HELENA – One of the largest firefighting planes in the world is currently stationed at the Helena Regional Airport.
The 420,000-pound plane carries 11,600 gallons of fire retardant per load which is four times more retardant than any other tanker employed Monday.
At a flight speed of 345 mph the “load and return” rate of the tanker is less than a quarter of the time of other next generation air tankers. The tanker is capable of spreading fire retardant over a mile and a half in a single drop.
Helena Regional is one of the only airports in the state to be able to meet the plane’s runway weight and wing tip clearance requirements.
10 Tanker Flight Engineer Brad Pace said his favorite part of the job is hearing from the firefighters on the ground.
“It’s nice when those guys come back and say ‘hey thanks, you helped us out.’ And they’re usually pretty proud of it. They’re usually showing the little red spots on their shirt,” said Pace.
Pace said the tanker would probably be around for at least the next week before they head to the next location that needs them.
10 Tanker Air Carrier is a private contractor for the U.S. Forest Service.
In addition to the DC-10, the Helena Air Tanker Base has also seen Neptune BAE 146’s, Neptune P2V’s, Single Engine Air Tankers and numerous helicopters over the last week.