By converting a commercial Boeing 757, the engineering group hopes to construct a flying fire-fighting behemoth, perfectly suited to tackling blazes in hard-to-reach places.
The product of an illicit romance between a fire truck and a 757, ST Engineering’s new ‘aerial firefighting platform’ is certainly a world first. We’re used to seeing videos of helicopters dumping massive containers of water over remote forest fires, and even smaller planes doing the same… but a 757? Now that’s a different story. The aircraft is set to enter service in 2024 and will be one of the largest aerial firefighting platforms on the market, ST claimed in a recent press release. Just how large are we talking? 26,500 litres of fire retardant large, according to the firm. That’s a seriously hefty amount of fire-killing liquid able to be dumped out by one aircraft. On top of all this, the ‘Boeing 757P2T’ (passenger-to-tanker) will apparently come equipped with a modern dispensing system to make sure its haul isn’t just dumped over a general area, which would reduce its effectiveness. “Compared to the current generation of firefighting platforms that are in service, the Boeing 757P2T is also more fuel-efficient, and has the versatility to be deployed to remote locations for firefighting missions,” claims the firm.
The conversion will take place at one of T’s modification facilities in the US and will involve replacing the entire interior of the jet with two huge fire retardant tanks in the cabin. On top of that, the floor underneath the tanks will be reinforced, with channels carved out to guide the retardant down to forward and aft doors installed in the underside of the aircraft. It’s certainly a big undertaking, and the actual conversion isn’t even the hard part for ST. Getting the craft certified by the Federal Aviation Administration will undoubtedly prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare. Aircraft that experience extensive modifications like these need to receive said certification in order to fly legally, and based on the fact that this is the first firefighting aircraft of its kind, ST can expect a whole host of requirements to be set by the FAA in order to grant the jet its new status as a firefighting vehicle. Despite all the bureaucratic uncertainty, however, ST have already secured a buyer for the aircraft – Galactic Holdings. Galactic is itself contracted by the US Forest Service to tackle massive remote forest fires across the country – a job that very much requires the use of aircraft, as miles of dense forest prevent easy access. With wildfires becoming a more frequent occurrence due to climate change, aircraft like this will most likely become more and more common in the coming years.