Israel adds to their air tanker fleet

Air Tractor AT 802 air tanker in Israel
Air Tractor AT 802 air tanker in Israel in 2011.

In 2011 Israel first contracted for seven single engine air tankers, Air Tractor AT 802s, supplied by Elbit Systems and Chim Nir Flight Services. Now they are adding to the fleet and will have a total of 14.

Elbit Systems announced on January 5, 2015, that it was awarded an approximately $100 million contract from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD) to procure six new firefighting aircraft and operate the firefighting squadron, which will consist of a total of fourteen aircraft, including eight aircraft previously procured by Elbit Systems. The contract, to be performed over an eight-year period, also covers flight hours, infrastructure upgrade, maintenance, airstrip operation, handling of fire retardants and other aspects of operating the squadron.

The firefighting aircraft, manufactured by Air Tractor, are single-engine aircraft, capable of carrying approximately 3,000 liters (792 US gallons) of water and flying three hours without refueling.

Bezhalel (Butzi) Machlis, President and CEO of Elbit Systems commented: “We are very proud to be selected for this opportunity to harness our professional capabilities and vast experience to the collective efforts of protecting Israel’sresidents and natural landscape”.

The Elad firefighting squadron was founded four years ago following the Mount Carmel forest fire and is named after Elad Riben, the fire scout that was killed in this fire. Since then, Elbit Systems has been cooperating with the IAF, firefighting units, the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority in developing the squadron’s operational procedures and qualifying designated airstrips. The aircraft will be flown by CHIM-NIR’s pilots, the project’s subcontractor.

Since its inauguration in 2011, the firefighting squadron has performed over 4,600 missions, accumulated over 2,500 flight hours and has helped extinguish over 500 potentially destructive fires across the country, providing a prompt and professional solution.

Elbit Systems is developing a system for fighting wildfires by dropping small bags of liquid from a helicopter or cargo plane. The idea is that the bags would break upon impact and slow the spread of the fire.

water bag
One of the water bags. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Fighting fire with bags of liquid

Croman tank
The modified external tank to deliver the water bags. (I’m fairly sure the gentleman said: “Say ahhhh.”)

A company in Israel has developed a system for fighting wildfires by dropping small bags of liquid from a helicopter or cargo plane. The idea is that the bags would break upon impact. Elbit Systems demonstrated their “HyDrop” system at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento, California last week, when small bags of water holding less than one liter were dropped from a Type 1 helicopter operated by Croman. Shlomo Alkaher, Vice President of the company, told Fire Aviation that other liquids could be used in the bags, such as water enhancement products or conventional long term fire retardant.

At their exhibit in the conference center we asked Mr. Alkaher if we could see one of the bags, but were surprised to hear that none were available. Later at the live demonstration at McClellan Air Force Base, we found a person who had somehow acquired a bag and allowed us to photograph it.

water bag
One of the water bags.

In a video of a test drop the company was showing in the exhibit area at the conference, it was clear that some of the bags did not break when hitting the ground, and in fact bounced. Mr. Alkaher said that the fire would eventually burn the plastic and the water would escape.

The advantage of the bags, he explained, is that the water delivery would be less susceptible to being blown off target by winds, which would also allow the helicopter to drop from a greater height if necessary.

We asked if they had conducted any tests where the product would be dropped onto a standard grid of cups, a test that is used to determine the distribution of water and retardant dropped by helicopters and air tankers. He told us no, explaining that the bags would most likely destroy the cups.

Mr. Alkaher said tests on crash test dummies determined that if a bag hit a person it would not cause an injury. The plastic bags will easily biodegrade, he said. The company has developed equipment that fills the bags near the site where they would be loaded onto the helicopter.

The company has also designed a container system that could be used by cargo planes with a rear door, such as a C-130. The containers would have a conveyer belt that would feed the bags out the door.

The video below, which has been converted to slow motion, shows the March 20 demonstration at McClellan. The camera was pretty far away so you can’t see a great deal (it helps to put it on “full screen”), but the spectators could tell that some of the bags bounced. We were not allowed to walk over and get a closer look at the drop site to see what the effects were or how many bags broke.