The Rainmakers

Once a fire starts, these airplanes are the fastest way to slow it down. So why are they endangered?

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It took the 2002 accidents for the Forest Service and some heavy-tanker operators to start doing what should have been obvious: Ensure that the aircraft are well-maintained and safe to fly. But with efforts to genuinely modernize the big-tanker fleet moving slowly, if at all, one hopes another crash isn’t needed to spur the process. “We’d be foolish to understate the value of these aircraft,” says fire-crew manager Krugman. “A new-generation aircraft is not going to be anything but a benefit—for the pilots and those on the ground.” Until one comes along, though, keep your fingers crossed for rain.

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