Skip to comments.World's largest firefighting aircraft grounded by U.S. Govt
Posted on 07/17/2017 7:19:54 AM PDT by gattaca
More than 50 large wildfires are scorching land this morning across the western U.S. But a new firefighting tool is sitting idle in an airport hangar in California because the U.S. Forest Service refuses to let it fly.
The converted Boeing 747 jet, nicknamed the SuperTanker, can drop almost twice as much fire retardant as the largest airtanker currently in service.
"We're the very largest in the world -- there's nobody out there that comes close," said Jim Wheeler. His company, Global SuperTanker, turned a 747-400 series passenger jet -- one of the biggest in the sky -- into the world's largest fire extinguisher.
"We can drop a line of retardant about three kilometers long, about a mile-and-a-half," Wheeler told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann, as the plane performed a test run in Colorado last fall.
But in this country, it's virtually worthless unless the U.S. Forest Service gives it permission to fight fires -- something the agency has yet to do, even though the plane was certified by the FAA last September, and has since fought fires in Chile and Israel.
"The frustration factor is exceptionally high," Wheeler said. "It's very hard to watch property burn and lives lost, and we can't get in and help."
In May, the Forest Service issued a request for new airtankers, but said it would only give contracts to planes with a dispensing capacity of between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons. The supertanker can drop more than 19,000 gallons of water or retardant at a time.
Wheeler said, "It begs the question: if your house is on fire, are you going to call the smallest, slowest fire truck?"
Some firefighter advocacy groups suggest the Forest Service might be trying to control its budget, causing delays for the plane, which could cost as much as $250,000 a day to operate. The Forest Service says it can't comment on the dispute because Wheeler filed an official protest last month.
According to Wheeler, the aircraft can be filled in less than 30 minutes. But it's not just the speed and size that make the Supertaker powerful; its pressurized tank system atomizes the water when it's released, rather than just dumping it, like a bucket. "It doesn't break down tree limbs, it won't crush cars or buildings," Wheeler said.
And a firefighter or a stranded resident who happens to be under this big dump of water will be be fine. "You'll get wet, but won't be killed," Wheeler said.
Strassmann asked, "Why hasn't someone done this until now?"
"There's a lot of cost involved in doing this, a lot of testing and a lot of paperwork, and I think that scares most people," Wheeler replied.
California's fire agency currently has an agreement to use the plane, but can't deploy it until the Forest Service gives its approval. It's an expensive aircraft, but at a time of ever-growing wildfires threatening lives and property, Wheeler feels his service is a bargain. "You're not going to put out a 4,000-acre or larger fire with buckets and helicopters. It's just physically impossible," he said.
Welcome to the red tape brigade of bureaucrats.
Well, there's the problem! Fires burn in square miles and they're trying to put out fires in kilometers X square miles. Confusion!
“We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”
250K per day? Sounds like a lot of money until you figure in the damage caused of a an out of control fire per day.
Didn’t this happen last year also?
Deep State NeverTrumpistas in the Forset Service would rather let the forest burn down and blame it on Trump.
When I lived in NM, Forest Service was using modified WWII bombers to carry the load.
Me thinks Jim Wheeler developed the modifications for the behemoth under the Obama regime and assumed that Hillary would be POTUS and would certainly approve the 1/4 Million dollar a day airplane to reward California Democrats for putting her in office.
Evergreen started the 747 Supertanker program some years ago and never got it approved. Global is running into the same bureaucratic BS. BTW the Forest Service has approved a DC-10 for fire service. One helped extinguish a fire very near my home last Friday.
“250K per day? Sounds like a lot of money until you figure in the damage caused of a an out of control fire per day.”
However if you are a bureaucrat the cost of the damage from an out of control fire is not applied to his/her budget. A $250K per day charge for the plane can wipe out the bureaucrat’s budget very quickly.
I don’t know what the politics of those involved are, but I am willing to bet a large sum that politics is the #1 reason this has not been approved.
Follow the money.
“There’s only two things that can happen in a forest concerning fire:
1. It’s on fire.
2. It’s making more fuel for a fire.”
The National Forest Service is a fever swamp of liberalism, or so I gather from reading accounts of them.
What about the ideas of controlled burns and not putting housing and people in the middle of inflammable areas?
“A $250K per day charge for the plane can wipe out the bureaucrats budget very quickly.”
What is really at stake is the big money from large fires. Whole cities spring up near large fires. The Supertanker can be a silver bullet and stop a fire cold. It could easily pay for it’s self by replacing 20 or 30 drops by smaller aircraft. One of the aircraft currently used in fire fighting is a converted crop duster. Almost a joke to watch them work.
None near important people’s homes:
When that changes, you’ll see this plane in the air.
Years ago, a California airship company almost built a firefighting airship, which would have been a game changer and saved many billions of dollars a year. But they went bankrupt.
Airships have a tremendous amount of lift, and because they can hover, they don’t need to drop it all at once, but can “rain out” a fire. They could also descend a wire guided fire hose, or even a wide, collapsible tube to drop a lot of high expansion fire fighting foam.
The supertanker 747 can carry 19,600 gallons of retardant or water. An airship would make a great complement to it. It would likely be just as fast or faster getting on site as well, as it can refill its tank by setting down on a lake or large open vat. And with engines on either side, it can travel at 40mph.
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