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.
48 helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are on the roster during this down under summer in Victoria.
This summer in Victoria, Australia, the state has arranged for 48 firefighting aircraft to be available. In this video a spokesperson for Victoria Emergency lays out the details. Helpfully, there are subtitles to translate Australian to North American English. 😉
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.
Above: Unloading and reassembling the “Ichabod” Air-Crane after it was shipped from Greece to Australia. EMV photo.
The Aussies like to identify their aerial firefighting assets by nickname. In previous years the Air-Crane “Elvis” delighted residents whose homes were being saved. This year in Victoria “Malcolm” and “Ichabod” are on contract.
The information below is provided by Emergency Management Victoria.
Victoria’s orange Aircranes Ichabod and Malcolm are two of the stars in Victoria’s aircraft fleet this summer.
The monster helicopters are integral to firefighting operations and are often on the front-line protecting Victorian communities from fire.
To get the aircranes to Victoria each year is quite a journey. Aircrane Ichabod was shipped over from Greece in November after spending the Australian winter fighting fires on the islands and central areas.
Aircrane Malcolm also arrived in November after travelling from the United States where it was used to complete several construction jobs including a complex lift at Crater Lake National Park.
Before they can travel, the aircranes are dismantled so they can be shipped to their next destination where they are then reassembled. It took a team of aviation experts a couple of days to put Malcolm and Ichabod back together after arriving in Geelong. They then underwent maintenance and a general spruce-up, ready for the season ahead.
So they can undertake fire work with the Victorian firefighting fleet, belly tanks and snorkels are added to their armour. Depending on the conditions and water sources available, they can either suck up water or use a bucket on a string to help extinguish fires.
Australia has a contract for six aircranes that come across annually to operate as part of a national fleet jointly funded by the Commonwealth and State Governments.
The air cranes are named Georgia Peach, Incredible Hulk, Delilah, Elsie, Ichabod and Malcolm.
Aircrane Malcolm was named after Malcolm Burgess who was one of the three main design engineers for the military aircrane, while Ichabod was named after the popular cartoon character “Ichabod Crane” in the United States.
Malcolm and Ichabod are part of Victoria’s fleet of 48 firefighting aircraft that has immediate response, air attack and intelligence gathering capability.
The air tanker will begin an 84-day contract in Victoria on December 15.
Above: Tanker 131’s route from Santa Maria, California to Hawaii.
Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a C-130Q, is en route to Australia to begin a firefighting contract for the state of Victoria. It departed from Phoenix on December 8 and is expected to arrive in Avalon, Victoria on December 12 after flying for a total of 27 hours. These dates and the ones below are U.S. time.
In Australia it is designated as Tanker 390 and is named “Hercules”. On the way to Avalon it scheduled stops at Santa Maria (California), Kahului (Hawaii), Pago Pago, and Norfolk Island. Britt Coulson said Friday night that it had just landed at Pago Pago (NSTU).
The 84-day contract for T-131 begins December 15th.
Tanker 131 concluded its 2016 fire season in the United States on November 30, accumulating 350 hours of flight time and 520 drops for a total of 1.77 million gallons delivered over wildfires — an average of 3,404 gallons per drop.
“This year, Victoria will have 48 aircraft available, including five aircraft that have been strategically positioned to support harvesting operations in the Mallee.
Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Stephanie Rotarangi said: “The first aircraft to come on board this year are the Helitack fire-fighting helicopter at Sea Lake and two single engine air tanker fixed-wing planes at Ouyen, which start today.”
“Another two single engine air tankers will be based at Nhill from November 23. This is the first time this service has been provided at Ouyen and Nhill to support cropping in the north west and west of the state.
“The Bushfire Natural Hazards CRC Seasonal Outlook has predicted an above average fire season for Victoria in 2016-17. The recent rainfall means we can expect increased grass growth and high-yielding crops, particularly in areas like the Mallee.”
The five aircraft will be on pre-determined dispatch which means they are able to respond to fires at the same time as fire trucks do.
CFA Chief Officer Steve Warrington said rapid response in the early stages helps to keep small fires small.
“This summer, we are expanding predetermined dispatch to include another five aircraft to cover Ballarat, Mornington Peninsula, Olinda, Heyfield and Ovens. This means for the 2016-17 season Victoria will have 27 aircraft at 19 locations on immediate response,” he said.
“Victoria’s specialised aircraft fleet is strategically positioned across the state so it is available for a range of different types of fires and terrain to provide the best support possible to our firefighters.”
Victoria’s aircraft fleet this season will include: 2 Large Air Tankers, 2 Air-Cranes, 27 aircraft on pre-determined dispatch including 2 Sikorsky helicopters and 1 water scooping aircraft, 14 aircraft to provide air attack supervision and reconnaissance, 1 dedicated air intelligence helicopter and 2 infrared line-scanning aircraft.
Major fire operations will be supported by the two Large Air Tankers (LATs), Hercules and RJ which will be based at Avalon Airport and the two air-cranes, Malcolm and Ichabod
The LATs are some of the biggest firefighting aircraft in the world and can hold between 12,000 and 15,000 litres of water, retardant or foam.”