Aerial firefighting employs airplanes and helicopters to combat wildfires from above. Originally developed from WWII bombers, air tankers are built in a variety of capacities; from the single-seat 800-gallon Air Tractor AT-802F to the gargantuan Evergreen Super Tanker—a converted Boeing 747 that holds over 20,000 gallons. Firefighting helicopters, based on the S-64 Skycrane and Bell UH-1 Iroquois designs, have also been in service since the early 1990s.
The two largest air tankers currently operating in the US are the Evergreen Super Tanker and a converted McDonnell Douglas DC-10 with the call-sign, Tanker 910. Both are stationed at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, CA, about 20 miles North of San Bernardino. Tanker 910 can drop 12,000 gallons of water from its three underbelly-mounted storage tanks in as little as eight seconds. It can also spread that same load over an area 300 feet wide and one mile long from as low as 300-500 feet.
The Evergreen 747 Super Tanker is the Big Daddy of aerial firefighting. With a 20,500 gallon capacity, it is the single largest Air Tanker in the world, and represents the next-generation of Super Tankers. Development of the $40 million project began in 2002, spurred by the crashes of both a Lockheed C-130A Hercules and a Consolidated PB4Y-2 that year. The plane made its maiden voyage in 2004 and was in service by 2009. The Evergreen can dispense either water or fire-retardant gel and foam. Its advanced release system allows the pilot to control the rate of dispersal; as gently as natural rain to an overwhelming, near immediate evacuation under high pressure. Its able to lay down a path of fire retardant three miles long and 160 feet wide.
UPDATE: If you live in an area affected by the Wallow Fire, you can find late-breaking local news and updates at Wallow Fires 2011, a PSA blog established by Giz reader Wes in McBride.
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