Timothy Wahlberg

Tricked-out jet combats Calif. blaze

September 2, 2009: 10:32 AM ET

"Tanker 979" pressed into service by deadly fires in Southern California

Tanker 979 can spray 20,000 gallons of flame retardant. Photo: Evergreen International Aviation

Tanker 979 can spray 20,000 gallons of flame retardant. Photo: Evergreen International Aviation

The biggest fire-fighting jet on the planet started duty Monday combating the deadly fires around Los Angeles. It is a converted Boeing 747, dubbed Tanker 979.

If it performs as well as expected over the next few days, it could not only mean less destruction of buildings and lives, but big business for the plane's owner, McMinnville, Oregon-based Evergreen International Aviation.

Fighting fires from helicopters and planes is not new, but nothing comes close to the fire-snuffing capacity of this former freight jet.

After a design and conversion process that cost $50 million, according to the private company's chairman Timothy Wahlberg, the supertanker can spray 20,000 gallons of flame retardant from four-16-inch nozzles mounted on the fuselage in a pattern that amounts to a rain shower the width of a football field and three miles long. More

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