“It takes 15 S-2s or five C-130s to drop the same load as our Boeing 747.” Global SuperTanker’s CEO, Jim Wheeler explained, adding “and when you are dropping over a million gallons, the SuperTanker is up to $6 a gallon cheaper. You also have to consider how many pilots it would take to fly 15 S-2s or 5 C130s. Consider how many landings, take offs and fueling along with the congestion it would take in the air to support additional aircraft.
CAL FIRE’s Chief of Flight Ops, Dennis Brown told the audience at Aerial Firefighting North America 2018, that he wasn’t initially sold on the Boeing 747 but realized there was a time when the massive air tanker was required. Global SuperTanker couldn’t have done more to market their huge Boeing 747 air tanker. During his time on stage, Dennis, showed video footage of an OV-10 Bronco with a GoPro camera fixed to the rear filming the Boeing 747, it was leading on an air attack mission. Jim exclaimed, “We love flying behind the Bronco! There was concern initially at how they were going to do this, the lead plane didn’t have any idea about the SuperTanker line length or width. When ground crews wanted to measure the line width they took a fire hose which was 100ft long, and the width came out at 125ft. The distance we drop is set by the lead plane by the air attack, which will say we want you to drop it from this rock to that tree or smoke at the start and stop. When the OV-10 is your lead plane, it will give you a puff of smoke to get ready, puff of smoke at start and puff of smoke at the end so you know how long to make it.”
On working with CAL FIRE, Jim was very impressed. “They are very professional and were very organised and thorough during their inspection on our Boeing 747. Their aircraft inspectors, flight crews and pilots were very thorough when they ‘carded’ us. The inspection from CAL FIRE which took three weeks, to look at records, flight crew as well as the aircraft with at least nine people each day working on it. Bob Soelberg, Sr VP, Program Manager told the author, “They did it essentially in the middle of the fire season. They felt there was enough value in getting the Boeing 747 available, getting it carded and pulled people off the line to do that.”
Jim continues: “The thing about aerial firefighting – to the outside world its magic-but to the rest of us it’s a lot of work. But we got a lot of appreciation from the people who are being hit by the fires. In Chile we saw people cheering us as the Boeing 747 dropped its 19,200 gallon load.
On the subject of expansion, Bob said: “We are in discussions with Boeing on aircraft that are likely to become available. We prefer ones that have General Electric (GE) engines, our SuperTanker is a Boeing Converted Freighter and in the FAA’s world if we had wanted to put the same system in a Boeing built freighter we would have taken another year and millions of dollars. “We have a very narrow window of aircraft we can convert, and we prefer GE engines but there aren’t many around. We have started with them and that’s means our spares, books and personnel are all geared towards GE but if there are none available we will have to change to Pratt & Whitney because that’s what is available. It takes about 6-8 months for us to complete installation once we acquire the aircraft. – we purchased all the patents and STC for the Boeing 747 from Evergreen’s bankruptcy after they went out of business.”
Working with other agencies when there is a fire is causing Global Supertanker a headache as Jim explains. “We find it difficult to understand why agencies won’t sign a ‘call when needed’ contract. It doesn’t cost them anything to do that and they don’t pay us until we do something. With a Call When Needed signed in advance all the parameters are previously established. So instead of taking 3-4 days for attorney discussion and logistic organization when the fires are burning we are ready to fight the fire. Any fire fighting scenario is about the time, don’t waste a minute!"