Air-Cranes in Victoria

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.

emergency management victoriaTo 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.

C-130Q en route to Australia

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.

Tanker 131 itinerary
Tanker 131’s itinerary. From Coulson.

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
Tanker 131 in Maui, Thursday December 8 US time. Coulson photo.
Tanker 131
Tanker 131 over Maui, Thursday December 8 US time. Coulson photo.

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.

Tanker 131
Tanker 131 at Pago Pago Friday December 9 US time. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s other C-130 type air tanker, T-132, a C-130H, has been in New South Wales since September 6, 2016. Known as “Thor” down under, it just had its contract extended for another month and will continue to be based at Richmond RAAF base until mid-January.

Victoria’s aerial firefighting fleet gears up for the down-under summer

Like New South Wales, Victoria is getting their firefighting aircraft lined up for the 2016-2017 Australian bushfire season which is getting underway now.

A year ago between Victoria and New South Wales the two states had four large air tankers from North America on contract during their summer; two C-130’s, a DC-10, and an RJ85. It appears the arrangements will be very similar this summer.

From Victoria’s Country Fire Service:


“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.”

Tankers 131 132 fire Victoria
Tankers 131 and 132, both on contract in Victoria, February, 2016. T-132 had been on contract earlier with New South Wales; when the contract ended, Victoria picked up the aircraft for the remainder of the Australian summer.  Coulson photo.

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.”

Air tankers in Victoria

Above: Conair’s Tanker 162, an RJ85 at Avalon Airport, Victoria, Australia.

The Country Fire Authority currently has one very large and three large air tankers on contract during their summer bushfire season working out of Avalon Airport near Melbourne, Australia (map). The down under fire season will likely be winding down soon and the aircraft will migrate back to North America.

In recent weeks the air tankers were deployed across the Bass Strait to Tasmania. This may have been the first time large aerial firefighting assets were used in the state. The Fire Service felt it was necessary to warn the residents to “not be alarmed” when they saw the air tankers “flying a bit low over the coast”.

air tanker 910 DC-10
10 Tanker’s T-910, a DC-10, at Avalon, Victoria.
air tanker 131 at Avalon
Coulson’s Tanker 131, a C-130 (known as T-390 in Victoria) at Avalon, Victoria.
air tanker 132 at Avalon
Coulson’s Tanker 132, a C-130, at Avalon, Victoria.
Bird Dogs Avalon
Bird Dogs at Avalon Airport, Victoria.
fire Retardant plant Avalon
The fire retardant mixing plant at Avalon, Victoria.

Photos provided by the Country Fire Authority, Victoria.

Victoria picks up Tanker 132 on contract

Above: Air tankers 131 and 132, both on contract in Victoria. Coulson photo.

Both of Coulson’s C-130 air tankers have been working in Australia during the 2015/2016 bushfire season; 131 has been with the state of New South Wales while 132 was in Victoria. When the NWS contract with 132 ended recently, Victoria hired it, affording a rare opportunity to photograph both of them together.

Tanker 131 fire crew
Tanker 131 and her crew on contract in Victoria. Coulson photo.
Tanker 132 fire crew
Tanker 132 and her crew on contract in Victoria. Coulson photo.

Both of the air tankers are variants of the C-130 platform. T-131 is a C-130Q which served as a strategic communications link for the U.S. Navy’s Ballistic Missile submarine force and as a backup communications link for the U. S. Air Force manned strategic bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces. It had the capability to deploy two trailing wire antennas with the longest being 17,000 to 20,000 feet depending on the VLF frequency being used. The aircraft still has remnants of the system —  a vent in front of the landing gear that brought in air to cool the wire spooling mechanism. (More information, a Word document, about the “TACAMO” communications system.)

T-132 is an L-382G, also known as an L-100-30, a civilian version of the C-130 that has been stretched about 15 feet compared to the L-100.

We like posting photos of firefighting aircraft with their crews. Too often we see dramatic photos of aircraft fighting fires, but the crews don’t always get the recognition they deserve.  If you have any recent or classic photos along these lines, let us know. A description with names, places, and dates would be helpful.

A third Air-Crane is now under contract in Victoria

Erickson Incorporated has been contracted through Australian partner Kestrel Aviation for a third S64E Aircrane helitanker to support firefighting efforts in the State of Victoria, Australia. In total, Erickson has six Aircranes currently working in the country.

Erickson Air-Crane
Photo by Erickson Air-Crane

The third Aircrane, previously stationed in Sydney, New South Wales to fight fires, has been reassigned to Mangalore, Victoria. The Aircrane will be available as required for the remainder of the fire season.

The S64 Aircrane can drop 2,650 gallons (7,500 liters) of water on fires in a single pass. With specialized snorkels, the Aircrane can also refill the tank in nearby bodies of water in less than 30 seconds.

Photos of aircraft fighting bushfires in Victoria, Australia

Air tanker Victoria
Tanker 132

The Country Fire Authority recently released some excellent photos of aircraft that are fighting bushfires in Victoria, Australia.

Air tanker Victoria
Tanker 162

helicopter Victoria

Air tanker Victoria
Tanker 160

Air tanker Victoria

Continue reading “Photos of aircraft fighting bushfires in Victoria, Australia”

Currency training for heli-rappellers in Australia

The two Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) rappel firefighting crews at Ovens in Victoria, Australia undertook currency activities yesterday. They are part of the long-running Victorian rappel program which consists of two eight-member crews at both Ovens and Heyfield.

Rappel crews enable DELWP to rapidly access fires in the remote forest areas of Victoria where there are generally no clearings to land helicopters and road access takes many hours (if tracks exist at all).

For this reason, the rappel crews are used as first attack on bushfires.

As you can see in this clip, each firefighter individually abseils (or rappels) down a rope from a helicopter with a personal kit before a bag of firefighting equipment (hand tools such as rakehoes) is deployed.