NJFFS Division A Section 2

DC-10 Tanker Ops

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Comments from Ray Chaney, CDF Battalion Chief
I had the pleasure of being a part of this fine team of individuals (photo) that carded the DC-10 (photo) and flew as part of the crew on the Sawtooth Fire. I have to say that our team was a little apprehensive at first by this size of aircraft. We all agreed that safety was our primary directive and political pressure would not sway our decision making process. We performed 3 flight tests. Two on Saturday and one on Sunday morning. The first had our lead plane pilot (ex-USFS) onboard to evaluate crew coordination. On the ground myself and Chief Dan Ward assessed the drops from the ground. We not only wanted to assure safety of all pilots in the Fire Traffic Area but the troops on the ground as well. The DC-10 drop configuration is exactly the same as if it were landing at an airport. 140 kts at 35 degree flaps. Typically 160 kts in the pattern on base to final we slow to 140. Typical airtanker speed. This gives us 28 kts above stall speed a good safety margin. First drop was coverage level 6 half load. It was a very good dispersement of the load. It should be as these are the same tanks used on the S-64 Skycranes with some minor modifications. Second load was coverage level 9 with the remaining load. All drops were at 300' above ground level. Vortices were minimal. The aircraft we found moves very little air. Its the load of retardant pushing the air out of the way that creates a minimal vortices. We performed a second series of drops with evaluation and some forming up procedures with our CDF lead plane ( a first for CDF). At the end of the day the team was impressed with our findings.

The aircraft performance was very good even with 50 tons in the tanks. This aircraft it turns out that even with a 50 ton load is still 60,000 pound under max gross weight. Again a little performance safety margin. Sunday we performed another drop test coverage level 9 full load similar to what we felt we might use on the fire if assigned. Prior to this drop we performed some low level work with a full load on board. Form ups and communications over the target area. At the end of this flight we debriefed and the consensus was that with a lead plane, really an ASM (lead plane pilot and ATGS) along with an ATGS onboard the DC-10 as a technical advisor, the DC-10 could be safely carded for CDF only fires. Once carded we were assigned to the Sawtooth fire. Our CDF lead plane scouted the fire area that Operations wanted the drops and determined it a safe mission. The DC-10 made two drops of 12,000 gallons each in moderate terrain. About coverage level 8 or 9. We produced 1.3 miles of retardant line in those two drops. We received positive feedback from ground troops (hot shot sup. and dozer group) that came into the area post drop. They report good coverage on the ground.

Now this is not the panacea of aircraft! It does have limitations. The crew of Tanker 910 was the first to point this out. It was refreshing to see that we were not getting the hard sell from this company. The aircrew was very professional and crew coordination was excellent. One of the DC-10 Captains had previous Airtanker experience flying a PB4Y and P2V-7 which made us all feel more comfortable. I believe this aircraft can provide a valuable resource in the right conditions. In other circumstance it will not work. Based upon training and cost this is not an initial attack aircraft. This type of aircraft would be appropriate for major fires or rapidly expanding extended attack fires.

Below Dennis Brown (Region 5 USFS Aviation Safety Officer) posted this information on the AAP website. Chief Brown was an integral part of the CDF team that put this together. His knowledge and insight provided us information in areas that we might not have considered. Without his input this would not have been the success that it was. I hope this information helps.

Thank you.

Ray Chaney
Battalion Chief



The California Department of Forestry has carded and approved for use a DC-10 airtanker. This aircraft is owned and operated by "10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC" and will be for CDF use only at this time dropping only within the State's Direct Protection Area, (DPA). The aircraft is based and will be working and reloading out of the Victorville airport only at this time.

The aircraft will be carrying 12,000 gallons of retardant and has an interim Interagency Airtanker Board approval. The DC-10 tanker has been assigned the designator of Tanker 910.

The following operational considerations have been put in place by the evaluation team as precautions for the overall safety of this operation and any other incident aircraft that are assigned to incidents that it may be working. As this aircraft is worked on actual incidents and experience with the aircraft in different terrain and conditions are observed, these
considerations may be adjusted one way or the other.

