Wildfire Today has learned Evergreen's 747 "Supertanker" still does not have an air tanker contract with any wildland fire agency. The aircraft is sitting at Marana, Arizona after undergoing some modifications and tests. One change they recently made was to replace the internal retardant tanks, requiring additional testing. The new retardant tanks hold 20,500 gallons.
The system operates much like the military C-130 air tankers, in that it uses tanks with compressed air to pump the retardant out of the retardant tanks. The retardant flows out of nozzles, rather than doors like are used on gravity-based tank systems. Like the military C-130's, the air tanks must be pressurized from ground-based air compressors when the aircraft lands to reload with retardant.
Evergreen now has three important approvals which are necessary in order to seek a contract so the 747 can be used on fires: FAA's Supplemental Type Certificate, Interagency Tanker Board approval, and an FAA Operating Certificate.
The aircraft will go through more drop testing with the U.S. Forest Service in late February or March. There is still a chance that it could be signed up with either the USFS or CalFire in time to be used on fires in the summer of 2009.
We've seen some internet posts and letters to the editor that claim a fleet of Supertankers would solve our wildland fire problem. One, for example, supposedly written by a retired firefighter from Hesperia, CA says that if we had seven Supertankers, we could:
"...stop all runaway wildfires in one or two days each, and we could eliminate at least 80% of California's forest fire agencies....."That is ridiculous, of course. This would be just another tool in the firefighter's tool box, which in certain specific conditions could very useful. But in very rugged terrain or strong winds, its use would be of limited, if any, value. In very strong winds, no air tanker can be effective. Air tankers, to have a long-lasting effect on a fire, must have ground forces to follow up and construct fireline. Air tankers don't put out fires--firefighters do.
HERE is a link to a pretty good 2-minute video made by KABC-TV in 2007 about the 747 Supertanker.