747 Supertanker drops on Alaska fire

The 747 air tanker made two free drops on the Railbelt complex in Alaska on Friday. Evergreen, who built and operates the “Supertanker”, made the drops at no cost to Fairbanks Area Forestry in an effort to demonstrate the capabilities of the aircraft. They made two drops, dispensing a total of 20,000 gallons of retardant.

This was the first time the aircraft has dropped on a live fire in North America. Last week they made a similar demonstration drop on a fire in Spain, which was the first time they had dropped on an actual fire.

In spite of the 747 drops, the Railbelt complex grew by 67,000 acres on Friday, for a new total of 443,447 burned acres.

Smokejumpers, hand crews, and hot shot crews are protecting 226 cabins that are threatened along the Tanana, Teklanika, Toklat and Kantishna Rivers. On Friday smokejumpers delivered an all terrain vehicle by paracargo to a crew at Totek Lake.

Smoke from fires in Alaska on Friday caused two Northwest Airlines flights scheduled to land in Fairbanks to be diverted to Anchorage.


747 Supertanker’s world tour

Evergreen continues their road trip, uh, air trip, with the 20,000-gallon 747 air tanker they call a “Supertanker”. On July 10 they were in Sacramento. Last week they were in France, Germany, and Spain where they made their first ever drop on a real fire during a demonstration in Spain. And on Tuesday they were in Edmonton, Canada and Fairbanks, Alaska.

The company will donate the services of the 747 today, making a drop on the Railbelt Complex of fires, which has burned 340,000 acres 12 miles northwest of Nenana, Alaska. This will be the first drop on a real fire in the United States for the aircraft.

Sam White of Evergreen points out the four nozzles that dispense retardant. Photos by Eric Engman
The pressurized retardant tanks on the 747 Supertanker. The retardant is forced out by compressed air, much like on the MAFF C-130 air tankers.

And speaking of very large air tankers (VLAT), in a cost-saving move, CalFire recently downgraded their exclusive use agreement for one of the DC-10 air tankers (tanker 910) to a Call When Needed (CWN) agreement, meaning they will only pay for the air tanker when and if they use it. They still have CWN agreements for the second DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, Tanker 911 and the 747 air tanker.

The U.S. Forest Service issued a solicitation for VLAT’s on June 25. We have not heard if they have awarded any contracts through this process.