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Firefighting Plane Grounded
News Bytes 04/29/2021 84 Comments

Western U.S. states are preparing for the 2021 wildfire season. But the world’s largest firefighting plane isn’t. The aircraft’s maker may need to sell the craft. Time is running out for the Global SuperTanker’s primary mission: fighting fires from the sky.

During the 2020 season, 58,950 wildfires burned over 15,816 square miles out West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. (See CA Wildfires Rage On.) God mercifully spared many folks whose homes and properties were threatened.

The Global SuperTanker is one of several Very Large Airtankers used to fight wildfires from above by dropping fire retardant and water. The giant aircraft can dump up to 19,200 gallons of water or flame retardant in six seconds. It can fly as low as 200 feet above the ground and be refilled in just 13 minutes.

Firefighters use water on the fires. They also usually drop fire retardant next to or around the fires as an extra line of defense. Once the retardant dries, it denies oxygen to the vegetation to prevent the spread of fire.

Alterna Capital Partners LLC, the investment company that owns the plane, invested tens of millions of dollars into upgrading the Global SuperTanker. But the income—mostly from contracts with the U.S. government and California—did not produce enough profit for the company to continue funding the plane. So the group has decided to ground the SuperTanker.

Alterna has funded the plane’s operations and upgrades since 2016. Since the announcement, the firm has received several offers to buy the SuperTanker. Most want to turn it into a freight carrier aircraft, says Roger Miller, managing director at Alterna.

“The COVID crisis has led to a huge boom in the aircraft freighter market flying around PPE (personal protective equipment), flying around vaccines, just all the stuff that you can’t afford to put on a ship and wait 45 days to get,” Miller says.

The investment firm is open to potential investors who want to continue using the SuperTanker for wildfire response. But if freight companies present better offers, the firm will sell to them.

Some fire experts, like Andy Stahl, executive director at Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, are unconvinced about using tankers and retardants for wildfires. They cite the dangers of aerial firefighting and the overall expense of retardants.

Stahl calls fire retardant a Western state phenomena because there are more federal lands there, and the U.S. Forest Service has the money to spend on retardants. Stahl claims the use of the chemicals is “more expensive than dropping Perrier out of airplanes.”

In 2020, the federal government and state agencies dropped over 56 million gallons of retardant. “The retardant contracts are very profitable for a small group of very influential firefighting companies and for the bureaucracy that uses them,” Stahl says.

But Michael DeGrosky, chief of the Protection Bureau at Montana’s Department Of Natural Resources and Conservation, believes there’s a time and place for effective retardant use.

“Like all tools, you need to use the right tool in the right situation,” DeGrosky says. “It can be used very effectively when you’re trying to guide a fire and draw it away from homes and property.”

So far, the SuperTanker has seen action mostly in California and Oregon. But it also helped out in Israel in 2016 and in Chile in 2017.

As the company weighs its options, two Washington state legislators sent a letter to U.S. Congress members in Western states. The letter urges federal lawmakers to find a solution to continue the SuperTanker’s operations, the “biggest and one of the best weapons in battling the catastrophic fires.”

Should the Global SuperTanker be converted into a medical supply plane? Or should it remain a firefighting machine?

(A Boeing 747-400 Global SuperTanker drops half a load of its 19,400-gallon capacity during a ceremony at Colorado Springs, Colorado, in May 2016. Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP)

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Most recent comments

1st Comment

Wow that is sad. I hope they will still be able to use it again at some point. And I also hope that there are not as many fires this year, and smaller ones.


oh, that's not good...

I sure hope they can use it

I sure hope they can use it for firefighting but maybe it would be good for medical for example India is quite awful right now so maybe it would be helpful foe bringing stuff there.

3rd comment

I was shocked at the amount of wildfires that happened in 2020!! I hope everyone experiencing them are ok! Umm, I wish that the Global SuperTanker should stay as a firefighting machine as it was made to be, if only they had enough money! So, assuming they don’t, anything that greatly helps people would be good for it.


My above comment should be 4th comment not 3rd :)

Random Fun Fact

The average Americans diet consists of 55% junk food.


Yuk! This time I’m glad I’m not American xD XD

I think they should keep it

I think they should keep it as a firefighting plane. That's what it was built for, after all!

