The 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill passed by the Senate included an earmark of $4,160,00 for fixed belly tanks for National Guard Blackhawk helicopters. It was referred to as the Recoil UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter R60 Wildland Fire-Fighting Tank System. When we covered that on October 7, 2009 at Wildfire Today that is all we knew about the project. But a little more information has emerged. It appears that the tank in these photos may be what was funded in the legislation passed by the Senate.
A circular-framed retractable suppressant tank that attaches to the airframe at the cargo hook point. The electric operating mechanism is located within the helicopter itself, to operate by crew members. In addition, the system has a security mechanism for a rapid emptying in case of an emergency. The system is approved for use in urban areas. The tank volume is 3,800 liters [1,000 US gallons], and can contain all kinds of water – fresh, brackish and salty water.
Messages we left with Recoil Suppression Systems asking for information were not immediately returned, and we were not able to find a web site for the company. Dunn and Bradstreet says the company has annual sales of $950,000 and has 17 employees. But we have no confirmation that any of the tanks were ever produced and sold.
At least one other company is working on a Blackhawk belly tank, Simplex.
After they leave the aircraft the container lids, attached by four straps, separate, and act like a parachute. The straps then put pressure on the plastic bladders, ripping them open, allowing the liquid to be dispersed. The 100 pounds of the other components, the plywood, and cardboard, fall to the ground tethered by the nylon straps. The plastic bladder, hopefully empty, falls separately.
The company says 16 units fit inside a C-130. We estimate that each one weighs 2,212 pounds, and 16 of them would hold 4,224 gallons for a total weight of 35,392 pounds. They claim a C-27J can carry 6 units, which would be 1,584 gallons with an estimated weight of 13,272 pounds. A C-130 with a Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) usually carries 2,200 to 3,000 gallons of retardant, depending on the density altitude and the amount of fuel on board. Last summer the MAFFS were dropping an average of 2,394 gallons per flight.
In November the Romanian Air Force tested the Caylym system using a C-27J Spartan to drop the containers. According to the company:
…Expectations from testing were surpassed — all aspects of safety, handling and deployment of the Guardian System by the C-27J are anticipated to achieve certification from the Alenia test and evaluation team. Follow-up training is planned for the spring of 2013 in Romania.
The C-27J Spartan is an ideal aircraft for the aerial firefighting mission,” said Rick Goddard, managing director of Caylym. “The versatility and responsiveness of the C-27J in a firefighting mission, using the Guardian System gives the Romanian Air Force the ability to drop more than 1,500 gallons (6000 L) per mission, from a safe altitude over all types of terrain, day and night.”
We talked with Rick Goddard, the Managing Director of Caylym, who told us that in their tests the system could deliver six to eight gallons per 100 square feet and even more if the containers were loaded in two rows so that they would exit the aircraft two at a time. Mr. Goddard said they do not expect to spend $100,000 to conduct a standard cup test to determine the exact uniformity and quantity of the retardant coverage until the U.S. Forest Service expresses more of an interest in using the system.
Below is a video that was uploaded by Caylym on January 22, 2013. It shows their containers being assembled, filled, and then dropping from an aircraft.
Caylym has rebranded their system. Formerly called a “precision container aerial delivery system” (PCAD), they have renamed it “Guardian Deployment System”.
If these were ever actually used on a wildfire, there would have to be an even greater emphasis than usual on removing firefighters and other personnel from the target area than there is now when only liquids fall from the sky. In addition, the owner of the land would either have to be OK with leaving the debris from the containers in place after the drop in perpetuity, or crews would have to search the area and carry it out for disposal in a landfill. Debris removal would have to be included in the estimated costs of using a system like this, which could be difficult or even impossible in some areas, complicated by topography and vegetation. Depending on the climate, it could take many years or decades for the plastic bladder, plywood, cardboard, and straps to decompose if it were not removed.