Tanker 910 dropping water over the Victorville Airport during a demonstration for Los Angeles County Fire officials on December 15, 2006. (Media credit/Alan Radecki via Wikimedia)

Tanker 910 dropping water over the Victorville Airport during a demonstration for Los Angeles County Fire officials on December 15, 2006. (Media credit/Alan Radecki via Wikimedia)

Tanker 910, and its new sister, Tanker 911 are firefighting aircraft designed to drop a large amount of water or chemical retardant into a wildfire. According to its operator, 10 Tanker Air Carrier, the airplane can be dispatched anywhere in the world within 24 hours, making it a fireman’s best friend.

The Tankers are modified McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airliners that can carry 11,600 gallons of water or chemicals in its exterior belly tank. It can drop its entire load on a fire in 8 seconds or slower depending on the need. A single drop from a Tanker 910 is equal to four drops from a C-130 Hercules military transport.

Tanker 910 is an old DC-10 that originally entered service with the now-defunct National Airlines in 1975 and has also flown for Pan Am, American, Hawaiian, and Omni Air International. Omni worked under the 10 Tanker name with Cargo Conversions of San Carlos, Calif. to convert the plane from a passenger jet to a firefighting tool. In 2002, 10 Tanker began developing the DC-10 into Tanker 910. By 2006, it had gained certification to fight fires, and Tanker 910 has flown more than 340 firefighting missions in California, Washington, and Victoria Australia ever since, according to the company.

The Tanker 910 can carry retardant, firefighting gel, foam, or plain water. It can dump its contents directly onto a fire or on a line to help control the spread of a wildfire.

In its first year, the Tanker 910 was offered to state governments on a call-when-needed basis, for $26,500 per hour. It attacked six fires in California and one in Washington.

The following year, impressed with Tanker 910’s performance, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger contracted the airplane exclusively for the State of California for $5 million per year plus a bonus of $5,500 per hour during the June-Oct. fire seasons. The contract was on the condition that it be able to launch within an hour’s notice

Twice in 2011, Tanker 910 deployed to Texas to help the severe wildfires that broke out there.

In 2008, 10 Tanker Air Carrier added a second DC-10 to its fleet, the Tanker 911. In 2009, Tanker 911 was deployed to Australia to help fight fires in Victoria.

Some concerns have been raised about using such a large airplane at low altitudes to fight fires in 2007, after Tanker 910 was badly damaged during a mission. On June 25, 2007, while battling a fire near Tehachapi, Calif., the Tanker 910 made a left bank while turning to land when it encountered turbulence, forcing the left wing to dip. This made the plane drop about 200 feet. The left wing struck several trees before the pilots corrected the plane and made an emergency landing in Victorville. The plane was grounded for a short time but returned to service after repairs and a test flight a month later.

Essential Reading

There are plenty of great books on aerial firefighting. It is a fascinating subject that has involved small planes, large planes, and helicopters. If you’re a fire buff, check out the book “Aerial Firefighting” by Wolfgang Jendsch. It’s a great read that includes about 400 photos.

There’s some government reading from the Forest Service on the safety of aerial firefighting you might want to check out. I’ve browsed it. It’s boring reading, but it has useful information, especially for fire officials.

Search around. You’ll find some great books.

Online Resources: