|It looks as though I was wrong in a previous post, regarding this project going ahead...
SAN BERNARDINO, United States (AFP) - A US company demonstrated to local officials here how the Boeing 747 jet they modified to carry water would revolutionize the way fires are doused from the air.
The plane, a giant 747-200 cargo dubbed the Evergreen Supertanker, was stripped of its seats and modified to carry more than 75,000 liters (20,000 gallons) of water.
The Supertanker carries more than seven times the load of the Lockheed P-3 Orion aerial water bombers currently used in aerial firefighting, according to the manufacturers, Evergreen International Airlines, Inc.
Evergreen, based in the northwestern state of Oregon, has invested 40 million dollars in the project. They are currently touring major cities showing off the sole prototype.
On Wednesday the tour stopped in San Bernardino, a city 110 kilometers (68 miles) east of Los Angeles. The city was hit hard by widlfires in 2003.
The plane is equipped with four 40-centimeter (16-inch) nozzles to release the liquid, instead of a trap door used in the Orions.
This allows the airplane to make multiple drops on different fires in a single mission, said Danny Clisham, one of the pilots who has worked on the prototype for more than three years.
"We can refill and refuel in 37 minutes," Clisham said. He added that the 75,000-liter (20,000-gallon) payload "is still way below the maximum load of that plane."
The plane can also disperse fire retardant under high pressure or drop the retardant at the speed of falling rain, officials said.
The plane must still be approved by federal aviation authorities and Forest Service authorities.
In the demonstration run Wednesday, the giant plane flew a mere 500 feet (152 meters) above the city airport, then released its load over a several hundred meter (yard) area.
Evergreen vice president Sam White said he hopes to see his plane in service by August 1, just in time for the start of the fire season in California.
Gary Suozzi with the Federal Aviation Administration was impressed. "That's a lot of water. It's a good concept," he opined.
Mike Padilla, the chief of aviation with the California Department of Forestry Fire Protection, was a bit more circumspect. "It surely has a lot of potential, but we can't say it's the silver bullet," he said. "We're not sure how to use it."