DC-10 air tanker delivers 373,600 gallons of retardant

Tanker 911 dropping Poco Fire
Tanker 911 dropping on the Poco Fire in Arizona, June 15, 2012. Photo by Ian James.

One of DC-10 gallons retardant deliveredthe DC-10 air tankers has dropped about 373,600 gallons of retardant during 33 sorties on seven wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico over the last 10 days. The fires were: Little Bear fire, 257 fire, Grand fire, Poco fire, Six Shooter fire, Fox fire, and 177 fire.  They were all in Arizona except the Little Bear which was in New Mexico.

Eight of the nine air tankers currently on exclusive use contracts with the U.S. Forest Service are 50+ year old P2Vs designed for maritime patrol. Their average retardant load is 1,948 gallons according to a 2007-2009 air tanker study. If all of those 373,600 gallons the DC-10 dropped in those 10 days had been delivered by a P2V it would have taken about 192 round trips to the fires.

The U.S. Forest Service has a call when needed contract with one of the two DC-10 air tankers. Yesterday and today the pilots are on mandatory days off, making it unavailable. The USFS is not interested in awarding exclusive use contracts for the DC-10 or the 747 air tankers. The 747 can carry 20,000 gallons of retardant, more than 10 times more than a P2V, while the DC-10 almost always carries 11,600 gallons, more than five times the average load of a P2V.

We originally posted this video shot by KASA TV of the DC-10 dropping on June 14, but in case you missed it….

(the video is no longer available)


Thanks go out to Trish and Ian.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

19 thoughts on “DC-10 air tanker delivers 373,600 gallons of retardant”

  1. Yep…. USFS not interested in exclusive use contracts

    Sure are interested in 2 studies that probably would have had this ship in the air 10 more hours appoximately.

    Thanks Mr Hatton! Thank you and the crews for the flying and the MX. USFS for providing the “temp contract” ……better late than never while following the 7P’s!!!!!

  2. Think about what 10 Tanker Air Carriers other DC-10 T910 could have been doing all this time had it been given a contract!

  3. Douglas rules! from an old DC-7 co-pilot…
    I have told my congresscritter about this
    (Greg Walden).. I do think that the USFS
    has a blind spot. in all this. I have qualms about
    Inital attack but man, this thing can put down retardant…

  4. It would appear the drops were made very high. From what I can see the drops drifted a fair distance. Where exactly was the fire line? You can bring all the slurry you want to the fire but if it is not placed where it is effective, there was no sense bringing it.

  5. The U.S.F.S. “retardant avoidance” areas/maps are soon to become the latest fiasco in wildfire management.

    When a small fire escapes IA because a biologist got over zealous and mapped every (and I mean EVERY) little fold in the land as a drainage or potential waterway…. the lawsuits and finger pointing will start flying.

    The idea was sound to protect at-risk threatened and endangered species… but the implementation… not so sound, nor realistic.

    Folks don’t even seem to realize that the former “exceptions” for life and property are NOW ONLY exceptions for human life.

    Lots more will be coming on this issue.

    Trust me.

  6. This is a picture of how screwed up fire aviation management is. Take something that works and slowly run it out of business or pay too much per hour because it is CWN…We need all three VLATS on exclusive and now.
    Experianced lead plane pilots that have used the VLATS more than once confirm that they worked well.
    Art, the leads I know consider drift when lining the tankers up and they are the only ones that can tell if the drop was where it was intended and had good coverage. You can find fault with every drop from any tanker if that is your intent.

  7. The 10 Tanker lays a single long line, up to maybe 1km. Five P2V lay five short lines, with gaps and overlaps. One small gap ruins the whole effort. The 10 can lay short lines, too, if that’s what’s called for.

    1. According to a study out of Australia, the dc10 also produces gaps in its drop pattern rendering many drops useless.

      1. Dodge: almost all air tankers and helicopters have gaps in their retardant drop patterns. The 747 has one of the best. We wrote about drop patterns HERE and included results from tests by the IATB.

      2. A study out of Australia?…. 1. They dropped water in Oz, not retardant. 2. Water and retardant fall differently. 3. How many drops were done in Oz? 4. (a question), Do you suppose we should send it home? Do you think that the data we have gathered over the last 7 years might be a little bit more accurate than what Oz compiled over a very short and non active season? If you have 4 X 3,000 gallon tankers, sitting in your backyard (today… not in 5 years), that can fly at the speed that the DC-10 can (otherwise we might need 8) let the firefighters know. And please don’t go down the AU road, as that ship has sailed. I think what people need to remember, is that air tankers are here to support the people on the ground. That’s it. No white scarves. They need contracts, and the companies need to make a living. I understand that. But when what is happening, and what is going to happen for the foreseeable future continues, the people need retardant. The DC-10 is a proven airtanker. As Bill mentions below. ALL tankers and helicopters will have gaps from time to time. We don’t drop smart bombs, we drop red S&*$ from the bottom of airplanes. Hot shot crews occasionally leave a root. It’s not that hotshot crews aren’t effective, it’s simply that sometimes the leave a root.

        1. The study from the Bushfire Cooperative Research Center showed 8 retardant drops and 3 foam drops. How did you come up with “water only”?

        2. Dear “did you read the study”, Did YOU read the study? Page 1. Quote “Initially the intention of the trial was to deploy the aircraft to active wildfires in Victoria with a few additional non-fire missions to understand and evaluate its operation in Australian fuel and weather conditions. However because of the mild fire season, this air tanker could only be deployed to one wildfire, at which it dropped one load. While the drop was on target, the fire behavior did not seriously challenge the drop owing to moderated weather and discontinuous fuels leaving the question of its effectivness unanswered. Owing to prevailing conditions of the 2009-2010 fire season, none of the missions were conducted under conditions associated with severe wildfires” Need I say more? No! I need not!

        3. DRD
          You may not need to say more but I’d bet a dollar I can goad you into it….

          You still did not provide the reference to “water only”. There are several photos from the study showing a red slurry like substance being dropped from the aircraft. There is also a table listing 11 drops, 8 retardant and 3 foam. Now if crow is for dinner I’m ready to chow down………so serve it up!

          BTW I’ve worked fires with the DC-10 and I am a proponent. I think they should have an ex use contract. Accurate information lends a bit more credibility though…just sayin.

  8. One of the issues when video filming of a drop is that the camera usually stays focused on the aircraft as it departs after releasing the water/retardant. The subject is the fire. Next time you see a drop watch to see if the camera person “pans” back to capture the drop hitting the fire/ground. I have worked with tanker pilots that are “artist” at hitting the identified target from over 300 feet a.g.l. F.S. testing of retardant delivery show that even at 500 feet there is only a small amount of evaporation of the retardant. However the higher the drop the more distortion the pattern. The larger the drop gallonage the less the pattern is distorted. Yes, lead plane pilots certainly take drift into consideration. And for you “Doug lovers” don’t forget about the DC-4 air tankers. Simple, economical, carry 2000 gallons without effort, no wing problems, good flaps, other than a mid air I believe the “4” had a clean safety record? Yep, get rid of them too.

    1. Yep you got it. safest, best, psiton tankers ever, DC4,6,7…
      They ain’t gone either…

  9. Dodge, you might want to check exactly how many drops were evaluated in Australia. I think you might find that an interesting, and often ignored piece of data…

  10. The recips have their advantages, but their dispatch and mission completion reliability cannot compare to the jets. For at least 25 years, and maybe still, the KC-10A Extender (DC-10 tanker) has been the most reliable plane in the USAF inventory. The KC-10A had the advantage of prior experience as an airline workhorse with minimal conversion to tanker duty.

  11. ooooohhh drop patterns with 1 to 7 mph with a whopper 16 knot crosswind with a P2Victor

    When is the last time someone saw a 1 to 8 mph across a ridgetop lately? let alone a 16 mph crosswind.

    Drop pattern alllll you want…when the acft start flyin, the wind starts blowin, flames start flamin, and the pyrocumulus start aclimbin ….the drop pattern test become hypothetical and then Mother Nature and pilot skill takes over….

    Drop patterns are just that ….drop patterns

    Either fly the aircraft by taking allll this into account, stfu, and start layin mud

    Right!!! The DC10 did not work in Austrailia, blah blah blah this and that about coverage and criticism that runs rampant against the ’10.

    Pretty soon the criticism will start flyin about the Bring Another Engine 146 and its coverages…..

    The fun abounds about coverage….the real fun will be IF the Forest Service willevewr recover from the last 10 yrs of severe fire seasons and tries to admit that they had enough resources for the 2012 season

    Drop patterns, costs, MX problems, etc….what did this audience ever expect from this world of aviation??

    Folks the free ride is over and planning for a purpose built tanker this year is merely a pipe dream.

    The folks in the laaaaaaaand mgmt agencies had just best admit they have been behind the power curve and that all real aviation personnel and the ground firefighter are the ones that are going to carry the day….

    ONLY…..at a cost!!

  12. There were three flights- 2 with retardant and one with foam. You can do the division as to how many drops there were per flight…

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