Capabilities of fire-fighting air tankers

Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture, photo by Lance Cheung, in public domain.

An article in the Daily Bulletin on 9/2/17, Cal Fire’s new firefighting aircraft is pricey – but worth it, officials say, describes the capabilities of a 747, the newest tanker on the Cal Fire roster. Article also described capacity of several other tankers.

Cal Fire has signed a contract for a 747. The plane was converted from passenger airliner to cargo plane in 2013, was idle in 2015, and was converted to a firefighting aircraft in 2016. Contract signed on 8/28/17.

When activated for use, the minimum charge will be $165,000 for three days.  Hourly rate will be $16,500 an hour, subject to that 10 hour minimum.

The Phoschek fire-retardant, that red stuff you see dropped on a fire, runs another $2.50 or $3.50 a gallon.

Carrying capacity, in gallons:

  • 19,600 – capacity of the new 747
  • 18,500 – maximum load Cal Fire will carry
  • 11,600 – DC-10 capacity
  • 1,200 – S-2 capacity

The 747 could lay down a line of fire-retardant one mile long. Most likely it will be used to lay down 6 or more smaller lines on each run, according to the article.

Tanker 910” by beltz6 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

On September 2, 2017 during the La Tuna Canyon fire, I saw a DC-10 overhead as it made two round trips to the fire. Also saw a four engine turbo-prop plane make three round trips. Got to see the planes so many times because I was doing yard work. After finishing in the yard, heard them fly over several more times each.

2 thoughts on “Capabilities of fire-fighting air tankers”

  1. Why not employ a large drone system using multiable vehicles each dropping 500- 1000 gals. each without endangering pilots and able to hover while loading & dropping.?

    1. Hi JP:
      That is a great idea. First hurdle to clear would be capacity. A 1,000 gallon load of water would weigh about 8,000 pounds. A twin engine turboprop S2-T carries 1,200 gallons. A huge 4-engine C-130 can carry 3,000 gallons. ( It would require a huge number of drones to carry that much water.

      For context, a military grade MQ-9 Reaper drone can carry a 3,800 pound payload (

      Still, an intruiging idea.

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

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