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Officials laud approval of fire-fighting Supertankers

Huge aircraft will allow for water and retardant drops from higher altitudes

Posted: April 3, 2009 12:46 a.m.
Updated: April 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The Boeing 747 Supertanker, pictured, was developed by Evergreen Aviations and re-engineered to help fight fires. County officials hope to implement the planes as soon as possible, which can accurately hit its target from up an altitude of 500 feet.

There’s a new weapon in the war against wildland fires — the Boeing 747 Supertanker.

Evergreen Aviations spent $50 million and five years developing the aircraft and received federal approval from an interagency board that includes U.S Forest Service to use the plane to battle fires across the country this summer, said Jim Baynes, Evergreen Aviation spokesman.

The plane offers firefighters another tool in battling wildland blazes, Baynes said.

“If it’s available for use, (the Supertanker) is a resource that (County fire) would be interested in deploying,” said Capt. Mike Brown of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

County fire plans to look into whether the aircraft is a viable option for the department, he said.

The Supertanker won’t replace small fixed-winged planes or helicopters, which are perfect for precision air drops in tight remote locations, he said.

However, that’s not to say the behemoth can’t make tight turns, Baynes said.

“We’ve surprised people with the Supertankers maneuverability,” he said.

The Supertanker can do things that other large tanker aircraft such as the DC-10 and the SuperScooper can’t, he said.

With its pressurized system the Supertanker can accurately drop water from relatively high altitudes, Baynes said.

The DC-10 and SuperScooper air tankers drop from between 150 to 200 feet above a target. The Supertanker can accurately hit a target from as high as 500 feet depending on the wind conditions, Baynes said.

Higher-altitude air drops make the Supertanker perfect for night operations, he said.

The pressurized drop system also improves the accuracy of the air drops, Baynes added.

The U.S. Forest Service is negotiating with Evergreen Aviation to lease a Supertanker for the upcoming fire season, Baynes said.

“We have operation agreements with several Southern California airports if we’re called into action,” Baynes said. The agreements allow the plane to use those airports as a bases of operations. “All we need is 7,500 feet of runway, he said. “We can operate out of San Bernardino and Victorville.”



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