Watch the Largest Firefighting Aircraft in the World Beat Back California’s Wildfires

The 747 can spray a stream of fire retardant 150 feet wide for three miles straight.

byPeter Holderith| PUBLISHED Sep 9, 2020 3:29 PM
Watch the Largest Firefighting Aircraft in the World Beat Back California’s Wildfires

Wildfires on the West Coast are raging with hotspots popping up in Oregon, Washington and California. In the latter state, 2.2 million acres have been affected by the ongoing crises, and firefighters on the ground are working hard to contain the flames and save lives. Above them, tankers run constantly, dropping thousands of gallons of fire retardant and water to beat back the inferno. Among these planes is the largest firefighting aircraft in the world: Global SuperTanker Services' 747-400, also known as the Spirit of John Muir.

Capable of carrying 19,600 gallons of water or fire retardant, the Spirit of John Muir can drench an area three miles long and 150 feet wide in a single pass. It does so at landing-like speeds of 160 miles per hour, and at altitudes of 400-800 feet. While this may sound impressive, it's even more astonishing to see.

The tanker isn't just dumping its water under the force of gravity, either. The entire liquid tank is pressurized, meaning that water or fire retardant is being sprayed out of the aircraft with force. In fact, it's enough to crush a car if one happens to be in the way. The liquid can also be released purely under the force of gravity, so it can fall like rain and cause less damage to property.

A plethora of other firefighting vehicles join the 747, such as smaller aircraft and helicopters, and they're all trying their hardest to suppress the inferno. There is, of course, no timeline for when the fires or the associated haze being swept all over the country will stop; however, the process of returning things back to normal is certainly being expedited thanks to incredible people and machines like the Spirit of John Muir.

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