@ Belwyn

Really? What if your mom is a health nut and is constantly on diets and we rarely have junk food in this except when my dad goes to the store which is very rare since my mom doesn't like him shopping? lol XD


in this house not in this except *


Yeah same here we eat really healthy!!!!

@ Isabel and Riley

Yeah, same with our family!

Another Random Fun Fact

Brazil borders every country in South America except Chile and Ecuador.

@ Belwyn

You know, I just learned about it in a book a just read. Lol

@ Belwyn

Oh cool! I'm glad that I don't eat that much junkfood....I think. Mirela, LOL!

16 Comment

Before I had read the article, I thought the picture was of a super-smoky airplane that was going up in flames and that it was a bad accident!

: (


Here's a Random Fun Fact

Babies are born without “kneecaps,” as we know them. Babies have cartilaginous structures in their knees which turn to bone by the age of 4.

Here's a Joke

And the Lord said unto John, "Come forth and you shall receive eternal life." But John came fifth and won a toaster.

Another Riddle

Figure out what this is. In a green cave there is a white cave. In the white cave there is a red lake. In the red lake there are black and white stones. What is it?

I live in california so I

I live in california so I hope this plane stays in the air!

@ David

I don't know, is it a volcano??


Lol Isabel. @Above idk what is it?

@ David P

I haven't heard that particular one, but I have heard one like it, so I figured it out! It's a watermelon, right? Anyway, good one! :)

@Bethy S

Correct. Hmm. You did figure it out by yourself, right? Maybe this'll stump you. You have one. Madonna has one but she doesn't use it. Arnold Schwarzenegger's is quite big, and Johnny Depp's is quite small. What is it?

@ David

Is it the last names? Schwarzenegger's a big name, while Depp is small.

@Isabel F

Yes, a surname.

@ David

Yes! I got it right! XD

@ David P

Yep, I got it all by myself within a few moments.(Like I said, I had seen one similar to this before, with corn, so that helped, otherwise, I wouldn't have gotten it) Now that second one would have stumped me, but I saw Isabel's' answer first so...Anyway, thanks for these. Could you put up another one?

@ David

Yes! Me and my friend are enjoying these riddles!

Riddle @ Isabel and Bethy

A cowboy rides into town on Monday, stays three days and leaves on Sunday. How does he do it? (you might already know this one)

@ Micah D.

Ooh, I know, I know!


He rode two different horses, one named Monday and one named Sunday.

@ David

Oooh! Well, before I saw the answer I was guessing that time travel or confusion of days was afoot, but the I saw the answer. But that one was good! And I hadn't heard it before.

@ Micah D (About what I said above)

Oh! Sorry! What I said was supposed to be for you, not David.

@ Micah

I already knew that one. My younger sister says it ALL the time! Lol XD and yeah, he rode different horses. Got harder ones? ;) XD

A truck driver is going down

A truck driver is going down a one way lane the wrong way. A policeman see's him but does not arrest him. Why?


Idk!! *hides* I was a riddle that really only works in person.... read it fast and out loud and it might work ;PP
Answer each question FAST after you hear it....
Think of the color of clouds
Now think of the color of snow
Now think of the color of a full moon
Now what do cows drink?







*Most ppl say milk, was that your first thought?

N&M A.

Thats funny. MY first thought that came to mind was milk.

@N&M A

Lol i heard one like that before. and yea i totally think milk when i hear it

@ David P

Uh...both cars crash into each other?

@ Nadia

Um...I didn't read through it super well the first time, but I thought of cotton balls first and care-bears second I think...Is milk the answer? Or water...?

Which 2 words do not belong?

Which 2 words do not belong? Beat, meet, sleet, clap, jump, bump, or write.

@Bethy S

Read it carefully

Steven has a mother who has 5

Steven has a mother who has 5 sons. The sons are named 11, 12, 13, and 14. What is the name of the 5th son?

@Bethy S


@ David P

I Haven't seen the answer yet: clap and write because they do not rhyme.
Haven't seen the answer: Steve (I liked this one!)
Oh! Truck Driver! Ha!
(Then at the end I realize there isn't an answer up yet...)

@Bethy S

Actually, it is or and sleet. Sleet is a noun, unlike all the others. And or, of course, is not it.

@Isabel F

are you enjoying these? Does your sister like'm?

@ David

Yes! My sister and I are having fun trying to solve the riddles. I always like a good challenge ;) (you do mean about the riddles, right?) XD


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