LONDON – Global SuperTanker Service, the group that owns the Boeing 747 SuperTanker, shut down the jumbo air tanker’s operations last week.

In an email sent on April 21 to officials in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the federal government, Dan Reese, President of Global SuperTanker, said, “This week the investors that own the Global SuperTanker [GSTS] just informed me that they have made the difficult decision to cease operations of the company, effective this week…”

“This is extremely disappointing as the aircraft has been configured and tuned with a new digital drop system and other upgrades to make it more safe and efficient.”

Global SuperTanker. Photo: Ryan Scottini/Airways

Statement from the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Joel Kerley of the Bureau of Indian Affairs stated that “The Interagency Air Tanker Subcommittee does not support any further interim approvals without correcting some issues originally identified in the 2009 test of the system.”

The test concluded that there was a failure to meet coverage levels 3 and 6, retention of retardant in the system after drop, aeration of the retardant causing trail off, and inconsistent flight profiles affecting retardant coverage.

As a result of India’s current COVID-19 surge, NIAC is set to issue an eighth interim approval to GSTS, though it will not support, nor issue a ninth interim until “GSTS successfully passes all requirements of the 2013 IABS Criteria. This must be completed prior to December 31, 2020,” states the Bureau.

Global SuperTanker Boeing 747-400 in action Photo: Global SuperTanker

History of the Boeing 747 SuperTanker

The Boeing 747ST, registered N744ST, was produced in 1991 as a passenger aircraft and later operated by Japan Airlines (JL). The type was delivered to the Japanese carrier on November 11, 1991, and registered as JA8086.

After 21 years of service for JL, the jumbo was converted to a freighter for Evergreen International Airlines (EZ). The new operator had the type for four years with registration N492EV. After the bankruptcy of the McMinnville, Oregon, US-based cargo charter airline, the Boeing 747 was taken by the Global SuperTanker, registered as N744ST.

Global SuperTanker Boeing 747-400 in action Photo: Global SuperTanker

SuperTanker Capability

The type is capable of carrying, and dumping, 19,200 gallons (72,678 liters) of retardant, ranking first of its type. The second-largest capacity air tanker is the Russian-made Ilyushin IL-76 at 11,574 gallons. In third place, we find the DC-10, which was capable of carrying 11,600 gallons but was subsequently restricted to carrying only 9,400 gallons.

The Global SuperTanker can dump water or flame retardant in just six seconds and fly as low as 200 feet (61 meters) above the ground for the task. It can be refilled in just 13 minutes.

The super tanker has served in many countries, not just in the US:

  • In 2016, he witnessed the extinguishing of fires in Israel
  • In 2017 he put out many fires in Chile, conducting a total of 11 launches in 7 sorties.
  • In 2011 in Mexico
  • In 2019, seven weeks in Bolivia
  • In 2020, Salinas, CA
Global SuperTanker Boeing 747-400 Photo: Phil Wilco/Airways

Current State of the Tanker 944

For five years, the SuperTanker, AKA Tanker 944, has been based in Colorado at the Colorado Springs Airport (COS), chosen in part for its convenient location for quick deployment to the western US and for the necessary infrastructure for the large and heavy aircraft to operate from.

According to Fire Aviation, Global SuperTanker President Dan Reese said the company was in discussions with prospective buyers, but it was unknown at that time if the aircraft would continue to be configured as an air tanker capable of carrying more than 17,500 gallons or if it would be used as a freighter.

Meanwhile, the majority of the employees at Global Supertanker in Colorado Springs have been put on leave awaiting a decision on the aircraft’s future, which has reportedly not moved since January.

In the end, anyone who purchases the Tanker 944 for firefighting operations will be purchasing a one-of-a-kind aircraft. Still today, the 747 SuperTanker has by far the highest fire-retardant capability of any firefighting air tanker in the world.

While the Herculean Boeing 747 Supertanker is now set to have seen its last firefight, the type’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification is valid until 2024.

Featured image: Global SuperTanker. Photo: Ryan Scottini/Airways