Wildfire north of Honolulu threatened structures

And, the aircraft formerly known as the SuperTanker was spotted in Hawaii

Wildfire north of Honolulu, Nov. 26, 2021
Wildfire north of Honolulu, Nov. 26, 2021. Photo by Hiroshi Ando.

The day after Thanksgiving, November 26, a wildfire north of Honolulu, Hawaii threatened structures near Kalana Drive and Alu Street. After the report was received around noon 12 pieces of apparatus staffed with about 34 personnel responded.

Two helicopters owned by the City and County of Honolulu assisted firefighters by dropping water that was dipped out of a swimming pool at Kalihi Valley District Park.

Wildfire north of Honolulu, Nov. 26, 2021 helicopter drops water
MD 500N helicopter, owned by the City & County of Honolulu, working on a wildfire north of the city. Photo by Hiroshi Ando, Nov. 26, 2021.

In a news release the Honolulu Fire Department described the fire as “large scale, rapidly spreading” driven by wind. They said it burned about four acres.

Wildfire north of Honolulu, Nov. 26, 2021 helicopter drops water
MD 500N helicopter, owned by the City & County of Honolulu, dips water out of a swimming pool while working on a wildfire north of the city. Photo by Hiroshi Ando, Nov. 26, 2021.
Wildfire north of Honolulu, Nov. 26, 2021 helicopter drops water
MD 500N helicopter, owned by the City & County of Honolulu, working on a wildfire north of the city. Photo by Hiroshi Ando, Nov. 26, 2021.

It is dry in Hawaii. The Drought Monitor classifies conditions in the state as ranging from abnormally dry to exceptional drought.

Hawaii Drought Monitor, Nov. 23, 2021
Hawaii Drought Monitor, Nov. 23, 2021

These photos were taken by Hiroshi Ando who was one of the drop system operators on Global SuperTanker Services’ 747 SuperTanker. Earlier this year the company shut down and sold the aircraft to National Airlines, who re-registered it as N936CA and is using it as a freighter. Hiroshi shot the photo below earlier this month when the aircraft was in Hawaii. He said he has spotted the plane a few times there while it was flying on military cargo flights.

N936CA, formerly Tanker 944
N936CA, formerly Air Tanker 944, now owned by National Airlines. Photographed in Hawaii by Hiroshi Ando Nov. 4, 2021.

Hiroshi said the fire north of Honolulu started about four hours after Coulson’s C-130 Air Tanker 131, N131CG, departed Hilo after the crew stopped to spend the night on their ferry flight from the US West Coast on their way to begin a firefighting contract in Australia for the country’s 2021/2022 bushfire season.

In 2018 Hiroshi sent us photos he took of the Holy Fire while the SuperTanker was working on the fire which burned more than 22,000 acres northwest of Lake Elsinore, California.

747 Supertanker slated to return to service

The retardant delivery system has a new owner

5:11 p.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2021

Global Supertanker Retardant Delivery System
Global Supertanker Retardant Delivery System. Image by Global Supertanker.

A company that provides aircraft for lease has purchased the retardant delivery system (RDS) formerly in the 747 Supertanker. Logistic Air is now the owner of the tanking system that for years had interim approval by the federal government’s Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) to be used in an air tanker.

Global Supertanker’s recently modified  website proudly proclaims “Returning to Service in 2022.”

Global Supertanker
Screengrab from GlobalSupertanker.biz Sept. 3, 2021.

Many of the photos of aircraft on Logistic Air’s website are 747s, but they provide wide-body and narrow-body passenger and cargo aircraft for world-wide operations.

Fluid tanks 747 supertanker
The eight fluid tanks were inspected, tested, painted, and mounted to cargo pallets before being installed in the last version of the Supertanker in 2016. Photo by Global Supertanker.

The SuperTanker’s RDS is comprised of approximately 20 tanks that hold retardant and enough compressed air to pump the retardant out of the four nozzles that were in the belly of the huge aircraft. At various times the air tanker had interim certification by the IAB to carry 20,000, 19,200 and 17,500 gallons of retardant. The IAB and the US Forest Service appeared to bend over backwards to find reasons to not issue full approval to the aircraft and the RDS.

