(CBS4) – The Global Supertanker, a converted Boeing 747 that was specially equipped for aerial attack on wildfires, may have seen its last days. The company that owns it says unless it can quickly find a buyer it will be converted back to a freighter.
The plane was a sight to behold — the biggest, most powerful firefighting tool on earth. Colorado was the first state to have a contract with the Global Supertanker.
In a virtual interview with Dan Reese, the company’s president, CBS4’s Rick Sallinger asked the following: “Last year the state had one of the worst fire seasons here. Will it be missed in Colorado?”
“I think it will be missed in Colorado, and I say that knowing that the aircraft has never combatted any fires in Colorado,” Reese said.
That’s right. Not that it wasn’t wanted or needed, but Colorado just wasn’t first in line.
“California was burning at the time and they had the same kind of contract we have, that is a ‘call when needed.’ And they called them up first,” said Vince Welbaum, Colorado Fire Prevention and Control Aviation Unit Chief.
Colorado Springs is the Supertanker corporate headquarters, and the plane was kept there until hailstorms forced it to move. It has fought fires as far away as South America.
Some people have said that perhaps the Supertanker isn’t suited for the mountains of Colorado, but Reese calls that a myth.
“One of our limitations really is making a very steep downhill (retardant) drop. And when you talk about that limitation it means getting the entire load out,” Reese said.
He says the Supertanker holds 19,0000 gallons of retardant, and what it can’t get out at once it can drop elsewhere. Most tankers can hold just 3000 gallons, which is six times less than the 747.
Welbaum said the Supertanker’s retardant drops definitely brought a “wow” factor.
“When you can see an airtanker dropping that much retardant for that long in the air, it was awe inspiring,” he said.
As a backup plan, Welbaum says the state is working on getting a contract for a large supertanker and a large helicopter as well as other aviation assets on a “call when needed basis.”
CBS4 reached out to the U.S. Forest Service about the impact of the discontinuation of the Global Supertanker on Colorado’s wildland firefighting efforts and received the following response:
The USDA Forest Service is aware of this vendors decision. The Global Super Tanker was on a Call-When-Needed (CWN) contract for aerial wildland fire suppression.
We have had up to 35 airtankers available the past two years and used all that were available in 2020.
The USDA Forest Service is well prepared for the 2021 Fire Year with a full complement of firefighting and fire support aircraft.
In 2021, the USDA Forest Service expects to have up to 34 next generation airtankers available for wildland firefighting across the U.S. This includes 18 airtankers on “exclusive use” (EU) contracts and up to 16 through “call-when-needed” (CWN) agreements.
The USDA Forest Service will also have the capability to mobilize 8 military C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) and additional airtankers through agreements with the state of Alaska and Canada.
The USDA Forest Service will have available nationwide up to 6 CL-415/215T water scoopers on CWN agreements and additional water scoopers through agreements with Canadian Provinces.
To supplement agency infrared fire mapping aircraft, 6 infrared fire mapping aircraft will be available through an EU contract and a CWN agreement.
In 2021, the USDA Forest Service expects to have the capability to mobilize more than 200 helicopters. This includes:
28 heavy (Type 1) helicopters
34 medium (Type 2) helicopters, including 1 helicopter w/ night flying capabilities in Southern California
40 light (Type 3) helicopters through EU contracts
Additional helicopters of all types may be available through CWN agreements
In addition, the USDA Forest Service is augmenting the national EU airtanker, helicopter, and aerial supervision fleet as part of an enhanced national response. These surge aircraft include:
2 multi-engine water scoopers
20 (Type 1) helicopters
6 aerial supervision (Type 3) helicopters
6 fixed-wing air attack platforms.
In 2021, additional aircraft are expected to be available through U.S. Department of the Interior and individual state contracts.