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New Water Bomber for Victoria

Old 6th Nov 2009, 18:11
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New Water Bomber for Victoria

State Government to lease multi-million dollar fire-fighting jet Matt Johnston From: Herald Sun November 07, 2009 12:00AM

EXCLUSIVE: A MULTI-million dollar super water-bomber capable of soaking a 1.2km bushfire in one hit will join our firefighting arsenal this summer.
The water-bombing jet will be able to reach anywhere in Victoria in just 45 minutes, and is being billed as an important weapon in heading off another Black Saturday disaster.

With forecasts of a fierce summer, Premier John Brumby moved quickly to get an Australian-first firefighting jet lease, most likely a modified DC-10 or 747 jumbo carrier.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron told the Herald Sun the aircraft would be one important weapon in fighting fires and protecting Victorians.

"This will be another asset as we leave no stone unturned to help deliver on our goal of making Victoria as fire safe and as fire ready as possible," he said.

"Large aircraft that can carry up to eight times the water or retardant of smaller firefighting aircraft are untrialled in Australian conditions."

2A DC-10 or 747 carrier would be able to drop a similar-sized load - more than 50,000 litres of water or fuel retardant - to the Russian Ilyushin jets that were rejected by the State Government during February's bushfires that claimed 173 lives.

A lease for a water bomber of this size can cost up to $10 million a season, and testing of the selected bomber will begin in January for use during the worst summer heat.

It is believed a new Victorian aircraft would be used on fires that are just beginning or to help contain a developing bushfire front.

Mr Brumby had said at the time that those aircraft were deemed unsuitable for our terrain and the offer was too late to have an impact.

"You could imagine in some of these big areas, flying throughout some of our high country, how difficult and testing that would be," the Premier had said.

At that time, Mr Brumby was already deep in discussions with federal counterparts to try to fast-track a new aircraft for Victoria that could be properly tested.

Before those discussions, an agreement to increase Victoria's leased aerial firefighting system was not on the cards until 2010-11.

Mr Brumby has spoken publicly about his fears of a horror bushfire season, with conditions at least as bad as the past year.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment and the CFA say aircraft are not silver bullets and proper investigations are necessary into the most effective water carriers.

The Californian Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has used a DC-10 Airtanker as a key firefighting tool during past fire seasons, and describes the plane on its website as "suitable for larger-scale drops".

The Herald Sun believes the State Government is keen to see how effective a big bomber will be this summer, to determine whether future use is effective for Victoria.

Space to house the aircraft would also be an issue, and Tullamarine or Avalon airport would need to be fitted with special infrastructure to cater for the super-soaker.

Zones to load the aircraft with water or fuel retardant at high speed will need to be set aside.

I remember quite a few years ago the RAAF was experimenting with C130's with some form of spray equipment for fire suppression. I'm not sure why this never went ahead.
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Old 6th Nov 2009, 18:52
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I think this is great news, and probably should have been done years ago.
$10 mill is a lot of money. If it's effective, (and chances are it will be) it will pay for itself easily before the season is halfway through.

We get bushfires/scrubfires in NZ, but not quite on the scale of those of our neighbor. I could never understand why governments (and/or the insurance industry) of countries that seasonally suffer massive damage from this threat haven't funded for a number of these aircraft, as a sort of ready-reaction force, able to be anywhere in the country in an hour or three.
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Old 6th Nov 2009, 22:41
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This subject has been done to death her before but its good to see it up again.The rest of the world seems to think heavy fire bombers work, but somehow we are different.I suspect the real problem is that the only way that we could have a cost effective fire bombing fleet is under a Federal system and that would take money away from the State system.

I recently saw an academic paper that the no large fire bombing policy appears to be based on. It cites experiments using Canadian aircraft and over the years an F27, DC6 and a Canadair have been used. The problem is there was only ever one at a time. Thats a bit like saying that in a large timber yard fire, we sent one fire truck and it didn't work , so fire trucks don't work.

