Yet closer inspection tells a much different story. The newest F-550 at Robins Air Force Base is in fact a small, agile vehicle that gives fire fighters a revolutionary new weapon in combatting flight line accidents and incidents.
Its Air Force designation is a P-34 Rapid Intervention Vehicle or RIV and it employs the latest ultra high pressure technology.
The RIV's development came through a collaborative effort between the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and Robins. Robins is charged with the care and feeding of all fire fighting vehicles in the Air Force inventory. The Air Force has the largest fire truck fleet in the world with from $800 million to $1 billion in service.
Brandon Meredith, a fire truck engineer at Robins, is sold on the contributions the RIV will make.
"The ultra high pressure is three to three and a half times more effective than traditional fire fighting," Meredith pointed out. "So the RIV, a 500-gallon vehicle, is equivalent to our larger 1,200 and 1,500 gallon crash trucks."
The RIV packs 400 gallons of water and about 60 gallons of foam. However, its much smaller capacity is more than compensated by the pressure it generates -- between 1,100 and 1,500 pounds per square inch compared to 150 to 300 by its much larger counterparts.
"The additional pressure atomizes the water so you get a lot finer mist and that produces much smaller water droplets," the Robins engineer said. "That increases the surface area of agent exposed to the fire and produces greater heat transfer."
Meredith said the greater surface exposure "sucks heat off the combusting surface until the surface is no longer at combustion temperature."
The RIV features a front-bumper-mounted turret operated by a joystick inside the cab. The turret can discharge 60 gallons of agent per minute to a range of 100 feet.
The new truck is also much more maneuverable than other vehicles in the inventory.
"Our larger trucks are the size of a house," Meredith said. "They're not very agile and if you take a corner too hard you can flip them."
The RIV allows fire fighters to maneuver around and past objects, firing as it moves. It also has hand lines on the side and an abundance of self-contained lighting to illuminate the scene.
The new truck also is budget conscious and will enable the Air Force to recapitalize its fire fighting fleet much faster.
The new vehicle costs about $165,000 compared to $650,000 for its P-19 predecessor.
"So we're buying two RIVs for every P-19 and still saving money," he said. "By the time we've bought out the entire RIV fleet of about 238 vehicles, we expect to have saved about $100 million. So we're getting significantly more bang for the buck."
That pace will enable the Air Force to recapitalize its fleet in 20 years rather than 30 years.
"Thirty years is double what you should have to keep a truck in service," Meredith said. "Every base in the Air Force will get at least one and a few will get two based on flight activity."