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The Spirit Of John Muir: A 747 Converted Into The World’s Largest Fire Fighting Aircraft

Photo credit: Bill Gabbert, Fire Aviation
Photo credit: Bill Gabbert, Fire Aviation
Photo credit: Bill Gabbert, Fire Aviation

It’s a bird … it’s a plane … no, it’s Super Tanker, a 747 converted to the world’s largest fire-fighting aircraft.

With most 747s being retired as commercial airliners, the history-making four-engine jet still has several valuables uses. A few months ago, Avgeekery.com wrote about seven ways that the 747 is being re-purposed. One of those involved its possible use to fight forest fires.

Here’s what we wrote then:

Evergreen International Aviation, a company based in Oregon, converted four 747 cargo planes into aircraft that could deliver nearly 20,000 gallons of water and/or fire retardant chemicals. The company hoped to use its big plans to drop big loads to help fight fires.

Alas, the business model never worked out as government agencies preferred to continue using smaller planes. Evergreen filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Last year, Global SuperTanker Services, LLC stepped in and took over Evergreen’s planes and plans. The use and effectiveness of 747 super tankers has yet to be determined.

That determination has now happened.

The Spirit of John Muir will officially make its debut Thursday at its home base in Colorado Springs, Colo. (John Muir, also known as “John of the Moutains,” was a Scottish-American naturalist who in the second half of the 19th century was an advocate for preserving the United States’ wilderness.)

Global SuperTanker Services, LLC converted the B747-400 freighter into the world’s newest Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT). It has almost twice the capacity of the next biggest aerial tanker. It can carry 20,000 gallons of water or fire retardant which can be released in single or multiple drops at variable rates. That allows the plane to deliver its payload in a tailored response to the firefighting needs.

Last year more than 10 million acres burned in the worst wildfire season in American history. The fire season is about to start again and there are warnings that 2016 could be worse.

The John Muir will stand at the ready and from its base in Colorado Springs will be able to quickly reach fires in the western United States.

“The Spirit of John Muir differs from other firefighting planes not just because it is capable of variable rate drops,” said Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker, “as the world’s largest aerial firefighting asset, the John Muir can fly 600 miles per hour for long ranges at efficient altitudes, reaching and combatting any fire in the Western U.S. in less than three hours.”

Wheeler points out that destructive wildfires are becoming a global problem. The John Muir can fly anywhere in the world in under 20 hours.

Want to watch the video?  Input password: GlobalSuperTanker

Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.

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