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One Fell Swoop-DC-10 Air Tanker

by Ollie Reed Jr. Alburquerque Journal |

Flying low over scrub and dusty truck trails, the big DC-10 jet dropped a load of water onto a Laguna Pueblo cattle pasture, banked left, grabbed some altitude and disappeared, obscured by the wet cloud left hanging in its wake.

Whoosh!


Five seconds after the plane dropped its load from 200 feet up, the sound of water displacing air murmured over the pale grass, stunted brush and cowpies toward seven observers on the ground.

“You get the temperature down and the humidity up,” Rick Hatton, one of the observers, said as the rumble of the DC-10’s engines receded in the distance. “You get out there early, get it done, get it out, so the fire never gets a name, never gets in the newspaper.”

Rick Hatton, 10 Tanker president and CEO, watches the approach of one of his DC-10s during firefighting training runs at Laguna Pueblo recently. Hatton says his DC-10s can bring "more sooner, safer and cheaper" to the job of battling wildfires from the air.

Rick Hatton, 10 Tanker president and CEO, watches the approach of one of his DC-10s during firefighting training runs at Laguna Pueblo recently. Hatton says his DC-10s can bring “more sooner, safer and cheaper” to the job of battling wildfires from the air.

Hatton, 73, president and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, an Albuquerque-based aerial firefighting company, talked about how to knock out a wildfire from the air before it has a chance to blossom into a disaster.

There are five companies in the United States that employ large, fixed-wing aircraft for aerial firefighting; more that use smaller aircraft; and some public agencies that own their own firefighting planes. But 10 Tanker is the only company that uses the giant DC-10, which is more than 170 feet long and has a wingspan of more than 155 feet, to fight fires.

On this day last week, two of the company’s three DC-10s, led by a Beechcraft King Air twin turboprop guide plane, were making training runs over Laguna Pueblo land west of Albuquerque. 10 Tanker has permission from the pueblo to do the training flights.

“The pueblo kind of jokingly says, ‘Hey, the cows like the water,’ ” Hatton said.

Water is for training. Planes actually fighting wildfires drop retardants – sticky or gel-like substances especially designed to curb fires.

10 Tanker’s DC -10s can haul 11,600 gallons of retardant per load, four times as much as any of the smaller tankers used by other aerial firefighting companies. And because the DC-10 is a jet, 10 Tanker’s planes can bring more punch to the fight more quickly.

“More sooner is better than less later,” Hatton said.

In fact, the company’s motto is “More, Sooner, Safer, Cheaper.”

Safer because getting a large volume of fire retardant to fires faster reduces the risk to firefighters on the ground by helping them get a handle on the blaze more quickly.

“You want to knock the fire down, so the people on the ground are not fighting 10-foot flames,” said John Gould, another of the observers and 10 Tanker’s business development manager. Gould, 59, was a Bureau of Land Management firefighter for 37 years, including 18 years as a smoke jumper.

Hatton, who flew F-4 Phantom jet fighter-bombers for the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, said the company’s DC-10s make things safer for the flight crews as well because they can get more done on fewer flights.

Fighting fire from the air is not inexpensive. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars a day.

But Hatton says 10 Tanker is cheaper because it costs less to drop as much retardant on one run as it would take other companies’ planes four runs to deliver. Also, he said being able to unload an unbroken line of retardant 50 feet wide and more than two-thirds of a mile long – or split the drops to any volume or distance required – makes for more effective and therefore more cost-efficient firefighting.