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Huge firefighting aircraft ready for wildfire season

FILE - In this May 5, 2016, file photo, the Boeing 747-400 Global SuperTanker drops half a load of its 19,400-gallon capacity during a ceremony at Colorado Springs, Colo. The Global SuperTanker, the world's largest firefighting aircraft, has been readied for the 2019 wildfire season. The Boeing 747-400 series passenger jet converted for firefighting underwent maintenance recently at Pinal Airpark outside Tucson, Ariz. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP, File)

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The Global SuperTanker, the world's largest firefighting aircraft, is ready for the upcoming wildfire season.

The Arizona Republic reports that the Boeing 747-400 series passenger jet converted for firefighting recently underwent maintenance at Pinal Airpark outside Tucson. The retrofitted aircraft has been used to fight wildfires in California, Chile, Israel and elsewhere.

The plane can dump up to 19,200 gallons (72,678 liters) of water or retardant in just six seconds and fly as low as 200 feet (61 meters) above the ground to do its work. It can be refilled in just 13 minutes.

The SuperTanker proved indispensable in 2018 helping battle some of the most devastating wildfires in California history.

"It's a force multiplier," chief pilot Cliff Hale said. "When you need to build containment lines fast, having that very large capacity can really help the guys out on the ground."

Hale was a captain with now defunct Evergreen Airlines when he came up with the idea to turn a 747 into a tanker. An early version of the SuperTanker was first used during a 2009 fire in Alaska that burned more than 500,000 acres (202,347 hectares).

That first SuperTanker was destroyed for salvage after Evergreen went bankrupt. Scott Olson, now vice president of maintenance for Global SuperTanker, later found a new plane.

Olson and his team added four outlets to the belly of the plane that could dump 9,200 gallons (34,825 liters) of liquid, along with a sprayer tank system.

Hale calls the pressurized tank system the "world's largest and fastest squirt gun."

The SuperTanker was deployed in Israel in 2016 and in Chile in 2017. It currently has contracts in California, Oregon and Colorado. Costs can run as much as $250,000 a day