Episode 2

The PANTHER with endless possibilities …


Episode 2

Der PANTHER der unbegrenzten Möglichkeiten …

Never before seen even in the land of unlimited possibilities… It is August 1998 and the air in the American state capital of Louisville, Kentucky is sweltering with oppressive heat. It is a typical hot summer day in the Midwest as an oversized vehicle more likely to be seen in a science fiction film rolls through downtown. “Wow, what the hell is this,” sputters a surprised police officer, as the impressive vehicle parks in the roundabout at the hotel down the street and positions its HRET at the ready. It is the PANTHER FL from Rosenbauer. The airport fire fighter that the Austrian company developed in collaboration with Freightliner in and for the USA.

It all began two years ago in the fall of 1996 with an inquiry from the U.S. Air Force to DaimlerChrysler regarding a potential contract for more than 700 aircraft rescue and fire fighting vehicles. The vehicles needed to be equipped with the latest vehicle technology for rescue and firefighting applications. DaimlerChrysler passed the request on to its US truck subsidiary Freightliner, who had a pre-existing partnership with Rosenbauer for a custom chassis. The opportunities for both parties were clear from the get-go.

After a short period of preparation and planning, there was an initial meeting in January 1997 at Rosenbauer Minnesota (still called General Safety at that time) between the U.S. Air Force, Freightliner, and the Austrian innovator. The host’s warm reception made the cold weather well worth the trip. The outside temperature of -31 degrees Fahrenheit shocked the breath right out of the Air Force specialists, particularly those who had traveled from sunny Florida. Despite the inhospitable climate, the meeting was extremely productive. Due to the high number of vehicles the U.S. Air Force was requesting, the management boards of Freightliner and Rosenbauer had to make an important decision quickly: The air-transportable new development of the Panther 4×4, 6×6, and 4×4 C-130 series. One of the most important innovators of the PANTHER, Herbert Poellinger, met a short while later with the US subsidiary of Mercedes at Freightliner headquarters in Portland, Oregon and the PANTHER FL project was underway.

The partnership with Freightliner proved to be highly successful early on, even if a bit unequal. More than 20 engineers are part of the FL team, tasked with the design and development of the chassis. At Rosenbauer, a handful of specialists, such as Helmut Peherstorfer, Erwin Affenzeller, and Rudi Aichinger, oversee the body module, electric system and firefighting equipment, an effective team that astonishes the American partners in the beginning. On the chassis from Freightliner, Rosenbauer builds the first PANTHER FL prototype for the USA in the Wyoming factory.

This is not only a milestone in the history of PANTHER, but also for the company itself, for in 2003, Rosenbauer took over the complete production of the chassis from Freightliner and has been producing them itself in Minnesota ever since. This would have been inconceivable six years prior. Things progress rapidly with the chassis development after the first visit to Portland in March 1997. The finished chassis is transferred over to Minnesota from Portland in the spring, and in August 1998, the first vehicle prototype appears at the conference & expo in Louisville, Kentucky – the PANTHER FL is born.

The PANTHER conquers the USA.

Louisville, Kentucky: While still testing the prototypes in Nevada, China becomes aware of the new PANTHER and orders 40 units. Meanwhile, Rosenbauer presents it to the industry at the IAFC Conference & Expo in Kentucky. Afterward, the PANTHER’s success in America is unstoppable. The first PANTHER is delivered to Tucson, Arizona. Followed by deliveries to Portland and Barbados and everywhere in between.

After its US premiere at the conference & expo, the vehicle was to be presented in front of a hotel in downtown Louisville on the occasion of a special event of the Fire Chiefs of the U.S. Air Force. So, to the astonishment of the unsuspecting passers-by to witness the spectacle, the PANTHER FL rolled down the street to the hotel, where it was received by a group of amazed spectators. The police officer was so impressed by the vehicle that he forgot to write a ticket for the PANTHER FL, which was not yet street-legal at the time. Instead, he climbed into the cockpit and captured the moment with a photo.