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World’s largest water bomber and heli firefighters

Earth is getting hotter. The 2000s was the warmest decade in a thousand years. Global temperature, in general, keeps increasing, creating conditions that intensify wildfire danger, by warming and drying out vegetation and by stirring the winds that spread fires. Fast fires are hard to contain and likely to expand into residential areas. Already about 1 billion people live in areas prone to natural disasters.

The United States suffer from one of the highest fire death rates in the industrialized world, with more than 2 million fires reported each year. More than 4,000 Americans, including 100 firefighters, lose their lives and another 26,500 are injured annually as the result of fire. 

Fire Departments around the world call on “water bombers” to fight large fires. Carrying huge amounts of water and retardants, they actually are more cost-efficient than most other fire fighting methods.

Erickson HelitankerOne of these water bombers is the Erickson Helitanker. It can deliver 2,650 gallon (10,000 litres) of water in one drop, and, using a ram scoop hydrofoil, refill from any water source 18 inches (45 cm) deep in about 45 seconds. The Helitanker can precision deliver 30,000 gallons (110,000 litres) per hour.

The Helitanker’s water cannon attached to the tank forces a stream of water or foam mix at 300 gallons (1,140 liters) per minute over a range of 200 ft (~60 meters).

Ilyushin-76TDOther aircraft are used too, such as the C-130, Martin Mars and DC-6. One of the largest and fastest of the water bombers is the turbofan jet Ilyushin-76TD (Il-76). It can reach a fire anywhere in the world within 12 hours. Carrying 11,000 gallons (42,000 litres) of water and fire retardants – 4 times as much as a C-130 – it can, in one run, dump enough water to cover 6 double-wide football fields, or an area 0.7 miles (1,1 km) in length. Outfitted with a twin-tank system capable of carrying 135,000 pounds of liquid, it can be filled and be ready for takeoff in 15 minutes.

The largest water bomber is the Boeing Evergreen 747 Supertanker. Introduced in 2009, it has a capacity of 20,500 US gallons (77, 600 litres). It is also the faster water bomber, able to fly at 600 knots.

Tanker comparisons

Tanker Gallons Knots The Il-76, the world's largest waterbomber
Evergreen 747 10 500 600
Il-76 11 000 400
Martin Mars 7 200 165
KC-97 4 500 210
C-130 3 000 250
DC-6 3 000 235
Heli- tanker 2 000 N/A

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