747 Supertanker still stored at Marana, but now has engines

747 Supertanker, Marana
747 Supertanker at Marana, AZ,, May 31, 2015. Florida Metal photo used with permission.

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?

747 Supertanker, Marana
747 Supertanker at Marana, AZ, December, 2014. Photo by Nicholas Young, Nick Young Photos. Used with permission.

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.

Evergreen's 747 "Supertanker"
Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” drops on the Railbelt Complex of fires in Alaska, July 31, 2009.

When it received a CWN contract from the USFS on June 14, 2013, the aircraft had been sitting at Marana without engines and needed a million-dollar “C” check in addition to other maintenance. The company decided that with an expensive expedited “C” check and the other needed work, it could have been ready to fight fire about the time the 2013 western fire season was drawing to a close. And the CWN contract had no guarantee of any revenue. So Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Evergreen Supertanker Services, said they would wait until the next year to get the maintenance done. A few months later the company ceased to exist.

747 air tanker 979
Tanker 979 at San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, July 30, 2010. USFS photo.

Articles on Fire Aviation tagged “747”.
Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “747 air tanker” (some of them before Fire Aviation was created in November, 2012).

 

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Joe.

Evergreen postpones availability of their 747 Supertanker

747 dropping
747 dropping in Haifa Israel December 5, 2010

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.

Our view

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.

Video and photos of the 747 dropping

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.”)

747 dropping on a fire
747 dropping on a fire in Mexico, April 14, 2011 (click to enlarge)
747 in Mexico, April 14, 2011
747 in Mexico, April 14, 2011 (click to enlarge)

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.

Evergreen to get CWN contract for 747

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:

  • Evergreen 747 – Daily Rate $75,000 + Flight Rate $12,000
  • 10 Tanker DC-10 – Daily Rate $51,522 + Flight Rate $7,668

More details about the prices in the contract awards.

(UPDATE at 2:25 p.m. MT, June 17, 2013)

I was wondering why the contract for the 747 does not start until July 1. Today I found on an aircraft forum what might be the answer — in February, 2012, the Supertanker was photographed in the desert missing two engines.

(UPDATED info HERE, August 22, 2013)

 

Air tanker drops, as seen from a lead plane

747 dropping
A still image showing Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” dropping on a fire (from the video below).

The video below which shows dozens of air tanker drops is very interesting. Most of the video was shot from a lead plane, with views rarely seen by most of us. The technical quality of the video is not great — low resolution and a little shaky — but it’s very worth viewing. Occasionally you can see the smoke generated by a BLM lead plane which marks the target for the air tanker.

Some of the aircraft include: P-3, P2V, S2T, DC-10, C-130 MAFFS, and an air tanker that is very rarely seen, Evergreen’s 747.