Above: 747 Supertanker making a test drop with water at Colorado Springs May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
A Colorado county on Tuesday approved a deal that sets the stage for a response from the largest firefighting aircraft in the world if and when major wildfires flare up near Denver, marking the culmination of a first-of-its-kind contract.
Commissioners in Douglas County on Tuesday approved the one-year, $200,000 deal with Global SuperTanker Services LLC that gives the county access to the mammoth Boeing 747-400 aircraft that can drop roughly 20,000 gallons of water or retardant — nearly double the capacity of its closest rival, the DC-10.
The deal is unique in that it gives the 800-square-mile county situated between Denver and Colorado Springs exclusive access to the SuperTanker.
“Douglas County is establishing a model for wildland fire-prone municipalities to follow,” Bob Soleberg, senior vice president and program manager for Global SuperTanker, said in a statement Tuesday night to Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation. “Their planning is comprehensive and designed to protect lives, property and the natural resources.”
Additional details about the new deal and information about Douglas County’s partnerships with other aircraft entities in the region is available on FireAviation.com.
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.
Thursday February 2, we talked with a commander of the 19,000 hectare (46,950 acre) wildfire south of Matanzas, Chile. We enlisted the help of Felipe to translate.
The fire has been burning for most of this week and at one time had a large number of resources assigned. It has received much attention in recent days from the 747 SuperTanker and the IL-76 very large air tanker.
On Saturday during the continuing siege of wildfires in Chile the 747 SuperTanker made four sorties, flying over 2,200 miles and dropping 76,800 gallons. Two of the missions were to help protect the city of Concepción. The video (except for the second one) and photos were shot by the crew on the aircraft.
Here is a video shot from the ground by Moises Gueicha:
The four photos below are of the fire near Concepción:
The photo below is another fire the SuperTanker dropped on earlier in the day.