DC-10 lands in Arizona to fight wildfires


by Jared Dillingham

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Posted on June 12, 2012 at 7:19 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 12 at 7:20 AM

MESA, Ariz. -- The U.S. Forest Service ordered a converted jumbo jet to Phoenix-Mesa-Gateway Airport Monday night.

"The Forest Service told us to get here as quickly as possible," said former Marine Corps pilot Rick Hatton, who owns California-based 10 Tanker Air Carrier. The jet in Mesa is one of only two in the country.

The modified McDonnell Douglas DC-10, call sign Tanker 911, will fill its massive under-belly tanks with red fire retardant Tuesday morning and probably head off to make drops in New Mexico.

The plane, which once flew for Continental and Omni Airlines, can be loaded and ready for takeoff in less than 20 minutes, and it has an operating radius of about 500 nautical miles. With that turnaround time, Tanker 911 can make as many as six runs in a day.

Its missions will likely change day to day, and it can be anywhere in the world within 24 hours.

When the plane was converted to a VLAT, or very large air tanker, the cabin was stripped of all 380 seats and almost everything else.

The tanks fill with 12,000 gallons of water or retardant. That's about eight times the amount regular tankers can carry.

The crew of three has flown to wildfires as far away as Australia.  It also made a few drops last fire season on Wallow Fire in Eastern Arizona. The Wallow Fire eventually became the largest wildfire in Arizona history, burning more than 800 square miles. Fire managers said Tanker 911 was pivotal in getting fire under control.