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10 Tanker Air Carrier

Buying several DC-10 passenger aircraft and converting them to aerial fire fighting jets is not for the feint hearted, but that’s exactly what 10 Tanker Air Carrier of Albuquerque New Mexico did.

10 Tanker initially selected the DC-10 aircraft type for development after evaluating numerous modern jet aircraft. This aircraft type appropriately aligns capability with capital requirements versus operating cost criteria for a low utilization operation. The Company’s multiple use STC from the FAA for modifications to the DC-10 aircraft was issued in March, 2006. Obtaining a STC for a modification of this caliber exposes significant capital to a high degree of uncertainty. With a strong belief in the future capabilities of this type, 10 Tanker assumed the capital risk and achieved the modifications. 10 Tanker then obtained a FAA CFR 14 – Part 137 Operating Certificate for aerial firefighting and then finally the USFS Interagency Airtanker Board approval for use as an aerial fire fighting aircraft.

Firefighting operations commenced in 2006 with a contract from the state of California. Interest in these heavy jets was spreading, and 2011 and 2012 fire seasons brought increased demand from the US Forest Service as this innovative tool gained acceptance with a growing population of field commanders across multiple fire agencies. In 2013 the Company was awarded the first “Next Gen” fixed wing airtanker contract by USFS. From the start of operations in 2006 thru the completion of the 2015 fire season, two Company aircraft, flying 1700 missions had accurately delivered in excess of 15 million gallons of retardant. This would have required over 5000 flights by the next largest air tankers available and would have more than doubled the cost with less effectiveness.

10 Tanker laying a long line of retardant in mountainous terrain.

10 Tanker laying a long line of retardant in mountainous terrain.

Even with a full load of 44,000 litres of retardant, the DC-10’s operate well below the gross weight that they operated on as international passenger carrying jets. This high power to weight ratio sees the aircraft extremely powerful, and surprisingly, very maneuverable as they negotiate terrain, smoke and other aircraft as they set up for the retardant dropping run. Add highly qualified and experienced flight crews, and it is no wonder that Incident commanders utilizing 10 Tanker are continually giving the Company high marks for its unique contribution to wildfire suppression and containment. Another powerful advantage of these DC10 jets is their ability to cover a lot of territory in a short space of time. Jet aircraft speed with international jet range, combine to make heavy jet fire fighting aircraft a reality over a very broad area. This long-range capability means that that 10 Tanker can operate over vast areas of large countries like Australia and the USA, whilst lesser aircraft would be stopping for fuel en route. More time fighting fires and less time stopping for fuel increases the advantages of these DC 10 aircraft.

The 2015 season has seen the Company fleet of three aircraft flying over 400 missions on 75 fires across the USA. In recognition of the abilities of 10 Tanker, the Company was awarded an additional Exclusive Use contract by USFS, which will commence in 2016. The work done by 10 Tanker has not gone unnoticed internationally and 2015 saw the company awarded a contract by the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) for use by NSW, Australia. Operations in NSW commenced on 1st October 2015.

Whilst it took some people a while to accept the concept of very large air tankers, the company has achieved success by development of a safe and effective product that is truly a step change in productivity and cost effectiveness. A certified Structural Integrity Program (“SIP”), a reliable maintenance program, a robust aircraft type, and an effective, proven retardant delivery system all combine to make Company aircraft “game changers” in this specialized industry of limited access.

Government agencies are significantly short of capacity to match historical and forecasted volumes of suppressant needed on wildfires. There are four principal reasons why additional aircraft of the DC-10’s capability will provide fire agencies with timely additions to their air tanker fleets:

  1. Enhanced SAFETY – a platform delivering superior maneuverability and reduced flight exposure due to its dramatic capacity advantage.
  2. Suppressant capacity exceeding alternative aircraft by a factor of 3.5 or more.
  3. Aircraft meeting or surpassing all stated contractual requirements operated by an established company with proven aviation and aerial firefighting experience.
  4. Significant cost effectiveness versus alternative delivery vehicles.

10 Tanker Air Carrier has blazed a new frontier with outstanding success. You can tell when an operation is running smoothly… professional flight and maintenance crews, and an overall feeling of satisfaction coming from a job well done.

For more information, go to www.10tanker.com

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Mark Robertson, Manager, Australia, 10 Tanker Air Carrier.