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Familiar airborne tool in wildfire fight disappearing as owners seek to sell

by Katie Dowd, San Francisco Chronicle |

The Supertanker, familiar to many Californians looking to the skies during wildfires, is shutting down.

The investor group which owns the 747 Supertanker is grounding the plane. The decision to cease the Supertanker’s operations was first reported by Fire Aviation, an industry website that reported the plane's ownership group sent a message to officials in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the U.S. Government.

"This week the investors that own the Global SuperTanker just informed me that they have made the difficult decision to cease operations of the company, effective this week," the e-mail read. "... This is extremely disappointing as the aircraft has been configured and tuned with a new digital drop system and other upgrades to make it more safe and efficient."

According to the message, the owners are seeking buyers, although a new owner could convert the plane into a cargo aircraft.

A spokesman for company that operates the plane, Global SuperTanker Services LLC, declined to comment Friday.

The Global Supertanker is a converted Boeing 747 plane that can dump up to 19,200 gallons of water or flame retardant in just six seconds and fly as low as 200 feet altitude to do its work. It can be refilled in 13 minutes. Costs can run as much as $250,000 a day.

“Well, it certainly is unfortunate. We would rather have that asset available like we've had in the past,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Issac Sanchez said in response to the shutdown news.