SANTA MARIA - In the national and regional fleet of firefighting air tankers, the DC 10 is the biggest, baddest bird in the sky.
"It really isn't limited by the size of it as much as you would think", says DC 10 pilot Kevin Hopf, "at any given air speed we are able to follow the smaller aircraft ahead us, wherever they go we can go."
Once carrying as many as 350 passengers around the world, the inside of the hulking aircraft has been cleared out for its new mission.
"We've lightened the aircraft as much as we could", Hopf says, "that in itself improves the performance of it, gives us much more maneuverability, lighter aircraft always perform a little bit better than the heavier ones."
Tanks beneath the fuselage carry more than 11,500 gallons of fire retardant at one time.
"It can drop it in as quick as five seconds or we can slow it to drop as long as 26 seconds", Hopf says, "or we can start and stop it, we can make 6,8 or 9 drops out of one tank, it just depends on what the ground forces need."
The DC 10's five man crew is using the Santa Maria Air Attack Base to reload retardant for drops over the Aspen Fire burning in rugged mountains north of Fresno with a flight time of about 25 minutes to the firelines at a top speed of more than 350 knots.
Despite its massive payload and overall effectiveness, Hopf says the DC 10 is just one weapon in an arsenal used to fight out of control wildfires.
"There is a need for several more in my mind", Hopf says, "but to have a fleet of 30, or 40 or 50 of these, no I think that's unrealistic and not needed, its just another addition to what is out there."
Hopf says the DC 10 will likely relocate to another part of the country once its no longer needed for the Aspen Fire.
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