Large air tankers in Australia drop on their first fire

Conair's RJ-85
Conair’s RJ-85 returns from making its first retardant drop on a fire in Victoria, Australia December 16. Photo by Michael Austin.

The two large air tankers that are on contract in Victoria, Australia made their first down under retardant drops on a fire December 16. Conair’s RJ-85 and Coulson’s C-130Q each made one drop on a wildfire near the town of Wodonga in northeast Victoria, with both of them putting about an hour and a quarter on their hours meter. These photos were taken by Micheal Austin as the retardant-stained aircraft were returning and landing at Avalon.

The photo of the RJ-85 above shows a retardant stain coming from what appears to be a small orifice high up on the rear section of the bolt-on tank, which could be some sort of overflow function. (Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

The Border Mail has some fascinating photos of the fire, including many shots with lightning in the background.

Coulson's C-130Q
Coulson’s C-130Q returns from making its first retardant drop on a fire in Victoria, Australia, December 16. Photo by Michael Austin.

As we reported earlier, at 10 a.m. local time on Tuesday the two air tankers and seven other firefighting aircraft were formally introduced to the Australian media. Both the RJ-85 and the C-130 made demonstration drops with water. A few hours later in the early afternoon they were dispatched to the fire near Wodonga.

Below is an excerpt from ABC, reporting on the introduction of the large air tankers:

…Two Canadian water bombing aircraft doing a practice run for the media at Avalon Airport were called in to help fight the blaze.

The Hercules and RJ tankers can hold more than 12,000 litres of water or fire retardant, which is almost double the capacity of the largest water bombers used last year.

Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the two tankers would be crucial to firefighting this summer because they can fly longer distances.

“They’ll be based at Avalon but they can reach either ends of the state,” he said.

“[They can go] over to Mallacoota or across into the far south-west in around 30 minutes, so their flying time is quite significant.”

Conair's RJ-85
Conair’s RJ-85 makes a demonstration drop at the Avalon airport, December 16, 2014 in Victoria, Australia. Photo by Michael Austin.

Conair is in partnership with the Australian company Field Air in making the RJ-85 aircraft available in Australia. They have launched a Facebook page dedicated to the RJ-85 in Australia, and posted a video that details the development of the air tanker.

7 thoughts on “Large air tankers in Australia drop on their first fire”

  1. It appears that the Australian Fire Retardant appears more orange than it is in America. It could just be the way the photographer has his camera set up, but still caught my eye. I would think they would be using Phos-Chek though?

  2. My understanding is that (if a second round were required) there’s an agreement to reload the LATs and infrastructure available just across the river at Albury in NSW. Burnover, perhaps you can confirm? In years past, I think the notion of reloading resources in a neighboring state was unthinkable, but today the thinking is more enlightened, which is the only way the use of the larger assets will succeed. Wodonga is about 10nm from the Albury airport, and roughly 160nm from the base in Avalon.

    Forgot how orange in color that powdered stuff is too.

    1. Actually in 2009/10 the then Brumby State Labor Government officials with personnel from fire fighting agencies and the Bushfire CRC trialled a 10 Tanker Air Carrier DC-10 jet Air Tanker over several locations in Victoria and cam to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be suitable for the Victorian terrain and it was proved that large drops of water or retardant damaged the undergrowth of the forest which would be dangerous to personnel and buildings on the ground. When PHOS-CheK fire retardant was dropped on the ground in front of an actual grass fire and it was found to be ineffective as the fire burnt over the FhosChek and a second drop was required. I don’t know why they don’t use fire blocking gel because it is a proven method of suppression in the United States and they also have back packs that can can be sprayed on walls and roofs of buildings saving many from destruction. I have have witnessed on TV the biggest amphibious aircraft I have ever seen, recently arrived near the scene of the Air Asia plane crash with a Russian deep sea diving crew. What a wonderful machine this would be if one of those had a large tank fitted to the its belly with facilities to scoop up water from lakes and dams which could be deployed to the nearest fire before it becomes too large to control. Governments must act now and bring in more big boys and seriously acquire recently retired passenger aircraft and have them refurbished to be suitable to bomb fires without having to spend millions of dollars bringing in large aircraft from overseas or even make use of our large aircraft from our own Australian Royal Airforce which doesn’t seem to be doing much as there are no wars to defend in this country.

      1. The aircraft that Len is referring too is the Russian BE 200. And it is a water scooping airtanker with a capacity of up to 3000 gal. It is a purpose built aircraft for fire fighting.

      2. Len, the DC-10 trial was affected in so many ways by politics; it really didn’t get a fair shake in Victoria. I’m not suggesting a DC-10 is the best resource for Australian fires, but there’s no reason it can’t work as well there as it does in North America.

        There were indeed problems with the drop pattern (fire breached a retardant line due to insufficient coverage only a few metres from where excessive coverage snapped a healthy tree), but this has since been resolved with adjustments to the three drop tanks and how they sequence the drops themselves. The damning final report generated by the Bushfire CRC contained serious flaws and subjective analysis, but was accepted as written.

        Fire blocking gel is not “a proven method of fire suppression” in North America. There are a lot of questions and unknowns with gel applications, especially from aircraft. Gel has yet to demonstrate similar effectiveness as liquid concentrate retardant.

  3. We are using a gel-injection for Australia on the Herk. I’m not sure what the specific chemical or manufacturer are at the moment; will update soon.

Comments are closed.