Victoria to contract for two large airtankers

Tanker 131 C-130Q
Coulson’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, at McClellan, March 31, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

For the first time, two 3,000-gallon Type 1 air tankers will be put to regular use in Australia during their upcoming 2014/2015 summer bushfire season. Other than a brief trial of a DC-10 several years ago, Australia has rarely used large air tankers but instead has relied on single engine air tankers and helicopters for aerial support of firefighters on the ground. In 2010 they had the use of two 2,000-gallon Convair 580s, a Type 2 air tanker.

Britt Coulson said that their company, Coulson, will be be providing one of the large air tankers, their 4,000-gallon C-130Q known as Tanker 131. The other will be a 3,000-gallon RJ-85. The only company that currently operates RJ-85 air tankers is Aero Flite. Their two RJ-85s, Tankers 160 and 161, were first certified this summer. However, Judy Ziomek, the Vice President of the company, said Thursday that she was unaware that of one of their aircraft was destined to be used in Australia. Calls to Convair, the company that converted the RJ-85s into air tankers, were not returned. (Check out this unusual photo of Tanker 160.)

Kim Payne of Emergency Management Victoria, said the air tankers will be based at Avalon Airport in the south part of the state beginning in mid-December.

Victoria is also contracting for two Erickson Aircrane helicopters from the United States, and Coulson will, as usual, send two of their Sikorski S61s down under.

The state has appropriated $7.15 million in additional funding this year to bolster the state’s aerial firefighting fleet and increase the number of aircraft for the upcoming fire season.

Minister for Bushfire Response Kim Wells said this fire season, 46 specialist aircraft will help to support firefighters, which is four more aircraft than the previous fire season.

“Targeted aviation resources based in the Latrobe Valley will ensure rapid response to incidents across the whole Gippsland region and increase community safety,” Mr Wells said.

“In addition, Victoria will be the first Australian state to use the two large air tankers, which are some of the biggest firefighting aircraft available, and were most recently used to support firefighters in California.

The aircraft fleet will include:

  • 2 large fixed wing airtankers;
  • 1 firebombing helicopter to be based in the Latrobe Valley;
  • 2 Erickson Aircranes capable of dropping 7,500 litres (1,980 gallons) of water;
  • 2 large Sikorsky helicopters capable of dropping 3,500 litres (924 gallons) of water or transporting up to 17 firefighters;
  • 5 medium sized firebombing helicopters;
  • 15 light helicopters;
  • 12 single engine airtankers;
  • 2 infrared line-scanning fixed wing aircraft;
  • 4 fixed wing firespotting aircraft; and
  • 1 fixed wing aircraft to support the large air tankers.

The Aircrane helicopters and the large air tankers will be available for use in December, with the remaining fleet available later in October.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Cameron.

4 thoughts on “Victoria to contract for two large airtankers”

  1. Sniff a little harder.. a total of 3 RJ’s were built. Two are on USFS contracts through
    Aero-Flite. One is holding down the tarmac in Abbotsford. My guess, if indeed an RJ is going, is that the non-contractual machine is destined for a warmer drier winter.

  2. we need Erickson Aircranes helicopter able to operate day and night and in number . There are only two available in Victoria and they are not adequately equipped with IFR crew and pilots trained and CASA will not approve them to operate at night. It is a disgrace!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Gianni

  3. only up to six Erickson are leased each year for the whole of the continent and fires are becoming uncontrollable and million of trees are burned, properties lost and fauna and flora irreparably lost. We need a greater number of Aircranes and we need to build them in Australia t ave the adequate number and air operation managed by the RAAF.

    1. Well for a start, the flora and fauna are not irreparably lost – the eucalypts have depended on fire for millenia and require it to thrive. I’ve seen black, limbless trunks sprout new growth within weeks of intense fires down there. Fires improve the ecosystem.

      But to your suggestion that more helicopters will result in fewer large wildfires, I have to disagree. You can station a thousand of them throughout the fire-prone areas of the state, and I can all but guarantee you that the long-term averages of numbers of fires, hectares burned and properties lost will remain at or very close to their current levels. You might put a dent in the loss figures on a short-term basis, but that capricious Mama Nature will ensure she gets her way in the end. Work with her (fire with fire), not against her.

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