A typical idea of a giant fire truck might bring up visuals of a conventional truck with lots of flashing lights and ladders in your mind. This visualisation recently changed for us after we laid our sight on the Boeing 747-446 Global Supertanker.
The behemoth you see above started its life as a standard passenger Boeing 747-446 passenger aircraft with Japan Airlines. The flight was then converted to by Evergreen to a supertanker to replace the 747-100 tanker, which was nearing the end of its lifecycle. However, almost two years after Evergreen went into liquidation in December 2013, a new entity called Global Supertanker Services emerged and bought all the former’s assets.
On taking over, Global Supertanker Services removed the tanks and dispersant system from the previous 747-100 and fit it into the new 747-446. After its certification in September 2016, the Boeing 747-446 (tail number 944 – N744ST) was first deployed in Chile and then Israel later that year. Its first-ever duty came about during the California wildfires in 2017.
The aircraft is currently based in Colorado in close proximity to the areas in the US traditionally blighted by wildfires. However, it was also chosen as the airport harbours adequate support facilities for a specialist aircraft of this size.
In its firefighting mode, the aircraft mimics a landing (without gear) and descends to an altitude of about 400-800 feet over the target area. It deploys its smart dispersal system that can produce concentrated retardant under high pressure to target specific areas.