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Fri, May 12, 2006

Just In Time For Fire Season -- Certification Of Evergreen 747 Tanker Delayed

Company Says Cert Will Come In July At Earliest

Evergreen International Aviation, which has put considerable cost and development time into a 747-200 water bomber the company says represents a "quantum leap" for fighting wildfires, reports the mammoth tanker is ready to fly... but won't be certified in time for this year's expected fierce wildfire season.

"We thought it would be ready last July," said Evergreen's Bob McAndrew recently to the Tucson (AZ) Citizen. McAndrew, who heads the 747-200 supertanker project for Evergreen, told the paper that certification from the FAA and US Forest Service is taking longer than anticipated.

Although the $40 million tanker isn't approved yet for firefighting duty, it will still get plenty of air time this summer. Evergreen is preparing the its 747 tanker -- which can hold up to 24,000 gallons of liquid fire retardant, to be dropped in one pass or several -- to visit 11 states during a monthlong demonstration tour.

McAndrews says Evergreen will fly the tanker from coast-to-coast, performing water drops for firefighters at federal, state, and local levels... and he hopes the massive water bomber will make an impression on them.

"It is a quantum leap in firefighting," McAndrew said.

The plane's primary advantage over other aerial tankers -- it's size -- is also one of the factors that may be holding its certification back. Critics of the program have questioned whether the large bird will be able to fly low enough, safely, to effectively drop its payload. And some have wondered whether firefighters on the ground could be injured -- or worse -- by the sheer volume of the tanker's massive water-carrying capability, when it is  dropped all at once on a fire.

As it stands, it appears fire-fighting duties for this season will be in the hands of the venerable C-130s, P-3 Orions, and converted warbirds that have made up the aerial water bomber fleet for years. By way of comparison, each of those planes -- which have already seen duty this year in fires in Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida, among other states -- can carry about a tenth of the 747's capacity, or 2,400 gallons.

Speaking of the current fires in Florida, McAndrew says the 747 tanker could be a huge asset for those battling the blazes.

"We could wipe [those fires] out in a day," he said.

FMI: www.evergreenaviation.com

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