In recent years as many as 10 million acres of land along with thousands of buildings and homes have been affected by wildfires. Aerial firefighting is an integral part of not only combating the fires but helping improve the overall safety of all firefighters.
What Is Aerial Firefighting?
Aerial firefighting aircraft are a major resource for combating wildfires. Not only are fixed-wing aircraft used but helicopters are employed as well. Some aircraft are used to deliver firefighters called smoke-jumpers who parachute or repel into raging wildfires and these are also considered part of the aerial firefighting arsenal.
These aircraft will drop a variety of solutions for combating the fire. These will, of course, include water but also often have water enhancers such as gels and foams. The planes also use retardants that are specially formulated for fighting certain types of fires.
Types of Firefighting Aircraft
‘Helitankers’ will be fitted with water or chemical buckets or with tanks. Some will even have a foam cannon that is mounted in the front of the helicopter. The aircraft that carry tanks fill their tanks by dipping them in large lakes and rivers and even sometimes a reservoir. The Bambi Bucket is the most popular used.
Helitankers are often equipped with a feature called a snorkel which is used to extract water from a variety of sources. The largest of these types of helicopters is currently the Mil Mi-26. This helicopter will typically use a Bambi Bucket.
2. Air Tankers
These are fixed-wing aircraft and they are often called water bombers. Some of these aircraft are filled at ground-based air tanker facilities while others are considered flying boats and are able to skim water from large rivers and lakes. Although this type of firefighting has become most common in the last couple of decades, these methods were first experimented with by the Air Force in 1947. In the earliest days of aerial firefighting, bomber planes were used but in recent years the fleet has been replaced with tankers that are specifically built for the purpose of firefighting.
The largest aerial firefighter that has ever been used was a Boeing 747. It could carry just under 20,000 gallons of water or other liquid substance. It utilized a pressurized drop system. This supertanker was first used in 2009. There is now a modified version of this type of aerial firefighter that is currently being used and it carries 12,000 gallons of water or retardant.
Aerial Firefighting Is Now Leading Wild-Land Firefighting Operations
As would be expected, wild-land fires are difficult to fight and very dangerous. These fires pose a great deal of danger to anyone in the area, including the firefighters. Aerial firefighting is now one of the most important aspects of fighting these types of fires both for its effectiveness and for its ability to significantly increase the safety of the firefighters on the ground.
Both the helicopters and the fixed-wing aircraft are able to drop large amounts of water or fire retardant on very specific targets as well as providing additional support and the ability to communicate with the firefighters who are on the ground. The special missions aircraft provider will not only provide the firefighting aircraft but also additional maintenance services that can be provided on-site to make sure that the aircraft is ready and able to carry out its mission.
Mandatory Mission Requirements
Based on a study done by the government, the aircraft must be multi-engine and agile. The engines of the aircraft must have enough power so that they can complete their specified mission. Because they are mission-critical, it is necessary to have an increased level and number of inspections to make sure that they are ready, safe, and reliable.
In recent years the US has seen some of the biggest and most difficult wildfires and these have caused tremendous damage. The aerial firefighting arsenal is becoming one of the major factors in successfully fighting these types of fires. They increase the overall success rate of controlling the fires as well as providing added safety for the firefighters on the ground.