Global Supertanker returns from Israel, not yet requested to Tennessee

The Global Supertanker's corporate office got the call from Israel's Prime Minister on Wednesday, November 23. Within 24 hours the crew and the massive aircraft were headed to Tel Aviv./ Mike Duran -- FOX21 News
Global SuperTanker / FOX21 File Photo

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The world’s largest firefighting jet returned from a mission in Israel Wednesday. The Global Supertanker made its way back to Colorado Springs after battling fires in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The Global Supertanker’s corporate office got the call from Israel’s Prime Minister on November 23. Within 24 hours, the crew and the massive aircraft were headed to Tel Aviv.

“I had to call everybody on the phone and say drop the drumsticks, let’s get moving,” Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of the Global Supertanker, said.

“We were all scattered around the country, all the crew members. We were literally in all corners of the country for Thanksgiving,” said Marcos Valdez.

Valdez, one of the four captains on board, is happy to finally be doing the missions he trained so hard for.

“Everywhere we went, people were thanking us for coming,” Valdez said. “We felt very appreciated and obviously we were very glad and proud to be there.”

It took them about 12 hours to fly nonstop to Israel. Once they arrived, it was time to get to work. Crew members tell FOX21 there were more than 1,800 individual fires throughout the country.

“They would actually put us on station in the air and then call us in when they saw the fire, tell us exactly where it was,” said Wheeler. “We would go in on our own and put out the fire.”

The burning question: if the biggest, fastest firefighting asset in the world sits right in Colorado Springs, why is it not going to fires in the U.S.?

“We’re happy to respond to any fire,” Wheeler said. “We’ve been going through the Forest Service certification process which unfortunately has been incredibly slow. It hurt us a lot that we couldn’t help out in Pueblo because we were only 10 minutes away. I did contact the state. We did make the offer. They chose not to use us. That’s their decision but it is one that I wish they had done differently.”

Wheeler said he’s been in contact with Tennessee state officials, saying if they’re needed they can be rested up and ready to go Gatlinburg by the morning. However, they have not yet been deployed.

“We were out of the country for the last week so we’ve heard that there’s a fire there,” said Valdez. “We don’t know much about it. We don’t know who is in command or control but those agencies would be the ones to decide what assets would deploy to that fire.”

“They are all on alert,” Wheeler said. “I’ve already had that discussion with them. They know we would be ready to deploy as early as 5 a.m.”

Wheeler said the Supertanker could make it to Tennessee in just over two hours nonstop.

He wouldn’t discuss the price tag to request the Global Supertanker, but he did say while it may not be the cheapest, it is the lowest price in cost per gallon drop.

“Being able to deploy out of here to anywhere in the world in 20 hours or less really puts Colorado in the center of global firefighting,” said Wheeler.

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