2015 was one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in American history, with more than 10 million acres of land burned and billionsof dollars of damage inflicted on homes and property. The U.S. Forest Service has warned that this record may not stand for long: fire seasons are starting earlier and burning longer every year.
Serious wildfires have already broken out this year in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kansas, burning over 400,000 acres and threatening the lives, livelihoods, and homes of millions. As the U.S. Forest Service and state emergency responders across the nation continue their hazardous and exemplary work, they can soon look forward to mobilizing a powerful new tool in their arsenal: Global SuperTanker Services, LLC’s firefighting 747, the Spirit of John Muir.
This converted B747-400, a Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT), is the largest, fastest way to fight fires from the air. The Spirit of John Muir is the world’s youngest VLAT, and has almost twice the capacity of the next biggest aerial tanker. The John Muir is capable of delivering single or multiple drops of nearly 20,000 gallons of water or fire retardant, either of which can be released at variable pressures, producing a tailored response to the firefighting need.
The John Muir provides an unparalleled level of safety to ground personnel, property, and natural resources. As a true “Next Generation” aircraft, it is capable of flight profiles unmatched by any other air tanker. The plane breaks new boundaries, flying with no speed, altitude, or operational restrictions in comparison to an unconverted 747-400.
“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.”
“The converted 747 can stand ready on the ramp at its home-base, Colorado Springs, fully loaded and able to respond on very short notice,” continued Wheeler. The John Muir will perform a flyby in front of invited guests, press, and government officials on May 5th in Colorado Springs, a home-base perfectly positioned for the aircraft to reach any point in the North American fire zone swiftly and directly.
The Spirit of John Muir’s firefighting scope isn’t limited to the U.S.: from Colorado Springs, the plane can fly anywhere in the world in under 20 hours. “Longer and more destructive fire seasons are a global problem, and Global SuperTanker can deliver a global, rapid solution,” Wheeler noted.
Wheeler, an experienced leader in the logistics and transportation fields, heads a respected and experienced team: Global SuperTanker’s management brings together a combined 259 years of aviation and related wildfire fighting experience.
Team members include Captain Cliff Hale, Global SuperTanker’s Chief Pilot, who invented the system built in the SuperTanker and piloted an earlier version of the tanker, combatting fires in the U.S. and multiple foreign countries; Bill Moody, VP of Incident Response, a renowned smokejumper and 34 year veteran of the USFS; and Captain Bob Soel-berg, a highly accomplished 747 captain and simulator instructor.
“The proven technology behind the Spirit of John Muir could not have been implemented without the immensely talented team at Global SuperTanker,” said Harry Toll, Managing Partner of Alterna Capital Partners LLC.
“Fighting wildfires has many similarities to a military operation. The frontline ground teams and smokejumpers, incident management, support teams and equipment, and range of air assets, including different types and sizes of helicopter and fixed wing aircraft, all work together to fight as a team, protecting people, forests, and property. We are proud to be able to add a more powerful tool to support them when needed,” continued Toll.
Global SuperTanker is owned by Cyterna Air, LLC, a portfolio company within a private equity fund managed by Alterna Capital Partners LLC. Alterna manages over $1.2 billion in capital for institutional investors. Their partners and team have extensive experience in building, operating, and managing large capital assets such as power plants, ships, industrial facilities, and commercial aircraft around the world.