Converted 747 ‘Global Supertanker’ Laying The Smackdown On California Fires

MCCLELLAN, Calif. (CBS13) – Wildfires are raging across the west. And now a major tool to help contain the flames is here in Northern California.

Cal Fire is the only agency in the country that has a contract to use the plane. On Tuesday, CBS13 got an up-close look at the Globa Supertanker as it took off to make a drop over a nearby fire.

In its first week of action, the converted 747 that’s now a retardant-dropping air tanker, has been getting a lot of use. It logged 13 trips, 21 retardant drops, with 219,000 gallons of retardant dropped.

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The Global Supertanker can carry twice the amount of retardant as the next biggest air tanker Cal Fire uses.

This week, it was deployed to Butte County, Madera County, and Los Angeles County for massive drops.

“It’s beautiful, it’s a beautiful bird,” CalFire Deputy Chief Scott McLean said.

There are some fires that won’t get a visit from the jet.

“If you can’t see the target, you can’t drop, for number one,” McLean said. “The other aspect is if it’s a lot of draws, a lot of canyons, you want to make sure you have an aircraft that can fly into those — a 747 wouldn’t be able to.”

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Other western states battling wildfires, including Oregon, have inquired about using the plane, but the owner of the Global Supertanker says, for now, California is the priority.

“I will tell you that more than anything right now, we’ve got to attack the fires that we’re closest too, get those out,” Global Supertanker owner Jim Wheeler said. “We can’t just be jumping from fire to fire to fire and not just ending the ones that were working on.”

The Global Supertanker costs about $50,000 a day to have on standby. It costs an additional $15,000 per flight-hour.

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