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.

Aerial photos of wildfire at Concepción, Chile shot by crew of 747 SuperTanker

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:

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747 supertanker chile wildfire

 

The photo below is another fire the SuperTanker dropped on earlier in the day.747 supertanker chile wildfire

747 supertanker chile wildfire
Cliff Hale and Marcos Valdez (L to R)

747 SuperTanker protects a village and 5 firefighters

Above: A fire is approaching Llico, a small village near the Pacific Ocean about 130 air miles southwest of Santiago, Chile.

The 747 Supertanker had a productive day Friday in Chile. They completed four missions and were taxiing to take off on another when the lead plane pilot called saying smoke had degraded visibility making another drop impossible.

Elena Carretero, who has been associated with the flight crew, said one of the drops in the morning helped protect the lives of five firefighters who were in imminent threat of being overrun by a fire.

747 Supertanker Chile
At middle-left is Laguna de Torca. Beyond it is the village of Llico, and just beyond the village is the fire. This is looking southwest toward the Pacific Ocean.

All of these photos were taken from the 747 by the drop system operator, Don Paulsen. The images of the fire were shot just before 6 p.m. local time on Friday near Llico, a small village near the Pacific coast about 130 air miles (209 km) southwest of Santiago, Chile (map). Elena told us the village was in danger, like the five firefighters, of being overrun by the fire until the SuperTanker used all 19,200 gallons of water to make one long drop between the fire and the village, saving it.

747 Supertanker Chile Llico
The village of Llico being threatened by the fire.
747 Supertanker Chile
Structures in Llico can be seen at the bottom of the photo.

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