This video has excellent footage of air tanker 131, a C-130Q (Bomber 390 in Australia) and Bomber 391, an RJ85, dropping water during the air show at Avalon, Victoria in Australia during the weekend of March 4. Both of Coulson’s C-130’s have since returned to North America.
It appears from the Facebook post below that the RJ85’s contract down under may also be drawing to a close.
The Victoria Country Fire Authority in Australia has a story about Conair pilot Ray Horton, one of the pilots flying the company’s Avro RJ85 during the summer bushfire season.
“Canadian pilot Ray Horton has travelled the long way around to fight bushfires in Victoria.
One of the world’s most respected aerial firefighters, Ray and the aircraft he flies – the Large Air Tanker ‘RJ’ – have become a welcome sight in Victoria’s skies over the past three summers.
So how did this one time “city slicker from Vancouver” find himself in Tambo Crossing [map], the Mallee and points in between?
His story begins in Canada’s Arctic North. The young pilot was building his hours in 40-below conditions, doing some “fantastic fun flying” as he puts it.
Then, one summer, he found himself flying supplies into the fire camps that are a base for summer firefighting in the Arctic summer.
It was the season that changed Ray’s life.
In quick time, he had a job with Conair, the Canadian aerial firefighting operator whose aircraft and pilots work fire seasons in North America, Europe and Australia.
He started in the Bird Dog – the observer aircraft that guides the larger air tankers to fires and coordinates aerial attack with ground crews. After that, it was 10 years flying the tankers themselves, many of them 1950’s US military aircraft repurposed for aerial firefighting.
Antsy for a change, Ray spent 10 years as an Air Canada captain. But civilian life was not for him.
“I had been spoiled fighting forest fires,” reflects Ray. “Once fire gets in your blood, there is always the challenge of trying to win. I had a tough time letting go of the challenge.”
Ray re-joined Conair and in 2014 arrived for his first fire season in Victoria. He’s returned every season since with RJ, the ‘next generation’ Large Air Tanker with which he’s been deeply involved since the aircraft’s infancy.
A veteran of fires seasons around the world, Ray had one word about the challenges of Victorian conditions – “Wind.”
“Most of the time when we are chasing fires in Victoria it is because of high winds and the high temperatures – they seem to come together,” says Ray.
“In North America, sure we get high winds. But then you’ll get a slew of thunderstorms come through. They may start 50 fires overnight. But then the wind will die down and you methodically get to as many fires as you can.
“Here in Victoria, that same storm will come through but with really high winds. Then you have your fuel types – the eucalyptus and others. The fires run much faster here – much, much faster.”
The other major difference, Ray believes, is the sheer number of volunteers working the fire ground in Victoria.
“That is something we just don’t see in North America. We don’t see the volunteer crews you have here. It’s amazing what Australia can do, particularly in Victoria with CFA and the number of volunteers.
“Here, we will typically see crews on the ground by the time we get to the fires. In North America, there are only so many crews to go around.”
Air crew and ground crew as one is a theme emphasised by Ray and his aerial crew colleagues.
“We know that we don’t put fires out,” stresses Ray. “We are here to allow the firies to get in and to support them. Hopefully we can make the difference that allows them to catch the fire.
“Our challenge – and the one we are called in for – is to put the water or retardant where the ground crews need it. When there are high winds and high heat, the challenge is really on us.
“Put it this way, it’s a long way to fly not to make any difference.” “
During the Northern Hemisphere summer the Avro RJ85 and the C-130 work on fires in North America, but migrate to Victoria, Australia under contract with the Country Fire Authority during the down under summer. In the video Wayne Rigg, working in a position that in the U.S. we would call Air Tactical Group Supervisor, explains how he coordinates aircraft to assist the firefighters on the ground.
This was posted on Facebook by RJ85 Australia, who wrote:
How long does it take to build an RJ air tanker? A little more than 45 seconds, but here is the short version. This is a time lapse of the air tanker conversion of our most recent RJ85 – now up to 8 x RJ’s in the fleet!
And speaking of the RJ85, here’s a video of the first drop it made this summer in Australia.
Above: Bomber 391 at Avalon, Victoria. Photo by Avalon Airport.
Two air tankers from North America have recently started their contracts in Victoria during the Australian summer. Known as Tanker 131 when working in the United States, Coulson’s C-130Q is designated as Bomber 390 while working for Emergency Management Victoria. One of Conair’s RJ85s is known down under as Bomber 391.
The aircraft will be based at the Avalon Airport in southeast Australia, southwest of Melbourne.
The 16″ x 20″ prints of Tanker 07 dropping on the Red Canyon Fire are sold out, but stepping up to take its place is another unusually low price on a print.
Still looking for that special gift? How about a 20″ x 16″ stretched canvas print of Tanker 161, an RJ-85, dropping on the Crow Peak Fire June 27 near Spearfish, SD.
This special lower than usual price of $64 expires at the end of the day on Friday December 23. And only 10 are available at this price.
The image will be printed on a premium glossy canvas and then stretched on a wooden frame of 1.5″ x 1.5″ stretcher bars. All stretched canvases ship within one business day and arrive “ready to hang” with pre-attached hanging wire, mounting hooks, and nails.
Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, drops on the Gopher Fire near Escondido, California August 8, 2016. Photo by Michael Burge.
Michael Burge shot these photos of an RJ85 air tanker and an Air-Crane helicopter August 8, 2016 on the Gopher Fire which burned 35 acres near a residential area off Interstate 15 near Escondido, California at Lawrence Welk Drive and Gopher Canyon. The interstate was closed in both directions for a while as firefighters worked to stop the blaze.
On Monday at 4:56 p.m. we shot this photo of Tanker 161, an RJ85, dropping on the Crow Peak Fire southwest of Spearfish, South Dakota. From a distance we saw several air tanker drops by P2V and RJ85 tankers, but only got decent photos of Tanker 161.
At one point on Monday there were four air tankers working out of Rapid City Tanker Base. By the end of the day one had been sent to a fire near Billings, one was relocated somewhere else, and another was down for maintenance.