A Boeing 747 firefighting tanker aircraft at work

I see the Boeing 747 freighter that was converted into an aerial water tanker for firefighting is hard at work in Chile.  Popular Mechanics reports:

The Global Supertanker has been operating from Santiago and has relied on a team of local firefighters to fulfill the extraordinary logistics of loading nearly 20,000 gallons of retardant required to fill the eight large pressurized tanks. Each of the tanks hold 200 lbs. of compressed air and can disperse retardant with high pressure.

Since its arrival on Jan. 25, the tanker has performed multiple bombing missions every day while battling low visibility, rough turbulence, and harsh terrain all at very low altitudes.

There’s more at the link.

There are a number of video clips on YouTube showing the tanker in action.  Here are a selection about how it’s going about its job.  First, an interview with its owner.

This is how they fill the tanks on the ground, using the high-pressure water systems in fire engines to load 19,200 gallons within 15 minutes.

This is what the plane looks like inside, with its array of tanks for compressed air, water, and fire retardant chemicals.

Here it makes a pass over a ridgeline.

Here’s a close-up of a water drop.

And here’s a cockpit, pilots-eye view of a drop.




  1. Yep, rough air there, when a 74 is bouncing like that! I'd hate to be the corrosion control tech on that bird!!!

  2. Well, I used to fly in B-52s – which were designed to drop weapons at altitude – down and dirty. I suppose it makes a lot of sense to fly a 747 down low with the amount of fire suppressant they can deliver. Funny, 'cause just the other day I was watching a video of a helicopter dropping buckets of water on a fire. All the while I was thinking how little effect one of those buckets would be for a large blaze.

  3. Alaska fires routinely use the 747. We had a wildfire about 4 miles N of us a couple years ago, and they were using a P3 Orion and a C-130 the first day of the fire (lasted about 4 days).

    There was a helicopter base a half mile away for the duration; those buckets can be pretty effective, because you can dump water just where you need. As a plus, an empty bird can help with recon, though the local fire agency usually has one copter dedicated to that task.

    (The local fire got a couple thousand acres of woods and several homes. Some idiots were playing with fireworks on Bastille day.)

  4. Very interesting. I've wondered why, given the demand for fire work, no one has designed a water tanker from the ground up. Seems Boeing may just inadvertently have done that.The numbers: C-17 max payload 107,900 lbs; C-5A max payload: 240,000 lbs; 747-400-8F max payload: 295,000 lbs (the 8F (freighter) version of the 747-400 has a decreased range but higher payload; the globalsupertanker.com web site doesn't say which version their 747 is, but it's probably not the 8F since that's Boeing's latest (19,200 gallons of water is 159,936 lbs, and the web site states their takeoff is 200K lbs below max GVW allowable to permit landing with full tanks; they claim arrival within 2.5 hours anywhere in the US from Colorado Springs and can do a drop immediately on arrival, before landing. Impressive operation).

    If someone were interested in spending tax dollars on infrastructure, I'd think a few more of these would be a pretty good investment, as long as it's not the thoroughly incompetent $@#&ing fed dot gov operating them. I'd also think supporting infrastructure would be worthwhile (and necessary) investments: adequate runways, water supplies, refilling equipment, etc. which might be something for fire-prone states in the mountain west to think about.

  5. Lots of retired 747 airframes sitting in the Arizona boneyards. They may not be rated the highest lift cap, but I'm sure they're fairly cheap!

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