What we need is a fleet of aircraft that can dump 5/10 tons of water using adjustable drop patterns.The Canadian companies Airspray and Conair do just that and it seems to work. Recently they have been working in the US and even in California, on Gum Trees.The Canadians even have ex Australian aircraft with Airspray using 2 x ex Aust L188s in their fleet and Conair reported as obtaining 2 ex Aust CV580s.

Right now there are 11 Grumman Trackers for sale in Victoria which are very able fire bombers when converted to Conair Firecats with PT6s. All but 1 have been hangared for about 20 plus years and seem in excellent condition. The Californians use a large fleet of these aircraft on their Eucalypt fires and they seem to work.However no-one here seems interested.

There was a Neptune fully converted in Perth for many years but there was no interest in that aircraft either, despite successfull operations of that type in the USA.

And finally there is a big push from operators of small aircraft who use fire bombing as a top up for other businesses. They do a good job but don't have the grunt of big aircraft.They do have the lobby power with local politicians and see large aircraft as a threat.

The end result is too much politicising and no heavy dump aircraft.

Wunwing

Last edited by Wunwing; 7th Nov 2009 at 00:48.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 00:14
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Trackers

As usual a large part of the solution is sitting on the doorstep, unseen by most. Wunwing is right .... convert the 11 idle sitting Trackers to Conair or Marsh Aviation Firecats (different engines & STC's) and you have a good base fleet of tankers that can deliver reasonable size loads with great agility and precision.

You would have all 11 Trackers modified for $50 million or so and the fleet would last for at least 20 years. Maybe a deal could then be made with CALFIRE to move some of their aircraft from California to Victoria in the southern summer and vice versa for the northern summer, so that effectively the tanker fleet of either state is greatly enhanced when it matters. Choosing the Marsh Aviation modification for the Trackers would ensure equipment compatibility.

It is nice and spectacular to see a widebody tanker, and certainly it will do some good, but to a certain extent it is only political grandstanding. Australia needs a fleet of dedicated tankers to fight fires from the air to begin with.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 00:51
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Would the Trackers really be a solution?

An ancient airframe that has been sitting around for over 25 years that would need some serious money spent on getting it back to a safe condition. They would need to be pulled apart for corrosion, new hydraulics and fuel components, flight controls, instrument and avionic upgrades, PT6 conversion, then get CASA to certify them on to the civilian register. Remember that these airframes are 1950's designs how easy would getting spare parts be?

The Air Tractors that are used as SEAT's now can be bought new, carry more water and foam, cheaper to run, are flown by guys that spend most of their time flying at 500' and below, operate out of grass/dirt strips, ability to drop and reload in minimal time.

Safer and cheaper to stick with the new.

Last edited by bellsux; 7th Nov 2009 at 01:23.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 00:58
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If they had of spoken earlier they could have gotten ZK-NBS at a bargain bin price.

Its probably to late for NBS, think she would have been cut up by now.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 03:14
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why not convert a QF 744 that will be sent to the desert or a 763? Still plenty of service life in them and plenty of engineering experience to service.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 07:24
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747 or DC10 Firebombers comming to Oz

According to todays Herald Sun, the Vic gov is lookign at leasing some supertankers, iether 747 or the DC 10 for this years fire season.

Apparantly they were quite effective in the recent wildfires in California.

One wonders how they would fare in Oz.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 10:28
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G'day all.

As this is my first post, perhaps I should introduce myself. By profession I'm a farmer - and I should make it clear that I'm neither a pilot, nor a pilot-wannabe. However I'm also a volunteer firefight and Air Attack Supervisor (Trained with DSE, work with NSWRFS) This doesn't mean that I'm the Great Guru on all things to do with fighting fires from the air, but I might be able to offer a certain amount of information and perspective.

Firstly - and I must emphasise that i don't speak for any service - IMHO there is always going to be a certain amount of politics involved in the letting of such contracts. The media likes large, camera-worthy items, and booking a big bomber has a certain cachet. Not saying that this makes it wrong, just that you need to be wary.

Secondly, there are three issues relating to waterbombing that are more important than the capacity of a single aircraft. One is the capacity of your system over time. The second is placement. The third is flexibility.

