Watch This Epic Retardant Drop Run By A Firefighting DC-10

One of 10 Tanker’s DC-10s making it rain.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Homeland photo


Another summer, another crazy-busy firefighting season in America’s southwest. With two major fires burning in California, Cal Fire’s air tankers are hard at work, even deploying some of their more spectacular contracted aircraft. Enter the 10 Tanker Company and its firefighting DC-10s. Dubbed Very Large Air Tankers, or VLATs for short, these behemoths can lay down massive buffers of fire retardant in one single pass.

The pilots of these big jets are known to pull off some amazing, stomach-churning feats, diving down mountainsides, skirting cliffs and executing very low altitude drops in close proximity to firefighters and endangered structures on the ground—and almost always done in abhorrent visibility conditions.

Sometimes, people take videos of 10 Tanker crews’ escapades, one of which popped up just yesterday and it is pretty damn awesome. Check it out:

The jet you hear zoom overhead in front of the DC-10 is a Cessna Citation, which is used as a spotting aircraft for the tankers making drop runs. The Citations use smoke to mark the drop spot, or they literally fly the run in front of the tanker in a game of follow the leader.

There was also this terrifying little gem from a week ago:

Video thumbnail
Video thumbnail

10 Tanker’s DC-10s have long been the biggest operational air tankers on the block. Now defunct Evergreen Aviation’s 747-100 based Super Tanker showed much promise but failed to find steady work. Yet in retrospect the idea may have been ahead of its time as now another company, Global Super Tanker Services LLC, has ported over Evergreen’s design and the actual system into their own much newer 747-400. From all accounts this marriage between a more capable and supportable jet and Evergreen’s Super Tanker concept and design seems copasetic, although it is awaiting its first operational drop.

Global Super Tanker is aiming to be more of an on-call service, operating out of its centrally located headquarters in Colorado Springs. This location allows it to be anywhere in the lower US in just two and a half hours, or anywhere in the world in under a day. With this in mind, the modified 747 freighter could be used to put out oil platform fires in the Gulf of Mexico and fly home to refuel and rearm.

The Super Tanker can just under 20,000 gallons, nearly double that of 10 Tanker’s DC-10s. 

Video thumbnail

With 10 Tanker fully established and new medium-sized tankers coming online, it will be interesting to see if the business case for a 747 VLAT pans out. In the meantime, expect more crazy videos of firefighting DC-10s in action as the fire season has many months yet to go.

Contact the author at