All different kinds of aircraft that have been used to fight fires, from tiny Air Boss tankers to the oversized Erickson S-64 Aircrane helicopter. But the biggest and baddest of them all was the Evergreen Supertanker, a modified 747 that has recently been sidelined due to financial woes. A new company plans to change that.

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N470EV taking off from Ben Gurion Airport in Israel.

Global SuperTanker Services, LLC is resurrecting the world’s largest aerial firefighting capability by transplanting the sprayer system from the dormant Evergreen Supertanker into a new aircraft. They plan to base the new SuperTanker in Colorado Springs, Colorado, putting much of North America within quick reach of the new asset. In 2012, Colorado Springs was ravaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire, which destroyed nearly 350 homes and caused a partial evacuation of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

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Satellite image of Colorado Springs Airport (COS).

Flight Club spoke to Bob Soelberg with Global SuperTanker Services, who mentioned that they had considered numerous airports in the U.S. but several factors made the choice to base in Colorado Springs a clear one.

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Soelberg praised the airport’s excellent facilities, consistent good weather and relatively low traffic which would allow their jumbo firefighting ample room to maneuver. Further, the airport has two very long runways, one measuring over 11,000 feet and another over 13,500 feet, which all adds up to a perfect location for the new company.

The original Supertanker was a Boeing 747-200 (registration N470EV) that was developed by the now-bankrupt Evergreen International Aviation. The original intent was to convert up to four of the company’s 747 cargo ships into firefighting assets, but ultimately the original aircraft’s systems were swapped into a 747-100 (registration N479EV). Despite being in apparent working condition, the current Supertanker has been (quite controversially) sitting idle for the last several seasons because of Evergreen’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Also, the Forest Service never fully subscribed to Evergreen’s Supertanker idea, preferring instead to utilize smaller short-haul aircraft such as MD-80 and BAe-146 variants.

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Global SuperTanker Services is an outfit so new, their website isn’t quite finished yet. However, everyone involved at the senior management level was also involved with the Supertanker program at Evergreen. Further, over half of the team which was involved with the engineering on the original Supertanker is also on board with the new company. Knowing that they have the human resources on board to handle the complicated systems integration instills a good deal of confidence in their mission.

N492EV when it was in service with Japan Airlines under a different registration.

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The plan is to strip the firefighting systems from the current Evergreen Supertanker 747-100 and install them into a Boeing 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter). The new aircraft (registration N492EV) previously flew for Evergreen International and Japan Airlines before that, but has been parked since December of 2013. The 747-400 will be a very nice upgrade for the Global SuperTanker Services crew because it has more powerful engines than the 747-100. The company claims they’ll be able to carry 19,600 gallons of retardant or water for 4,000 miles. By comparison, Tanker 10’s DC-10 tri-jet carries 11,600 gallons. That’s a big increase.

If you share our enthusiasm for big jets doing cool things, this is great news. Being able to bring nearly 20,000 gallons of retardant across such great distances is a unique and badly-needed capability. This asset could bring relief for communities under threat from blazes all over the world.

Photo credit: Topshot .gif via embedded YouTube, N470EV in flight - Golf Bravo/Wikicommons, N492EV in flight - Aero Icarus/Wikicommons

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