The Ilyushin-76 jet, which can be used as a super ‘waterbomber’ to fight fires
The Russian Ilyushin-76 “waterbomber” jet that can douse a fire the size of 10 football fields in a single pass is not being used to fight the California fires because it hasn’t passed U.S. inspections, federal officials have confirmed for WND.
But then, neither have two U.S. planes, including a modified DC-10 and a 747, that now can drop about the same amount of water or retardant as the Ilyushin, passed the needed inspections to be approved for use under federal firefighting efforts, they said.
Officials with the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho, said some of the DC-10s or 747s might be in use under state programs, which have different requirements, but federal programs don’t allow the massive jet water drops as hundreds of thousands of acres in California are ablaze.
WND reported several years ago, when California was under another series of wildfire attacks, that the Russian jet can drop about 10,000-12,000 gallons of water in a single dump, but was resisted by the government.
Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Curt Weldon, R-Pa., complained in 2003 the Russian government had offered the jet to the U.S. Forest Service for its use but was rebuffed.
At that time the California wildfires were killing 20 people and scorching 750,000 acres of land, destroying about 2,800 homes.
Ed Stone, a Forest Service aviation official, said in an August 2000 interview his agency had been aware of the aircraft since 1994 when fires prompted intense political pressure to use it, but, “we didn’t care for the product.” Critics several years later said it actually drops too much water.
While the Russian jet has about four times the carrying capacity of the C-130 Hercules, which is commonly used by the U.S. Forest Service, the modified DC-10 and 747 now carry also the same amount of water.
Designed in the early 1970s for military transport, since the end of the Cold War the IL-76 has been used extensively throughout the world by different countries as a cargo carrier. To fly firefighting missions, it is retrofitted with two aluminum tubes, each one 90-feet long, four-feet in diameter and capable of holding 5,500 gallons of water – a total of 11,000 gallons.
Unlike American tankers that have a pressurized system to dispense the retardant, the Ilyushin has a simple, virtually “bug-free” gravity-flow system. However, this system requires the aircraft to fly straight and horizontal.
A spokeswoman for the NICC, who identified herself as Jessica, told WND the DC-10 and 747 were assessed as recently as earlier this year, but also failed to meet the requirements.
“They didn’t comply with FAA regulations, or ours,” she said. “For a couple of reasons, they did not pass.”
She said she didn’t have specifics on either test failure, nor did she have details on why the Russian jet was unusable by federal programs.
“I do know generally a lot of it is mechanical, not only the actual physical makeup of the aircraft, but the regulation checks. Do they do the same sort of regulation checks?” she said.
The Russian jet, which has been featured on its own YouTube video, is being used in various configurations by Aeroflot, Air Ukraine Cargo, Cubana, Iraqi Airways, Khohrs Air, Libyan Arab Airlines, Metro Carbo, Syrian Air and others.
In July, it was credited with saving the evacuation of a mountain area in Serbia. Officials said the jet doused a raging fire in a matter of four flights. With the flames controlled, authorities cancelled the evacuation.
The Ilyushins also served in the recent fires in Greece. There, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to a request from Greece Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and dispatched help during the recently raging blazes near Athens.
In Greece, between four and five dozen people were killed and scores more hospitalized with serious injuries as a result of wildfires, which now are being investigated as potential terrorism.
California authorities also have confirmed at least some of those blazes were set.
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has raised concerns that even the smaller planes and helicopters available did not get to California fast enough.
But federal officials said they don’t permanently locate all of their equipment in California, because there have been wildfires elsewhere too.
There, high wind conditions also have made it difficult for smaller aircraft to operate. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, thousands of homes destroyed and damages are expected to range upwards of $1 billion.