Supertankers May Debut This Year

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Jet-A (and lots of it) may be used to help fight forest fires this season. Two companies developing aerial bomber firefighting aircraft, so-called supertankers, from old airliners say they expect to have all approvals in place to accept firefighting contracts. In fact, Omni Air International says its DC-10 is ready to go to work, while Evergreen Aviation still has a few hoops to jump before its 747-200can tackle blazes. The aircraft represent a quantum leap in aerial firefighting capability. The DC-10 can carry up to 12,000 gallons of retardant or water (more than triple the capacity of the largest existing tankers) and the 747 can pack up to 24,000 gallons. Though they can't fill on the fly, they can get to and from the fire at 500 mph. Firefighting experts say the jets will have their uses but they're not a magic bullet. "I think there is a place for a very large air tanker in the fleet," Dennis Lamun, a member of the Interagency Airtanker Board and an aviation official with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, told the Albuquerque Tribune. "But it's got to be cost-effective no matter where you use it." Tanker pilot Walt Darran said smaller, more maneuverable tankers will still be needed and the supertankers will be a complement to them. Evergreen is planning a nationwide tour of demonstration flights with the 747 but firm dates haven't been set because the company is fine-tuning the spray system on the aircraft.