Some of the bravest and most daring men and women on the planet are those who fight fires, particularly wildfires that flare up in dangerously rugged terrain like the steep hillsides of a canyon.
In cases like those, the firefighters on the ground often call in air support to assist them, and the pilots of firefighting aircraft are no less brave or daring than their ground-pounding compatriots.
As an example of the incredible skill exhibited by some firefighter pilots, check out the following video from 2014 of a large DC-10 making a pass and dropping a line of fire retardant along the crest of a steep hill in the middle of the destructive Silverado Canyon fire in southern California.
The pilot of the aircraft slowly circled to line up with the ridgeline, entered into a steep dive and dropped the load of retardant before pulling up sharply and banking to the right with maxed out engines to barely clear the top of the opposite side of the canyon.
As could be seen in the video, the hiker who caught the incredible sight on camera was more than a little impressed by the nimble maneuvering of the rather large aircraft and accurate drop in the relatively tight confines of the canyon.
According to KTLA, that Silverado Canyon fire burned as much as 1,600 acres of the Cleveland National Forest, prompting mandatory evacuations of some area residents.
Fire officials noted how the fire grew quite rapidly and ordered a “very large air tanker,” of VLAT — most likely the DC-10 seen above — to help stymie the spread of the blaze.
That DC-10 was one of about six fixed-wing aircraft and five helicopters brought in to battle the wildfire. In all, at least 280 people from the Corona Fire Department, Cal Fire, Orange County Fire Authority and U.S. Forest Service joined together to put out the inferno.
As for the aircraft itself, 10 Tanker reported that McDonnell Douglas DC-10 cargo and passenger jets began to be developed as firefighting aircraft in 2002, and after four years of design engineering and thousands of hours of tests, a modified DC-10 earned approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin fighting fires in 2006.
Amazingly, the DC-10 can carry and drop upwards of 11,600 gallons of fire retardant in a single load, four times as much as any other tanker in operation, and at half the cost as well due to sheer volume.
Due to that capacity and the jet speed of the craft, it can also be make a drop and return to base to “load and return” for another run quicker than any other firefighting aircraft as well, which helps keep both firefighters on the ground and other pilots safer as it reduces the number of aircraft and passes needed to quench the fire.
As could be seen in action in the video, some of the unique characteristics of the modified DC-10 that make it ideal for fighting fires is its low approach speed which aids in alignment, the incredible performance and rapid spool up of the engines and excellent handling capabilities that stem from its acceleration and thrust to weight ratio.
That thrust to weight ratio allows the large tanker to climb vertically quite quickly and adds to its maneuverability, allowing for a turning radius on par with much smaller and more seemingly nimble aircraft.
With all of that said, it still boggles the mind how the pilot of that massive plane appeared to dip in and out of the canyon like they were flying a tiny fighter jet.
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