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|Last Updated: Monday, November 05, 2012|
DC 10 Super Tanker
Research has shown that one of the most essential elements of containing a wildfire is to launch an aerial attack on it with equipment that can accurately drop a large payload of retardant in a short amount of time. The DC 10 Super Tanker, based in Victorville, California, fits these requirements, and since 2006, it has proven itself to be a critical tool for fighting wildfires in the states of Washington and California.
Development of DC 10 from Passenger Plane to Fire Bomber
Tanker 910, the first wide body jet to be used for large scale aerial firefighting in the United States, is a McDonnell Douglas DC 10 that was originally a passenger plane built in 1975 and used by National Airlines, Pan Am, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Omni Air International. Seeing the need in the aerial firefighting community for a larger capacity fire bomber than what was available, three trailblazing veterans of aviation sought to develop a new solution for aerial fire attack. After much research and testing, the DC 10 was converted into a fire bomber by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, a company owned privately by Rick Hatton, Stan Burnstein and Rob Coretz and based at the Southern California Logistics Airport, formerly the George Air Force Base. Managing partner of 10 Tanker Air Carrier and former United States Marine Corps Pilot Rick Hatton explains the research and development process that lead to the conversion, which began in 2002, saying, "We used a full flight simulator and we did some profiles that were suggested by the US Forest Service up in Boise as to how you would apply or attack a ground target that's on fire with an airplane. We were satisfied with the simulator, "we" being airplane guys much more than fire guys at that point in time."
The owners of 10 Tanker Air Carrier funded the entire research and development project without any government assistance. They chose the DC 10 for this application for many reasons. They had previous experience with this model through other business ventures and knew its capabilities as an airplane. Knowing that aerial firefighters were using older model airplanes that were often military surplus and often had issues regarding documentation, certification and training with a full flight simulator, Hatton and his partners knew that the aerial firefighting community would want to upgrade to a newer model with a larger payload capacity and quicker drop times, without certification and training issues. The DC 10 was a more modern airplane that could overcome all of these issues and provide aerial firefighters with the accurate high capacity, timely drops they needed.
Moving forward with their plans, the airplane was outfitted with three computer operated center-line baffled belly tanks. These tanks can be filled on the ground within 8 minutes and can drop their entire load within 8 seconds through a gravity-fed system. After 4 years of testing and certification by United States federal and state regulatory agencies, the plane was put into service fighting wildfires in the states of Washington and California. The 26 extremely successful missions it flew that fire season impressed many including the Governor of California, who entered into a 3 year contract with 10 Tanker Air Carrier for Cal Fire's exclusive use of Tanker 910 from 2007 to 2009.
DC 10 Super Tanker in Action
Explaining how the DC 10 Super Tanker, as it is called by many in the aerial firefighting community, works, Rick Hatton says, "The 10 stays high, relatively high, maybe 3,000 feet above the ground. The lead plane goes down. It's watched. He says, 'Here's where I want it.' and puts out a radio call to a specific landmark and says, 'Here's where I want it, and I want your whole load on this particular heading.' Then he comes back up, the 10 joins behind him quarter to a half mile trail. They go back in and do it again, this time with the lead plane ahead and the 10 following, never below the lead plane. The lead plane then pulls off and can actually watch the drop. The 10 never sees its own drop."
Contract with Cal Fire
The DC 10 Super Tanker can successfully build a line that is ¾ of a mile long and 50' wide in one drop during a wildfire, according to Hatton. This ability to help ground crews during massive wildfires like the Esperanza Fire and the Sawtooth Fire, has been a great asset to Cal Fire, and it has been used on 251 missions with California's state firefighting agency. It has been so successful that 10 Tanker Air Carrier has retrofitted a second airplane and has plans to expand its fleet further to be able to serve firefighting agencies throughout the United States and around the world with their aerial attack needs.
Unfortunately with the economic woes facing the State of California, a state appointed analyst has suggested that California cancel the last year of its contract with 10 Tanker Air Carrier for the exclusive use of Tanker 910 in the 2009 fire season. If the state were to do this, the plane would not be exclusively on call for California's wildfires, and if it is put to use the state would pay a 50% premium without the contract. Cal Fire officials are urging law makers not to cancel the contract citing the success of the airplane in helping to contain many of California's wildfires.
Author:Bill Lorin - FDNNTV.com
I saw this aircraft in action one time in the west hills of the SF peninsula near Stanford Univ. It was quite impressive. I wonder if this aircraft would be effective doing a water drop on the crippled Japanese nuke plant? ~ Martin Glenn
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