Aerospace & Defense

Using A 747 To Fight Wildfires

The largest aircraft used to fight wildfires like the ones raging in California and Oregon was once the largest passenger plane in the world. The U.S. Forest Service used to break fire fighting planes into three categories. The first is the small Single Engine Airtankers (SEATs). The second group is called Large Airtankers (LATs). And the third is designated as Very Large Airtankers (VLATs). Only one plane falls into the final group, the DC-10. It was first put into commission as a passenger jet in 1970. The list of three types of firefighting planes added a much larger aircraft recently–the 747 Supertanker.

The 747 first went into service in 1970 for Pan American Airways. It was the primary long-range jumbo jet for the world’s airlines until a decade ago. Boeing built 1,558 for these planes. The price of the 747 versions which could travel the greatest distances reached over $300 million. The plane has been altered for a wide range of uses. This includes Air Force One, and one retrofitted to transport the Space Shuttle.

Fifteen years ago, commercial airlines began to phase out the use of the 747 in favor of large transcontinental aircraft which used less fuel. Boeing recently said that it would end production of the 747 completely. Most recent versions have been used to haul cargo for companies which include UPS.

The first time the 747 Supertanker was used to fight a wildfire in the U.S. was on August 31, 2009, at the Oak Glen Fire in California. It was used again in 2017 to fight the Holy Fire in California’s Cleveland National Forest. In 2018, it was used to fight the Camp Fire in Butte County, California.

The 747 Supertanker has two major advantages as a firefighter. The first is that it can carry 19,600 gallons of fire retardant. The second is that it can drop this load within a few hundred feet of the ground.

The 747 Supertanker has been used most recently in California, at the sites of the LNU and SCU Lightning Complex fires. Likely, it will continue to be used to fight the current Oregon and California fires as well.