How to Put Out a Fire Like a Boss
Waterbomber. Yeah, that’s a pretty sweet name. The American designation, as “waterbomber” is the Canadian designation, is “airtanker.” When you are flying a waterbomber or airtanker, you are an aerial firefighter. When you are an aerial firefighter you engage in air attacks, meaning you pour water on a fire. That’s awesome; it makes me want to be an aerial firefighter.
I know my readers will want to know more about waterbombers so let me start with their history. Back in 1947 the first experiments with aerial firefighting took place. After World War II, the United States realized that they had a bunch of perfectly good bombers just lying around. Sure, some of them were converted for other purposes, such as cargo, but one of those purposes was aerial firefighting. Ironically, water bombs were not very efficient so internal water tanks were used instead. The internal water tanks are why you see a deluge of water falling from the planes.
Additionally, there have been quite a few variations of planes used as airtankers because there isn’t a minimum requirement for the water load. Of course, more is better but there isn’t a standard for airtankers. The smallest active airtanker is a Polish plane with a capacity of 570 gallons while the largest is a converted Boeing 747 that holds 20,500 gallons. (more…)
Where helicopters can hover and refill its bucket simply by finding the nearest body of water, not all airtankers can refill in mid-flight. The ones that can, like the Bombardier
Where helicopters can hover and refill its bucket simply by finding the nearest body of water, not all airtankers can refill in mid-flight. The ones that can, like the Bombardier CL-415, fly low enough to skim the top of a body of water. This feature allows for less downtime between water dumps and plus it looks awesome. You may be wondering how you would become an aerial firefighter, probably take a few classes, get that pilot license and understand how gravity works. Alas, this is not true. Most pilots are retired naval aviators with many years of experience. The rest are air force pilots or ex-members of acrobatic teams such as the Blue Angels.
Why is it such a high skill job? Just fly over the fire, drop some water, right? Wrong. It’s all about speed and timing which requires precise piloting. Part of the aerial firefighting procedure is for scout planes to identify and describe the location of the fire. Once identified, the airtanker pilots have to maneuver their relatively large, all the way up to freaking huge, planes in a proper turn to line up directly over the fire and release the payload. It may sound simple, but precisely piloting such a huge machine takes years of practice in similarly sized planes. Not only do they have to execute those difficult turns, they certainly can’t slack on speed. The pressure of making the best possible time because every moment you waste lets the fire spread. A wildfire is bad enough, imagine if the fire spreads to residential areas? Then there’s the landing for refueling and subsequent takeoff. Landing a large plane is tough enough but doing it on a deadline multiple times in the matter of hours is even tougher.
Being an aerial firefighter is a manly job. These people push the limit of what physics and planes can do. You’re flying a huge plane with a huge payload as fast as you possibly can while also managing precise turns for accurate water dispersal. There have been a few instances where the toll of such flying results in the wings falling right off in the middle of a flight, usually resulting in the death of all people on board. You’ve got to have nerves of steel and steady hands to pilot one of those behemoths.