The capacity of your system is measured in litres per hour on target, rather than litres per tanker. If your 50,000litre tanker has a turnaround time of 90 minutes (not unreasonable given that it can't land on every bush strip) then 4 AT802s on 20 minutes turnaround will give you a higher capacity system.

Some of you will be far more familiar with the capabilities of the larger aircraft than I am, but I suspect that they will have difficulty operating at 50-100' above tree-tops in the terrain that often confronts us when fighting fires. Consider the impact of wind upon foam or retardant, and how this increases with drop height. The bad fires do not occur upon days that give perfect drop conditions.

A number of smaller tankers give greater flexibility in that they give a more constant delivery. In rapidly-developing fires this can be a considerable advantage as we respond to changing conditions and new threats. Not that a larger aircraft cannot split loads, but once empty, we must wait for its return.

The advantage of the larger aircraft - if it can drop accurately - is its ability to create a more effective retardant line due to length of drop. This is particularly useful during first response situations in seeking to prevent the fire from developing in the absence of a full compliment of ground crew. It was on this basis that the 1986 CSIRO study into the cost-effectiveness of Aerial fire-fighting recommended a single DC6 and a combination of smaller aircraft as the optimum configuration for fire suppression in Victoria

Under the costs then applicable, the Trackers, Neptunes and C-130/MAFFS were all not cost-effective in a normal year.

Please bear in mind that we prefer to not kill our pilots. The conditions prevailing during the worst of Black-Sat were not conducive to safe flying at low levels over rough terrain and with reduced visibility. Add in the fire intensities and fires spotting ahead of the main front at an average distance that is measured in kilometres, and you can understand how aircraft effectiveness is reduced on such days.

Another point that should be made is that no government has an unlimited budget. In comparison, poor roads kill more people in a year than Black-Sat, and an inadequately-funded health system kills more people per year than bushfires have in the past two centuries. We have no right to demand funding if we cannot demonstrate a return on investment.

All that said, we CAN do some very good and cost-effective work with aircraft. Particularly in a first-response mode, or in backing up ground crews in rough terrain. We just need to be smart about it.

Regards..... Pete
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 10:35
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It's worthwhile looking through this paper by the BushfireCRC onb the effectiveness of aerial fire suppression.
http://www.bushfirecrc.com/research/...-Final-web.pdf

Regards.... Peter
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 11:36
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The best solution would be to shoot the f*ckers who start the fires.

Save lives, property and the money to pay for water bombers.

halas
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 12:07
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CL-415: expensive as hell, about 25 million a piece.
I don't think there is a privately owned example anywhere, strictly a taxpayers machine.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 12:17
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What are they doing with Army Caribou's when they retire?

They are airworthy, could carry a good load of water when converted, can land just about anywhere, and they are already owned (you would think so by now)

That would be a better use than putting them up on a pole somewhere.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 12:44
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This video explains it all. A 747 flying 400 ft AGL at 140 knots.

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Old 7th Nov 2009, 20:20
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I'm no expert either, but doubt that wide body jets are the answer for Australia.

If Tullamarine is the only airport it can use in Victoria (okay Avalon too), there are going to be lots of efficiency problems.

As for CL-215's or 415's, we seem to be a bit short of waterways of sufficient size to enable a decent scooping run.

Trackers or Convairs could be an option, but the AT-502 & 802 will always deliver the best bang for the buck in Australia -
  • lots of them already here (thus limited additional capital cost)
  • plenty of skilled and experienced crews (already spend their days close to terrain)
  • can land almost anywhere
  • quickest to turn around

It is my sincere hope that we do not ever see another fire season like last summer.
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 20:50
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Nice video.
Just apply a reasonable scepticism to salesmen attempting to bluff you with big numbers. To put it in context, to put the equivalent of 10mm rainfall on just 1 hectare requires 100,000 litres. Retardant does extend this, but not by orders of magnitude. I'd be far more impressed if the Evergreen people could talk about actual savings - as determined by independent analysis - rather than theoretical savings. In theory, doing a rain-dance is even more effective. In theory......


