The Washington Post reported today that wildfires were still raging across the southwestern U.S. (Grass Fires Rage Near Texas-Oklahoma Border). Independent reports have put the number of aircraft fighting the fire at 97 in total. But one important aircraft is missing.
In December, I was invited to Victorville, California, by Wildfire Research Network and Omni Air International (OAI) to watch the demonstration of a large, new air-tanker that could release 12,000 gallons in a single drop, effectively annihilating the head (leading edge) of a fire. To put this in perspective, currently, the largest drop any firefighting aircraft can make is 3,000 gallons.
I contacted Jack Maxey, who was the pilot of this converted DC-10 air-tanker (or "10 Tanker" as OAI calls it), and he stated that "...every fire will be different, but the type of fire we are talking about, on relatively flat land I would think would be very accessible from the air. The wind keeps the smoke fairly low so visibility shouldn't be a problem....I am looking forward to getting the 10 Tanker on some of these..."
Imagine being able to completely snuff out hundreds of yards of fire frontage with each drop. Even these monster fires that are several miles wide could be chopped down to size fairly quickly (the plane has a top speed of 540 miles per hour, making for fairly rapid commutes between the air base and the fire). This project may be ushering in a new era in aerial firefighting - one in which destruction such as Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico have seen becomes a thing of the past...