Aerial firefighting employs aeroplanes and helicopters to combat wildfires from above. Originally developed from WWII bombers, air tankers are built in a variety of capacities; from the single-seat 3000-litre Air Tractor AT-802F to the gargantuan Evergreen Super Tanker – a converted Boeing 747 that holds over 75,700 litres. Firefighting helicopters, based on the S-64 Skycrane and Bell UH-1 Iroquois designs, have also been in service since the early 1990s.
The two largest air tankers currently operating in the US are the Evergreen Super Tanker and a converted McDonnell Douglas DC-10 with the call-sign, Tanker 910. Both are stationed at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, about 32km north of San Bernardino. Tanker 910 can drop 45,000 litres of water from its three underbelly-mounted storage tanks in as little as eight seconds. It can also spread that same load over an area 90m wide and 1.6km long from as low as 90-150m.
The Evergreen 747 Super Tanker is the Big Daddy of aerial firefighting. With a 77,600-litre capacity, it is the single largest Air Tanker in the world, and represents the next-generation of Super Tankers. Development of the $US40 million project began in 2002, spurred by the crashes of both a Lockheed C-130A Hercules and a Consolidated PB4Y-2 that year. The plane made its maiden voyage in 2004 and was in service by 2009. The Evergreen can dispense either water or fire-retardant gel and foam. Its advanced release system allows the pilot to control the rate of dispersal; as gently as natural rain to an overwhelming, near immediate evacuation under high pressure. Its able to lay down a path of fire retardant 4.8km long and 50m wide.
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