Busy Day at the Airport

by Jack

The aircraft coming and going at the airport is really something to see. Sadly, it is because of the fires, but if you want to see air tankers in action, now is the time.

The planes arrive every 30-40 minutes from the firelines and quickly taxi over to the CalFire filling station on the tarmac.

Smaller twin engine planes are tanked up in minutes, large planes like the DC9 could take about 20 minutes. It’s quite impressive to watch, in particular the old radial engine planes, which are mainly P2’s. The P2’s were supposed to be taken out of service days ago. Now they are back in service for at least the duration of the fires in Redding and Santa Rosa. This will be their last fire season, at least in the US, then no more P2’s due to frame and wing spar metal fatigue.

Maybe they will wind up in Mexico or South America ferrying American tourists?

While I was out to the A-P today I learned from one of the pilots that they couldn’t get into Santa Rose area due to the heavy smoke. Apparently the winds shifted and this obscured the fireline where they were supposed to drop retardant. Talk about bad luck. Meanwhile, according to the latest news reports, thousands of ground crews were becoming exhausted trying to defend homes against raging firestorm whipped up by winds.

Thanks to our museum computer app we are able to track the planes. We noticed one odd thing, a U2 from NASA flying over the fire scene. Not sure what that was all about, but mostly like it was a survey mission for a federal agency, possibly FEMA.

If you are interested in watching tanker aircraft and history in the making, you should come out to the Chico Air Museum. We have a safe area to watch planes and ground crews. There is no charge, but seating is limited to about 25 in the gallery area.

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3 Responses to Busy Day at the Airport

  1. Peggy says:

    My house is right under their landing and take off path, so I have a front row seat to seeing them with their red bellies. Hate the noise but thankful for what they do.

    This big bird would be something to see.


    “You know it’s serious when you see the world’s only 747 SuperTanker fly overhead.

    Dubbed “the world’s biggest fire extinguisher,” this awesome aerial firefighting machine has been called in to help with ongoing efforts to deal with wildfires devastating parts of Northern California.

    The modified Boeing 747 is capable of dropping nearly 20,000 gallons of fire retardant in one go, and earlier this week it made six flights in the space of a single day from Sacramento to affected areas in Napa and Sonoma counties around 40 miles north of San Francisco. Each flight lasted between 31 and 47 minutes.

    The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) called on the SuperTanker — operated by Global SuperTanker Services — as part of wider efforts to prevent the devastating wildfires from spreading further. The plane can fly with up to five non-crew members, for incident monitoring and mapping purposes, and can put down a line of retardant up to a mile long.

    “If your house were on fire, would you call the fire department and ask them to send me the slowest, smallest fire truck you’ve got? Probably not,” Global SuperTanker Services CEO Jim Wheeler told the San Bernardino Sun recently, adding, “This is a force multiplier for the fire departments because there’s nothing else out there like it.”

    The aircraft can get to any location in the mainland U.S. within about three hours from its Colorado Springs base. Since going into service eight years ago, the 747 SuperTanker has been called upon by several governments around the world, flying over fires in Spain, Israel, and Chile.”

    New record set for retardant at McClellan:

    “With seven large fires burning within 40 to 80 miles of McClellan Air Field near Sacramento, the air tanker base there has been extremely busy this week with 12 air tankers working out of the facility at times. Along with the 1,200 to 4,000-gallon air tankers, the very large DC-10 and 747 air tankers using the base need about 12,000 to 19,000 gallons each time they park in a retardant pit.

    On Wednesday October 11 a new record was set for the number of gallons loaded into air tankers in one day at the base — 311,000 gallons.

    Between October 9 and 11, Tanker 944, a 747, flew 13 sorties and dropped 215,489 gallons of retardant in the 3 day period. The DC-10’s undoubtedly also played a large role in achieving the new record.”

    • Post Scripts says:

      The 747 may not be the best equipment to use. As it turns out the operations costs are much higher, this makes to the cost of the water dropped the most expensive in the fleet. A DC9 or 10 can do it for about 30% less. The 747 is not as versatile as other aircraft and has to be used under special circumstances. So, it may be a record breaker, but it’s efficiency ratings are low.

      • Peggy says:

        I’m sure you’re right about the cost and it surely wouldn’t be as nimble as a smaller plan.

        I watched a video of a smaller plane go straight down a mountain side dropping it’s load before pulling up shooting over the tree tops of the camera holder. That pilot was amazing and had to have had combat duty.

        The 747 would be beneficial where a large fire is moving fast toward a town in an open area, like Santa Rosa. In one drop it could lay down the retardant of several smaller planes. This would free up the smaller planes for the mountainous areas of the wine country. IMHO

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