New South Wales may be using DC-10 air tanker in a somewhat uncommon manner

DC-10 practice drop 10-1-2015 photo by NSW RFS
(Last Updated On: January 29, 2016)

Photo: DC-10 practice drop October 1, 2015.  NSW RFS.

There is a report that New South Wales, which has a DC-10 under contract during their down under summer, is using the aircraft in a manner that is not typically seen. Neil Bibby writes in Asia Pacific Fire Magazine that fire managers are splitting loads more often and into smaller increments — fewer gallons per drop. The aircraft almost always carries 11,600 gallons, three to four times more than a conventional “next generation” air tanker in the United States. It can be dropped all at once or it can make multiple passes dispensing a fraction of it’s capacity each time.

Below is an excerpt from the AFP magazine:

…Todays Next Generation Airtankers carry between 3000 and 11,600 US gallons, but curiously the number of splits on the average mission has remained relatively static. In fact it is safe to say that the majority of airtanker runs made today are either single drop or two drop loads. To be sure it is not uncommon to see a load split into three drops, but anything more is relatively rare.

Now enter a week-long period in late 2015 when 18 DC-10 loads of retardant were dropped on fires in NSW, and those 18 loads were split into more than 60 separate drops. While that average is only 3.3 drops per load, the reality is that many of those loads were split into six, or even seven, drops. Since then, reports indicate the practice continued as the NSW season progressed.

So why the difference, and what does it matter? The difference, I believe, is both cultural and tactical. Culturally, firefighters in Australia have developed tactics that work well with repeated Sky Crane drops of 2000 gallons, and obviously six drops from a DC-10 fits into those tactics quite well. Tactically, Australian firefighters “build” less indirect line with retardant, and rely instead on tactical application of the suppressant directly on, or close to, the fire line. This tactic usually means shorter runs to follow an uneven line.

The reason this matters comes back to the basic questions of cost efficiency and operational effectiveness. The DC-10, and the amount of retardant it carries, has become regarded as a good example of the benefits of economy of scale. The more suppressant you can carry to the fire line in a single load, the cheaper it becomes…

9 thoughts on “New South Wales may be using DC-10 air tanker in a somewhat uncommon manner”

  1. I think it is very interesting how they are using the DC-10 down there. This proves that the DC-10 can be an effective at spit drops as well as an effective IA tool. Unlike here in the U.S. where it is a last resort tool for major campaign.

    1. In the states, and particularly in California, there are a tremendous number of IA aircraft available that can operate out of smaller bases, closer to the IA. Many of those aircraft can be off the ground in under 10 minutes, and at scene within 20. It takes considerably longer to mobilize the VLAT (it may not even be in the same state). Several small planes can whip an IA fire faster. The VLAT found it’s niche in the state hitting large fires. It could be used on IA fires and has been effectively used for IA in California, but historically other resources are available faster.

  2. When other resource agencies were confused on this new big (Jumbo) air tanker, CDF (Cal Fire) management stepped up to the plate and issued a CWN contract. There is no doubt that the application of large amounts of retardant within the first two hours will be the best-chance tactic for first burning period containment. The VLAT program is over ten fire seasons old and has proven to be cost effective when used in the early stage (within the first two hours) of an evolving-threatening wildfire. Many of these I.A. “stops” with the help of the VLAT are seldom reported on the “front page.” It is unfortunate that not all resource agencies outside of California have adopted this I.A. concept.

    1. It all comes down to money, unfortunately. Mother Nature (fire environment) will dictate what she wants to burn or left natural. No piece of equipment can change those fires that are in alignment (fuel, weather, terrain) and have room to travel. Sometimes we get lucky on initial attack and the fire is contained before too much damage is incurred. “like a dinky toy” This may be the resource that saves some ones home. Bigger maybe coming in the form of a 747. Keep on this site for updates.

  3. Clive is correct in that the tiny (550 litre) Bambi Bucket didn’t achieve much in Tassie, although the west coast fires were well managed with buckets where houses were saved. It’s always horses-for-courses down here. We need long-line buckets in some situations, but belly tanks work better in others. Rotary aircraft versus fixed wing & AT versus LAT versus VLAT, it’s the same. We are still learning the benefits of LAT and VLAT application, but I reckon there will be more big boys used in seasons to come.

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