Supertanker's nozzels
Retardant comes out of four nozzles on the belly of the Supertanker. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Earlier this year the SuperTanker’s drop controlling system and other components were significantly modified to improve the delivery of retardant, including metering the volume dispersed based on the ground speed of the aircraft. It then went through dozens of tests on the ground. The operators were waiting for it to be scheduled for the IAB’s grid or cup test which measures the amount of retardant that hits the ground over a large grid. But before that took place, the owner, Alterna Capital, shut down the company and sold the aircraft and the RDS to two companies. The 747 was purchased by National Airlines to be used as a freighter, and Logistic Air bought the RDS.

747 SuperTanker makes demonstration water drop
747 SuperTanker makes demonstration water drop in Colorado Springs, May 14, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A person at Alterna Capital who was not authorized to speak for the company told Fire Aviation that Global Supertanker had approximately two dozen employees and contractors when the doors closed and none of them are working for the new owners at this time. The person said Alterna “will support Logistic Air in any way we can.”

Calls to Logistic Air were not immediately returned.

UPDATE at 6:27 p.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2021

After this was published we received a call from a person at Logistic Air who asked to remain anonymous. They confirmed that the company plans to install the RDS in a nose-loading 747-200 when the aircraft completes maintenance after the first of the year. The aircraft itself will have to be modified, of course, to enable loading retardant and compressed air, and the plumbing and belly nozzles need to be installed. Then they will schedule a grid test, which they are confident it will pass. The final and most important step is applying for and receiving a new contract from the US Forest Service, no easy feat. We were told that some of the former employees of GlobalSupertanker are expected to work with the new organization.

747 Palmer Fire supertanker
Air Tanker 944, a 747-400, drops near structures on the Palmer Fire south of Yucaipa, California at 4:25 p.m. PDT September 2, 2017. Photo by Leroy Leggitt, used with permission.

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

The 747 Supertanker shuts down

The company told government officials it is going to cease operations

Updated at 3:08 p.m. MDT April 23, 2021

747 Supertanker takeoff from MCC
747 Supertanker taking off from MCC, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

This article was first published at Fire Aviation

The investor group that owns the 747 Supertanker, Tanker 944, is shutting down the huge air tanker. In an email sent April 21 to officials in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the federal government, Dan Reese the President of Global Supertanker gave them the news:

This week the investors that own the Global SuperTanker just informed me that they have made the difficult decision to cease operations of the company, effective this week…This is extremely disappointing as the aircraft has been configured and tuned with a new digital drop system and other upgrades to make it more safe and efficient.

Mr. Reese said in the email they are in discussions with prospective buyers, but it was unknown at that time if the aircraft would continue to be configured as an air tanker capable of carrying more than 17,500 gallons or if it would be used as a freighter.

Most of the company’s employees have been furloughed until the fate of the SuperTanker is known.

747 sunset March 22, 2016
747 Supertanker at MCC during sunset March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In an April 2020 letter posted on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s website the Chair of the National Interagency Aviation Committee, Joel Kerley of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, wrote to Global Supertanker Services  saying the Committee would not issue a seventh interim approval of the aircraft’s retardant delivery system:

The Interagency Air Tanker Subcommittee does not support any further interim approvals without correcting some issues originally identified in the 2009 test of the system that included failure to meet coverage level 3 & 6, retention of retardant in the system after drop, aeration of the retardant causing trail off, and inconsistent flight profiles affecting retardant coverage.

Due to the current national situation regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19), NIAC will issue an eighth interim approval to GSTS. However, NIAC will not support, nor issue a ninth interim until GSTS successfully passes all requirements of the 2013 IABS Criteria. This must be completed prior to December 31, 2020.

