The nation's largest firefighting aircraft is ready to call Colorado Springs home.

Global SuperTanker Services LLC company CEO and founder Jim Wheeler, brought the Boeing 747-400 to Colorado Springs Airport on Tuesday ahead of an invitation-only grand opening Thursday. A public open house is planned this summer.

The massive aircraft had been in flight testing, maintenance and painting near Tucson, Ariz., and must complete another two to four weeks of testing, engineering work and other reviews before it is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration for firefighting use, Wheeler said Tuesday.

Global SuperTanker flew the aircraft in March to an aerial firefighting conference in California and conducted its first test flight by dropping water on Sunday near Marana, Ariz.

"We are extremely excited to get to this point because we have been working hard since September to get this done," Wheeler said. "We are in the midst of negotiating our first contract, and there is more than one in works."

Wheeler said the first contract could be signed this month, "in time for this year's fire season."

Global SuperTanker announced plans in August to base the aircraft at the Colorado Springs Airport because of the airport's low operating costs, its ability to accommodate the wide-body jet, the city's mild weather and central location to fight wildfires throughout the western U.S. The company leased a vacant hangar this year to house its headquarters and store equipment, while the aircraft will park on a concrete apron between the Colorado jetCenter and the SkyWest Airlines maintenance hangar.

The converted freighter jet can carry up to 19,600 gallons of retardant, water or foam for up to 4,000 miles and can be used to fight wildfires or other fires such as on ships, drilling rigs or trains in remote areas.

Wheeler said Global SuperTanker, which employs eight people and plans to hire five more employees this summer, plans to acquire additional large firefighting aircraft next year.

Global SuperTanker was formed with an investment from Alterna Capital Partners LLC and acquired the firefighting system, spare parts and system designs of the bankrupt Evergreen International Aviation that previously used Global's current jet and a smaller, earlier version of the Boeing 747 for firefighting.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

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