California, USA — The television reporters covering the fires have beeneffusive about the capacities of the converted DC-10 airliner that has beendropping fire retardant on the fires in the vicinity of Lake Arrowhead, and theenthusiasm is warranted. Sometimes called the Tanker 910, and sometimes the 10Tanker Air Carrier, the plane can carry 12,000 gallons of fire retardant orwater in tanks attached under its belly. That’s 10 times as much liquid as theother available California air tankers, and four times the capacity of thelargest-available tankers operated by the federal government. It can create afire line three-quarters of a mile long or drop water over a mile-long300-feet wide swath in eight seconds. It can be refilled in eight minutes.
As Rick Hatton, managing partner for 10 Tanker Air Carrier, the jet’s owner,which operates out of the Southern California Logistics Airport (formerly GeorgeAFB) in Victorville, has put it, such a firefighting weapon “can be agame-changer.”
It would be nice to have more such planes available, don’t you think? If thefederal government had had its way, even this one almost certainly wouldn’t beflying this week . Gov. Schwarzenegger cut through some red tape a fewmonths ago to get this one lined up.
And, as useful as the Tanker 910 has shown itself to be, the U.S. ForestService still hasn’t certified this plane for use on federal lands. That’sbecause back in 2002 there were two accidents involving planes, contracted bythe Forest Service, in which the wings literally fell off. That promptedstricter certification requirements for older planes converted from civilian use(this DC-10 was built in 1974) to firefighting use. The bureaucrats are stillreviewing the paperwork.
There are about 50,000 square miles of federal land in California.
One can understand a certain amount of caution from the Forest Service, butthis is bureaucratic overkill. And it gets worse.
Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach has dealt with thissituation because of his California roots and his membership on the HouseScience Committee. He told us that after the end of the Cold War, the Russiansbuilt a fleet of supertankers designed for fighting fires and that could betaken anywhere in the world. Nice idea, building firefighting planes instead ofmore warplanes, right? Something the United States should encourage? Sorry.Because of bureaucratic inertia and buck-passing, those Russian planes are notapproved for use in the U.S.
“Without obstruction we would have had squadrons of Russian planesfighting our fires for less,” Rep. Rohrabacher said, “as well as a fewmore DC-10s.”
To his credit, when informed of the capabilities of Tanker 910 and thecomplications with the feds, Gov. Schwarzenegger committed to a three-yearcontract announced in June that makes this one plane available to fightCalifornia fires exclusively from June 15 to October 15 and other days asrequested. Too bad there aren’t more of them and some Russian planes as well.
The tendency is to gripe about this situation during a fire and then returnto bureaucratic lethargy after the current fire season is over. We can’t affordto let them continue to dither.