747 Palmer Fire supertanker
Air Tanker 944, a 747-400, drops near structures on the Palmer Fire south of Yucaipa, California at 4:25 p.m. PDT September 2, 2017. Photo by Leroy Leggitt, used with permission.

Last winter Tanker 944 spent several weeks in Moses Lake, Washington getting routine maintenance and a conversion of the retardant delivery system from an analog controller to a digital version, a change that was requested by the National Interagency Aviation Committee.

Most large air tankers carry up to 3,000 gallons of retardant. The 747 is capable of carrying far more retardant than any other. When first introduced it was listed at 20,000 gallons. Then the federal government certified it at 19,200 gallons. More recently it was required to carry no more than 17,500 gallons. The second-largest capacity air tanker is the Russian-made Ilyushin IL-76 at 11,574 gallons. The DC-10 until a couple of years ago was allowed to hold 11,600 but federal officials now restrict it to 9,400.

The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. agency that contracts for all of the large and very large air tankers used by the federal government, has been slow to warm up to the concept of tankers that can carry more than 5,000 gallons. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, accepted the concept of the 747 and DC-10 more quickly.

We asked the Forest Service for a comment on the demise of the 747. “The USDA Forest Service is aware of this vendors decision,”  said Stanton Florea, Fire Communications Specialist for the agency.”The Global Super Tanker is on a Call-When-Needed (CWN) contract for aerial wildland fire suppression.”

In the interest of full disclosure, Global Supertanker Services has an ad in the sidebar of Fire Aviation.

Opinion of a Lead Plane Pilot

I asked a Lead Plane Pilot who has worked with Tanker 944 for his impressions of the aircraft. He is currently active and not authorized to comment publicly:

It’s a specialized tool, and as such it has a niche that it fills and in that niche there’s nothing else any better. That is, it puts out a huge amount of retardant in one pass, and that sometimes can be a great thing. It can travel halfway around the world and deliver product. Having said that it is also a specialized tool in that it isn’t very good at doing the little stuff.

I asked him about the retardant that sometimes trails off after a drop:

That trail off, that’s something they can beat them over the head with, but at the end of the day hardly anybody I know gives a s**t about it. Ok, well, it’s not a perfect tank.

Below is video of Tanker 944 dropping on the Holy Jim Fire on the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California in 2018.

First drop on a fire

The initial version of the Supertanker installed by Evergreen in a 747-100 made its first ever drop on a fire 12 years ago at the Railbelt complex in Alaska in 2009. When Evergreen went bankrupt Global Supertanker bought the hardware and the rights to the retardant system and installed it in a newer more powerful 747-400.

Assisted firefighters in Israel, Mexico, Chile, and Bolivia

In 2016 the 747 assisted firefighters in Israel, and in 2017 it spent several weeks working on fires in Chile. In one day, February 1, 2017 working out of Santiago, it conducted a total of 11 drops on 7 sorties. Six of the sorties were near Navidad and Matanzas 115 miles (185 km) southwest of the Santiago airport where many structures were threatened. The seventh was near Concepcion, 404 miles (650 km) south of Santiago. In total, 138,400 gallons (508,759 l.) were delivered to assist the firefighters on the ground.

The air tanker also had an assignment in Mexico in 2011, and in 2019 spent about seven weeks on a firefighting contract in Bolivia.

A DC-10 air tanker is assisting firefighters on a fire near Monterrey, Mexico

About this time 10 years ago the Martin Mars, the 747, and two MAFFS air tankers assisted firefighters in Mexico.

Wildfires near Monterrey, Mexico
Map showing the location of wildfires (in red) southwest of Monterrey, Mexico 3:48 p.m. CDT March 28, 2021.

One of the DC-10 air tankers, T-912, has started a contract with the state of Coahuila to assist firefighters battling a fire 20 miles southwest of Monterrey in Mexico. Today was its first day of operations but when we spoke to John Gould, President of 10 Tanker at 2:45 p.m. CDT today March 28, the aircraft was on the ground waiting for an improvement in the weather.

They are working and reloading out of the airport in Laredo, Texas about 160 miles northeast of the fire.

