Interview with a lead plane pilot about the 747 Supertanker

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

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.

Jamie Tackman
Jamie Tackman

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.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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2 thoughts on “Interview with a lead plane pilot about the 747 Supertanker”

  1. An excellent interview . . . Portions of this could easily be used as a training aid for line personnel. As Air Attack, I was fortunate to have a number of really good lead and retardant pilots flying beneath us. I am excited to know we still have Lead Pilots like Jamie still in the air.

    It’s kind of funny to realize my career spanned the single engine TBM’s to the twin engine B-26, PBY, C-129, Dougs, P2 – P3, etc and now back to SEAT. (In ’65 it was deemed the single engine just wasn’t reliable enough). It’s just amazing what capacities they have in the air now.

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