DC-10 firefighting plane at Phx Mesa Gateway Airport

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

MESA, Ariz. -- While most wildland firefighting aircraft can carry a maximum of 3,000 gallons of fire retardant, the U.S. Forest Service employs two DC-10 airplanes that can haul a payload of 11,600 gallons. That's what makes them such a useful tool in slowing down runaway wildfires.

"This is really kinda neat." said Kevin Hopf, the pilot of one of those DC-10s, tail number 911, which is now stationed at Phx Mesa Gateway Airport

Capt. Hopf got his start in firefighting as a young man loading retardant into planes in Prescott, Ariz. and knew he someday wanted to be behind the controls. 

After ten years of flying cargo in DC-10s he's now living the dream of being the pilot on the largest firefighting plane in the world.

DC-10s were popular passenger planes in the 1980s and could seat 355 people. 

All those seats and the comforts of flying have been removed from inside the firefighting DC-10s in an effort to lighten the load, allowing the large planes to carry less fuel, more retardant and still be able to fly at low altitudes needed to drop retardant right on target.

Capt. Hopf said at this time of year he never knows where he'll be and Tuesday was proof of that. 

The DC-10 flew into Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport right at noon from fighting fires in California and within three hours was on its way to deal with flames running wild in New Mexico.