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Feds add bigger, faster planes to wildfire fleet

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 6, 2013 at 10:15 pm •  Published: May 6, 2013
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GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — As the wildfire season ramps up across the West, the U.S. Forest Service is adding bigger, faster planes to its fleet to fight the fires.

The forest service announced Monday that it has selected contractors to provide seven air tankers that fly faster and drop a larger payload of fire retardant than other planes in its firefighting fleet.

The agency will spend nearly $160 million over five years for access to several models of aircraft, including a converted DC-10 jumbo jet, which can carry about five times as much flame-resistant liquid as any aircraft in regular use. The cost is about double the amount spent in past years, but the planes are expected to provide better service, said forest service fire and aviation director Tom Harbour. They also require less maintenance.

Each of the planes can carry more than 3,000 gallons of slurry and fly faster than 350 mph, the Forest Service says. The DC-10 can hold as much as 11,600 gallons.

The newer planes are set to join the aging fleet of eight large tankers, mostly Korean War-era submarine chasers, known as P2Vs, which can fly about 165 mph and hold about 2,000 gallons of fire retardant. Several such planes have been involved in fatal crashes recently, reducing the size of the fleet.

Just when the new tankers would start fighting wildfires is not clear. Unsuccessful bidders have a chance to file protests challenging the choices, and various factors will determine how long that takes, the Forest Service said.

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