Old Freighters Get New Lives as Firefighters

Most of the larger older generation freighters which have seen their days end up on the desert scrap heaps around the world. A few are luckier and get a new lease on life.

Old metal gets back into the air
For example: B747-400 and DC-10 types which were or close to being mustered out. The Global Super Tanker Services (GST) who are based in Colorado Springs in the USA, have a B747-400 which has been refitted as an aerial water tanker which helps out with extinguishing forest fires in California and parts of Colorado. The work is usually done by smaller aircraft, some of which can land in lakes to real quickly and take off again. The massive B747 can tank up just over 74,000 litres of fire retardant or water and douse larger areas affected by fires. There are still some restrictions however on where this giant water tanker can operate within the USA. For some reason or other there are some states that still restrict water spraying aircraft to a maximum load of just under 19,000 litres. Hopefully this will change in the near future. There are one or two re-modified DC-10 freighters which are also used as firefighters. These can carry around 45,000 liters of repellent.


One-and-half year trials are approved
GST has received a 17 month approval to operate the B747-400 from the U.S. Interagency / Airtanker Board for use within California and some parts of Colorado. There are however quite some restrictions involved with the approval. Among them are strict training and certification for the pilots operating as well as GST proving to the Board that the aircraft actually is effective in aiding firefighting efforts in coordination with ground firefighters on the scene.
Long-haul operations seem no problem for this bird. The aircraft has 14 first class seats and two sleeping bunks situated on the upper deck. It can not only just dump a whole load of relent or water, but can also make up to eight individual passes over fires and pinpoint smaller areas to extinguish. Fires on ocean going super tankers could also be fought by using the GST aircraft.
All still in early approval stages, but an aircraft we feel could be very useful considering the increasing number of forest fires which occur each year with devastating results. The B747-400 has a range of more than 6,000 kilometers when fully loaded, so why not consider using it outside of the USA, where and when needed?
A new form of freighter - as it carries over 74,000 litres of “very valuable cargo.”

John Mc Donagh

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