The normal drop heights that we use are 50-100'AGL . We only go as high as 100' to permit the retardant to achieve terminal velocity. 400-800'AGL means that accuracy is going to be a more significant problem, and wind-drift and dispersion will be far bigger issues. Sorry to sound like a wet blanket but water in the wrong place extinguishes no fires..

Talking marketing,,,, when I did my course, the Canadairs were in the news. It was interesting that at no stage did the manufacturer approach the fire agencies or make a submission through the agencies normal process for acquiring an aerial firefighting capacity. In each case, they attempted to make sales by going directly to politicians and the media, rather than the people who actually fight fires.

To address Launchpad McQuack's question, the sums on hire vs. ownership and multiples of aircraft have been done. As the state governments get most of their disaster funding from the Federal Govt, and because the contract aircraft tend to move between states as required during the major fire years, the effect is not dissimilar to a National fleet in practice. It pays to recall that when Vic has a bad year, similar conditions tend to prevail in both Southern NSW and SA as well. It's just not sensible to strip those states of their aerial capacity when they're facing the same threat.

Are there scenarios in which a high-capacity tanker can make a difference? You bet. But in the real world we need to make sure that we don't let our enthusiasms carry us away.

Regards............ Peter
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 20:58
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I'll second Chimbu Warrior on his argument that the availability of experienced local pilots is a valuable resource. Consider the amount of time that the agricultural pilots of ATs and Dromaders spend below 100'AGL doing real work. Time that a specialist tanker crew would have to be paid to do as training in off-seasons.

I have a lot of admiration for the Ag Pilots.

Peter
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Old 7th Nov 2009, 21:28
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There have to be good reasons why even the Newfies are buying some CL415s. Take a look at these two links:

AVCANADA • View topic - Govt of Newfoundland orders 4 CL415's . . .

FLIGHT TEST: Bombardier 415 - The superscooper
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Old 8th Nov 2009, 01:48
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There have to be good reasons why even the Newfies are buying some CL415s.

Might have something to do with the fact that freshwater covers 7.7% of the surface area of Labrador/Newfoundland. Not to mention a great deal of protected sea area on the coast.. That protection is important, as scooping is limited to conditions of less than (IIRC) 1 metres swell. How does that compare with South-Eastern Australia on a bad fire day in the middle of a drought??

They're a very productive aircraft when the conditions suit them. Eastern Canada is probably as good as it gets for that syle of aircraft. SE Australia offers us big problems when it comes to locating, large open (Think about the number of dead trees in our inland reservoirs) bodies of water during droughts. It's a whole different pot of Bouillabaisse.

Regards..... Peter
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Old 8th Nov 2009, 09:46
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I see that the same arguments a previously come up again, particularly the age of firebombers.The fact is that it is very hard to justify new aircraft. The rest of the world uses old aircraft that have been rebirthed.Aero Union uses
P3As, Conair CV580s (soon to include the recently ex Pionair aircraft) and Airspray uses L188s. They are all 1950s airframes.

Those who knock the Grummans fail to realise the strength of the Grumman product which were built to be corrrosion proof and overly strong for their carrier role. They are no older than the CV580 airframe and the L188 airframe and yet Conair and Airspray and the Governments that they contract to, seem to be pretty happy with the end product. I recently inspected all 11 of the Sale aircraft and with the exception of the aircraft stored outside, they are in very good condition.

As far as turnaround is concerned, Conair advertises their CV 580 as carrying 2100 US gallons at 270 kts with a 5 minute fill time and a 4 hour endurance and Airspray L188s as 3,000US Gallons and a 4.5 hour endurance.The photos on web sites indicate that these aircraft indeed do get down as low as the smaller aircraft.Those specs beat any light aircraft and if funded and operated Federally and aircraft were based in say Western NSW, they could easily respond very quickly en mass to all but WA

As far as doubting the Trackers, anyone who ever saw the Trackers operating around Nowra will know how low that they operated over the beaches and if you have seen video of carrier landing will know that they could handle pretty bad turbulence.The California State owns 25 of them so they must think that they are OK, its the largest single type fleet in North America

It appears that we are out of step with the rest of the World on this.The Trackers are here and available and in good condition and we should use them while we have them.

Wunwing
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