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Jumbo Jet applies for firefighting job

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bigjobs

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I read this in the USA Today in Houston today 13th March 2006.

I think it's pretty cool, I'd like to see the plane in action!

Jumbo jet applies for firefighting job
By Tom Kenworthy, USA TODAY
DENVER — There could be a new weapon to help battle wildfires this year -- a very big weapon.
An Oregon-based aviation company has spent $40 million to convert a Boeing 747 into a firefighting air tanker that can deliver a monster payload of water or chemical retardant on forest and grass fires.

The modified version of the largest passenger jet in service must receive certification from the Federal Aviation Administration and pass a series of tests conducted by the U.S. Forest Service. Pat Norbury, head of the Forest Service's aviation operations, said the huge tanker could be used this year in what is likely to be a major fire season in the parched West.

The jet can dump 20,500 gallons of firefighting liquids, nearly seven times the capacity of the largest tanker approved by the Forest Service for use this season. Using a pressurized delivery system, the jet can drop its load from as high as 800 feet, compared with the usual 150-200 feet, and can do multiple drops during a single mission rather than have to dump its entire load at once.

Still to be determined, Norbury said, is whether the jet can deliver fire retardant in different concentrations? ranging from 1 pound to 8 pounds per 100 square feet of ground? to give firefighters flexibility depending on an area's terrain and vegetation. Also, ground-based fire commanders must be convinced it would be useful on forest fires in the mountains, where that kind of flying can be especially hazardous.

Norbury said the final test would come on an actual fire.

"They've bought a ticket into the dance, but they aren't on the dance floor yet," he said. "If they don't meet our criteria, we are not going to look at it."

The cost of using the converted Boeing 747-200 is unclear. The U.S. government contracts with private operators for air tankers and has available 16 planes that each can carry about 3,000 gallons of liquid.

The company outfitting the 747, Evergreen International Aviation, declined to comment on the jet until it unveils the tanker in demonstrations beginning this month in California, Idaho and Alaska. Evergreen's website says the company's jet "will put out fires in less time, require fewer aircraft, flight missions and hours flown."

In the past five years, the government's aerial firefighting program has been plagued by a series of crashes and the grounding of air tankers for safety reasons. In 2004, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management terminated contracts for 33 tankers after determining there was no program to ensure the planes' safety.

That decision followed a report by the National Transportation Safety Board into three accidents that found the agencies had failed to guarantee safe operations in part because not enough information was available on the planes' flight histories and the stresses on aircraft during firefighting operations.

Eight of the planes were returned to service after the government contracted with a private company and Sandia National Laboratories to evaluate the tankers' airworthiness.

Bill Broadwell, who led the Aerial Firefighting Industry Association, a trade group that folded last year after some of its members went out of business, said the supertanker offers promise in fighting fires shortly after they begin, when heavy water and retardant drops can be particularly effective. He said the jet would be useful over flat terrain, but "how well it will behave in forests, I don't know," because a big jet will not be as nimble as smaller tankers.

Norbury said, "Just because you can get wet stuff to fall from an aircraft on top of a fire doesn't mean it's necessarily a useful tool for us."
 

Damien

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Aug 29, 2005
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A 747 carrying 20,500 gallons of water is going to be seriously heavy. I hope they can afford the fuel.
 

bigjobs

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783
Remember, this is America. Everything is bigger here, and they can certainly afford the fuel. Given what they are spending to get it from Iraq currently ... did i just say that out loud?
 

markis10

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Nov 25, 2004
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Damien said:
A 747 carrying 20,500 gallons of water is going to be seriously heavy. I hope they can afford the fuel.
Not that heavy, it works about to be a load of 91 tonnes which fits well in the MTOW of 412T, empty weight is circa 180T which leaves at least 100T of fuel which is about 10 hours flying, and if I was flying at 200 ft I am not sure I want 10 hours of fuel onboard! Weight and balance would also be interesting when the tap gets turned on!

More importantly is the frequency of dumps it could provide given the airport requirements and time to refill the water, I suspect it may not be that attractive when compared to some of the Canadian amphib delivery units that can refill on the run from a lake.
 
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