I come from the Karri and Jarrah forests of SW WA and bush fires were an integral part of life and death on the farms and town in the small community of Pemberton.
For these reasons I am always aware of the dangers; I feel for the victims and the volunteer and professional firefighters. I would also like to think that the firefighters get the best equipment available..
Yesterday in The Australian Geoffery Luck wrote of lack of meaningful air support for these guys.
The huge Sikorsky/Erickson S64 Aircranes that Australia leases from California may look impressive, but they represent gesture politics. What counts in water-bombing is turnaround time and load. Each of the giant helicopters can carry 9500 litres of water, but they take almost a minute to suck it up; they fly slowly to the fire at 100km/hour; and they can remain airborne for less than three hours before refuelling.
He suggests an answer.
The Bombardier, a high-wing twin-turboprop aircraft, can scoop up its 6000 litres in 12 seconds, skimming any lake, river or the ocean at 130km/hour, fly to the fire at 300km/hour, dump and return for more while the Skycrane is still lumbering along with its first load. A single 415′s ability to deliver 80,000 litres an hour within a 4km radius of its water supply means a squadron could have saved Mount Stromlo in 2003 — as well as most of the 500 houses destroyed or damaged in the Canberra fires. The Victorian townships destroyed in 2009 were within operational reach of Lake Eildon, 60km away.
Spain has a mix of 14 older models and the new 415 series and a GDP similar to ours so I wonder why the issue hasn’t come up before. It can’t be the dollar and it certainly can’t be because we don’t have a need.
Queenslander and pilot Warren Bowen comments in a letter to the editor.
Australians should be aghast and dismayed we do not have a fleet of dedicated fixed-wing water bombers. The hire of American choppers must come at enormous expense each fire season. It is certainly high time federal and state governments, together with big insurance, embraced the concept. While Luck points out a fleet of six Bombardier 415 aircraft would only cost around $210m, the big costs come with crews and training.
As an ex-RAAF Vietnam vet and life-long airline pilot, I would guarantee hundreds of airline crew would volunteer for such a mission. Airline management would have to condone and authorise such arrangements as they “own” a pilot’s hours, which are restricted in time units by law. Many US airline pilots continue to fly fighters, bombers and transport aircraft as part of the National Guard and are subject to call for active service. If Greece can support a squadron of eight such aircraft, surely we could.
When I see the choppers operating it just looks like a thimble full of water being dropped into a huge furnace.
It has to be worth a debate at least.