The fire they will be dropping retardant on initially is just west of the Coahuila/Nuevo León state line. According to heat detected by satellites it appears to be several thousand acres, while a fire about 4 miles to the east in Nuevo León looks to be more than 22,000 acres. Both fires are near Highway 20.

Wildfires near Monterrey, Mexico
Wildfires southwest of Monterrey, Mexico 3:48 p.m. CDT March 28, 2021.

“Beautiful country there,”  Mr. Gould told Fire Aviation. “Very steep and challenging country for fighting fire. The state of Coahuila is providing the aerial supervision aircraft and we have put one of our pilots with lead plane and Air Tactical Group Supervisor experience in the right seat.”

Fire SW of Monterrey in Coahuila, Mexico
Fire SW of Monterrey in Coahuila, Mexico. Noon March 26, 2021. 10 Tanker photo.
Fire SW of Monterrey in Coahuila, Mexico
Fire SW of Monterrey in Coahuila, Mexico. Noon March 26, 2021. 10 Tanker photo.
Fire SW of Monterrey in Coahuila, Mexico
From high altitude, this is the general area of the fires, SW of Monterrey in Coahuila, Mexico. March 27, 2021. 10 Tanker photo.

In 2011 the 747 air tanker, two C-130’s with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) from Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, and the Martin Mars worked on fires in northern Mexico. The C-130’s were reloading at Laughlin Air Force Base near Del Rio, Texas while the 747 worked out of Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas.

The Martin Mars was  based at Lake Amistad reservoir near Del Rio, Texas. The lake straddles the U.S./Mexico border, and the aircraft was moored on the U.S. side.

Stagecoach Fire continues to burn in Kern County, California

August 6, 2020 | 7:28 a.m. PDT

Map of the Stagecoach Fire
Map of the Stagecoach Fire showing heat detected by a satellite as late as 3:12 a.m. PDT August 6, 2020.

The Stagecoach Fire 21 miles east of Bakersfield was very active Wednesday, putting up a large column of smoke as it spread into more rugged terrain primarily to the east and southeast. The fire is 9 miles south of the town of Lake Isabella.

Stagecoach Fire
Stagecoach Fire, from Breckenridge, at 7:16 am PDT Aug 6, 2020.

Wednesday at 7 p.m. fire officials with Kern County said it had burned 4,250 acres. Heat detected by satellites at 3:12 a.m. Thursday shows the fire could have grown by another 2,000 acres during the night (see map above). The unconfirmed satellite data indicates the Stagecoach Fire has moved into the Sequoia National Forest after burning on private property and land protected by the Bureau of Land Management.

Evacuations are in effect.

Stagecoach Fire
Stagecoach Fire as seen from Breckenridge, looking east at 6:18 pm PDT August 5, 2020.

As of Wednesday morning the Stagecoach Fire south of Lake Isabella in Kern County California had burned 4,100 acres, a spokesperson for CAL FIRE said. During the afternoon the intensity increased, sending up a large smoke column.

At least two homes have been destroyed as the fire continues to spread to the east.

Map of the Stagecoach Fire
Map of the Stagecoach Fire showing heat detected by a satellite as late as 2:54 p.m. PDT August 5, 2020.

Not much information about the fire is being released by Kern County.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Stagecoach Fire, including the most recent, click here.

Air Tanker 944, a 747, drops on the Stagecoach Fire
Air Tanker 944, a 747, drops on the Stagecoach Fire August 4, 2020. Photo by @SoCalFirePhoto.
CAL FIRE Dozer 1743 on the Stagecoach Fire
CAL FIRE Dozer 1743 on the Stagecoach Fire. CAL FIRE photo.
Air Tanker 944, a 747, drops on the Stagecoach Fire
Air Tanker 944, a 747, drops on the Stagecoach Fire August 4, 2020. Photo by @564fire.

Report released about firefighter fatality — trees were broken off during retardant drop

 Draper City, Utah Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett was killed when a low drop uprooted an 87-foot tall tree that fell on him

Diagram fatality air tanker drop Green Sheet
Diagram from the Green Sheet.

(Originally published on FireAviation, September 14, 2018. Updated at 7:43 MDT September 14, 2018)

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has released what they call a “Green Sheet” report about the fatality and injuries that were caused by falling tree debris resulting from an air tanker’s retardant drop. The accident occurred on the Ranch Fire which was part of the Mendocino Complex of Fires east of Ukiah, California. The report was uploaded to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center on September 13, 2018 exactly one month after the August 13 accident.

A firefighter from Utah, Draper City Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett, was killed when a low drop uprooted an 87-foot tall tree that fell on him. Three other firefighters had different assortments of injuries from sheered-off trees and limbs, including broken ribs, deep muscle contusions, ligament damage to extremities, scratches, and abrasions.

747 supertanker palmer fire
File photo: The 747 SuperTanker drops on the Palmer Fire south of Calimesa and Yucaipa in southern California, September 2, 2017. Photo by Cy Phenice, used with permission.

Standard procedure is for firefighters to leave an area before an air tanker drops. The report said the personnel on that Division were told twice that day to not be under drops — once in a morning Division break-out briefing, and again on the radio before the fatal drop and three others from large air tankers were made in the area. It was not confirmed that all supervisors heard the order on the radio to evacuate the drop area.

One of the “Incidental Issues / Lessons Learned” in the report mentioned that some firefighters like to record video of air tanker drops:

Fireline personnel have used their cell phones to video the aerial retardant drops. The focus on recording the retardant drops on video may distract firefighters. This activity may impair their ability to recognize the hazards and take appropriate evasive action possibly reducing or eliminating injuries.

The air tanker that made the drop was T-944, a 747-400 that can carry up to 19,200 gallons. Instead of a more conventional gravity-powered retardant delivery system, the aircraft has pressurized equipment that forces the retardant out of the tanks using compressed air. This is similar to the MAFFS air tankers. When a drop is made from the recommended height the retardant hits the ground as a mist, falling vertically, rather than the larger droplets you see with a gravity tank.

In this case, according to the report, the drop was made from approximately 100 feet above the tree tops. The report stated:

The Aerial Supervision Module (ASM) identified the drop path to the VLAT by use of a smoke trail. The VLAT initiated the retardant drop as identified by the smoke trail. Obscured by heavy vegetation and unknown to the VLAT pilot, a rise in elevation occurred along the flight path. This rise in elevation resulted in the retardant drop only being approximately 100 feet above the treetops at the accident site.

When a drop is made from a very low altitude with any air tanker, the retardant is still moving forward almost as fast as the aircraft, as seen in this drop. If it is still moving forward there will be “shadows” that are free of retardant on the back side of vegetation, reducing the effectiveness of the drop. From a proper height retardant will gradually slow from air resistance, move in an arc and ideally will be falling gently straight down before it hits the ground. Another example of a low drop was on the Liberty Fire in Southern California in 2017 that dislodged dozens of ceramic roofing tiles on a residence and blew out several windows allowing a great deal of retardant to enter the home.

We reached out with some questions to Global Supertanker, the company that operates the 747 Supertanker, and they gave us this statement:

We’re heartbroken for the families, friends and colleagues of Chief Burchett and the other brave firefighters who were injured during their recent work on the Mendocino Complex Fire. As proud members of the wildland firefighting community, we, too, have lost a brother.

On August 13, 2018, Global SuperTanker Services, LLC acted within procedural and operational parameters. The subject drop was initiated at the location requested by the Aerial Supervision Module (ASM) after Global SuperTanker Services, LLC was advised that the line was clear.

The former President and CEO of the company, Jim Wheeler, no longer works there as of September 1, 2018. The company is owned by Alterna Capital Partners LLC, of Wilton, Conn.

(Updated at 7:43 MDT September 14, 2018 to include the statement from Global Supertanker that we received at 7:35 p.m. MDT September 14, 2018)