Global SuperTanker Services operates the biggest aerial firefighting aircraft in the world, a Boeing 747-400, N744ST/’944’. Initially developed by Evergreen International, Global SuperTanker acquired the physical and intellectual property rights related to Evergreen’s original Supertanker. In doing so, it integrated the existing sprayer tank system into ‘944’.
At Aerial Firefighting 2017, Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services told the author: “This 747-400 is the largest and fastest aerial tanker in the world, with the largest aerial plumbing job! The conversion was started and 2015 and completed in 2016. Its first mission was to Israel in November 2016, where it flew for five days, then Chile in January/February 2017.”
For the mission to Israel, Global SuperTanker was only given a few hours’ notice. To complicate matters, it was a Thanksgiving Day, and the company based in Colorado Springs. They had to get everyone to the base from homes all over the States. “It was a logistic marvel.” Jim says, then added, “We flew non-stop from Colorado Springs to Tel Aviv and never received the special clearance to land at Tel Aviv until we were somewhere over Italy.”
The Supertanker has a maximum load of 19,200 gallons (73,000 litres) which can be dropped in eight seconds. “Then we go back and reload, it takes us about 30 minutes of ground time although we have done it in 13 minutes – it depends on the water pressure.” During the stay in Israel, ‘944’ dropped water eight times, but during that time it was put on alert and as the military found new fires starting up, an air tanker would be called on to it. It usually takes longer to get to the area than it does to do the mission.
“It’s a huge water bomber, with nothing of that size available anywhere and has the ability to be a force multiplier. Its 5-7x larger than most of the other aircraft available. For example, the CL-415 holds 2,000 gallons, but our aircraft is at least nine times its size. So you would nine CL-415s to drop the same load.” Jim adds, before highlighting another big advantage for the Super Tanker: “When Boeing built this aircraft it had an incredibly strong wing-box, so you can make very tight manoeuvres without overstressing it. The engines also have incredible power, after we drop a load we can fly out at 6,000 ft per minute – that’s the speed of a rocket!”
Jim continues: “We can operate from runways up to 8,500 feet long. Here in southern France we could land in Marseilles and also at Nîmes, but there are some issues with the latter’s ramp.”
The week before the Aerial Firefighting event (Oct 16-18) the SuperTanker flew 25 sorties in California putting out fires, making 35 drops covering 450,000 gallons of retardant. “This is a tool that can be used, and it’s the biggest tool in the toolbox. It’s not only about the aircraft, ground crews fighting the fires need supporting so they can get better control and finish the job.”
Jim finishes: “Aerial Firefighting Europe 2017 has been wonderful – it is a good opportunity to network and check out the competition!”