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Washington officials push to be home base for firefighting 747

Global Supertanker, a former 747 passenger plane, can dump 19,200 gallons of water on wildfires. State officials are looking for a way to keep it based in Moses Lake

MOSES LAKE, Wash. — Washington state officials this week pushed the idea of becoming a regional home base for a firefighting airliner, as the official start of Washington’s 2021 wildfire season approaches.

They were talking about the one and only Global SuperTanker, a converted Boeing 747-400 passenger plane, originally built for Japan Airlines in 1992.

It’s become a one-of-a-kind super-sized piece of artillery in the battle against wildfire. And the name global implies, the Colorado-based tanker has been used to fight fires on other continents, as well as here in the U.S. starting in 2016.

Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz wants to see a regional organization formed among northwestern states and possibly British Columbia, Canada, to base the tanker at the massive Moses Lake airport, and fly missions from Wyoming to Alaska.

“We’re in a regional hub to be able to get air resources out quickly,” says Franz.  “Not only in our state but to other states.  And we need to take a regional approach to these recourses.” 

She says Washington state cannot contract with the SuperTanker by itself because of the costs. But other states could share in it, especially with some help from the federal government.

“That’s what we’re setting out to go do here, is we want to support Global SuperTanker, and convert more of these 747 aircraft into a special missions application,” says Lee Human, CEO of AeroTEC, a Seattle-based aviation company with growing operations at Grant County International in Moses Lake. 

Human, along with Franz, the Port of Moses Lake and other partners are making the case that this massive former U.S. Air Force base could be set up as a starting operation or very large firefighting aircraft like the Global Supertanker. 

Moses Lake has been used as a firefighting base for decades for smaller tankers and other firefighting aircraft. The SuperTanker is at Moses Lake because AeroTEC is converting its analog drop system into a digital version for more precision and other upgrades. 

It could be here for another month, but so far there is no contract in place to keep it here. At least, not yet.