supertanker built by Evergreen in a 747-100 made its first ever drop on a fire eight years ago at the Railbelt complex in Alaska in 2009. It last received Call When Needed contracts from CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service in 2013. When Evergreen went bankrupt Global Supertanker bought the hardware and the rights to the retardant system and installed it in a newer more powerful 747-400.


Photos of the IL-76 at Santiago

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.

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The interior of the IL-76, showing the two tanks. Photo by Tom Parsons, pilot of the 747 Supertanker.
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The counterweights on the levers help the large flapper valves to open, releasing the 11,574 gallons of water from the Russian IL-76. Photo by Tom Parsons, pilot of the 747 Supertanker.
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The Russian IL-76 Taxiing past the 747 SuperTanker. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Continue reading “Photos of the IL-76 at Santiago”

747 SuperTanker protects a village and later 5 firefighters

This article originally appeared on Wildfire Today.

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.

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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.

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

Continue reading “747 SuperTanker protects a village and later 5 firefighters”