1. The pilots are carded for airtanker drops, but are not initial attack rated.
2. All runs by this airtanker will be conducted with and under the supervision of a Leadplane. At present, CDF is assigning one of their OV-10 Broncos with a qualified Leadplane pilot (recently retired Forest Service Leadplane pilot) for this mission. Until such time as the Forest Service or BLM begins using this asset, this will be the only approved Leadplane combination that will be used with Tanker 910. If the CDF "Lead" is not available, the DC-10 will not be used.
3. No integration with other incident aircraft is planned for at this time. ATGS and Lead will assure that other incident aircraft are separated sufficiently to avoid any potential conflicts. As information is gathered and people get used to the capabilities and limitations of this aircraft different parameters may be developed.
4. Every attempt will be made not to disrupt the flow of other incident aircraft with the use of the DC-10. Other aircraft will remain clear of the drop area of this aircraft for 3 minutes after the drop run as per standard FAA wake turbulence avoidance procedures. ATGS and Lead will advise incident aircraft of this and not clear aircraft into this area during this period.

Flight profiles for this aircraft during testing were not that much different then a conventional large airtanker and should not require any large increase in airspace requirements to complete this mission. Drop characteristics are also similar as they are using a constant flow tank similar to what you would see on a P-3 or an Erickson Skycrane. Drop heights will be kept higher, in the 200 to 300 foot range due to the increased volumes available and to make sure that initially we are not causing any problems on the ground. Again, this tanker has interim approval from the IAB and has demonstrated that they can make drops safely from 200'.

The Forest Service is working with 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC towards approval as well, but additional information and documentation to meet current Forest Service requirements is required.

Dennis W. Brown
Pacific Southwest Region
Aviation Safety Manager

Just to add to what Dennis Brown and Ray Chaney posted regarding the use of the DC-10.

I was on the Sawtooth and saw how effective this aircraft can POTENTIALLY be. The two drops included a line of retardant 1.3 miles long and 26 feet wide with good saturation on the ground and no apparent debris was knocked out of the timber canopy onto the ground where the drops were made. This WILL NOT BE A REPLACEMENT FOR THE S-2T, but another tool in our toolbox. The cost: $26,500/hour with a three hour minimum plus the cost of the retardant at 12,000 gallons per load. That’s about a $100,000 commitment and it will take a minimum of 24 hours to activate the program. You won’t see it on initial attack at that cost! However, where there is a threat to life and property in urban interface areas or communities (such as last year’s Topanga fire in S.Cal), or infrastructure such as 500KV powerlines, the use would be warranted. More evaluation is needed and more training required, on how to best use this new tool, but the initial results are promising that this may become a viable tool.

Kelley Gouette
Battalion Chief/Air Operations
CDF/San Luis Obispo County Fire




A DC-10 airliner modified for aerial firefighting.


Two pilots, a flight engineer, and a CDF Air Tactical Group Supervisor -- acting

as a technical advisor -- are on board and working in coordination with CDF

support personnel


Three separate external tanks mounted along the centerline which can hold 50

tons of water or retardant and are balanced with baffles to prevent shifting while

in flight. The tanks’ ground clearance is approximately 15 inches above the

tarmac. The tanks can be re-filled concurrently on the ramp in eight minutes.


Tanker 910 can dump as much as 12,000 U.S. gallons of retardant in as little as

eight seconds. Tanker 910 uses the computerized gravity-feed water dump

system that is essentially a modified and scaled-up version of the system used

by Erickson Air-Crane on its S-64 helicopter. The drop rate, controlled from the

cockpit, is governed by the opening of the tank doors.


The 10 Tanker has maneuverability but is more geared for a large-scale drop,

compared to the CDF’s S-2Ts aircraft which hold 1,200 gallons of water or

retardant used for tighter surgical drops.


The 10 Tanker was certified or "carded" today by CDF Aviation Management Unit

after the aircraft was tested repeatedly with numerous drops in the desert as well

as runs on higher elevations. Testing with loads in the last few days has shown

the Tanker 910 provided Appropriate coverage on the ground. The external

tanks provide constant flow and a clean pattern considering the size of the drop.

Tanker 910 is certified by the FAA and meets the same maintenance standards

as passenger-carrying planes of the identical size..DEVELOPMENT

Jointly developed over the past four years by Omni Air International of Tulsa,

Oklahoma and Cargo Conversions LLC, a freighter conversion company based

in San Carlos, California. Tanker 910 was demonstrated in late March for state

fire officials and the media at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville,

formerly the George Air Force Base, located in the Mojave Desert. The DC-10 is

a 31-year-old former passenger jet that carried 285 passengers for American

Airlines and later held as many as 380 passengers for charter flights flown by

Omni Air International to Hawaii.


Today’s operational objective for this aircraft is to build a retardant buffer

between the fire and Big Bear and to protect ground crews, which were flown in

this morning by helicopter. The retardant that is going to be dropped by Tanker

910 is intended to buy some time for the ground forces to get in position and get

the containment line built.


Tanker 910 was initially leased by CDF at a cost of $52,000.