Chris Greenwood / May 19, 2019

Aerial Firefighting

If you have ever experienced a large fire in your area, you have likely seen the large aerial vehicles passing over that are dropping water or fire retardant from the base of the plane. These are a very important part of firefighting, especially when there are major fires that are getting out of control. They can move into areas that firefighters either cannot get into, or it would be unsafe for human beings to be present.

Aerial firefighting aircraft can drop a substantial amount of fire retardant and water at any given point and are often the main reason that fires are able to be controlled and eventually put out. Aerial firefighting is so much more than simply dropping these substances on the fires that are burning. There is a lot of coordination that goes into this aspect of firefighting. Here is what you should know about aerial firefighting and how it contributes to containing and extinguishing wildfires.

What Is Aerial Firefighting?

Aerial firefighting is a firefighting strategy that pertains to fighting fires from the air. This can be done using fixed wing aircraft such as a DC tanker, or it may also be administered with helicopters. These aircraft are also used when firefighters are descending into areas that are not accessible. Whether these are repelling others from helicopters, or smoke jumpers coming out of planes, these aircraft can get them to virtually any spot. They will also use a wide variety of chemicals to combat the fires which will include Phos-Chek, certain types of foam and gels, as well as water.

What Type of Equipment Does This Encompass?

The equipment that is used will include different types of helicopters, air tankers, lead planes, and fleet grounding firefighter aircraft. The helicopters that are used will include the unique Kaman K-Max, Bell 205, and the very large Sikorsky S-70C helicopters. There are numerous firefighting tanker airplanes that are used which originate from manufacturers such as North American, Douglas, Lockheed, and others. Lead planes can be from many different manufacturers. Planes such as the Cessna 310, or the O-2 Skymaster, are used to scout out the fire prior to the helicopters and tankers making their drops. Regarding fleet grounding vehicles, these primarily pertain to aircraft from the Marines and National Guard. However, there has been some speculation as to whether or not these will be used in the future as a result of multiple problems these aircraft have had.

What Tactics Are Used with Aerial Firefighting?

The tactics that are used will include the use of water and fire retardants. When water is used, this is something that primarily pertains to helicopters. They will use a large bucket, attached to a hoist and cable, which will gather water from a local river or lake, and dump that on to the flames. Fire retardants are loaded onto large fixed wing aircraft. The same is true for water that is placed into these aircraft for the purpose of dumping it from above. The strategies that are used will depend upon aerial reconnaissance missions to determine where the most important drops need to be administered. As the fire progresses, and certain areas are contained, they will then redirect the planes and helicopters to new locations. It is this combination of aerial reconnaissance, combined with the distribution of planes and helicopters dumping retardants and water, that allows aerial firefighting to be successful.

Advancements in Aerial Firefighting

One of the most noticeable advancements in aerial firefighting has to do with the integration of computers. In the past, people would use a map of the terrain and would then physically determine what areas needed to be approached next. Today, the use of the Internet to help gather information quickly, and using computers with software, has changed the landscape of this aspect of firefighting. It allows the information to be gathered and processed at a much faster rate, helping to direct these planes and helicopters in a much more efficient manner.

When you have a major fire in your area, you will likely see many of these planes in the air. When there is a large outbreak of forest fires, you may only see a handful of these aircraft as they are somewhat limited. In the past few years, the number of large force fires has grown out of control, some of which have led to the destruction of portions of cities and towns. The need for more aircraft is certainly there, but that all depends upon funding, as well as the ability to train pilots to perform this type of work. The same strategies and aircraft are utilized all over the country, if not the world, in order to put fires out promptly. Aerial firefighting plays a pivotal role in ensuring the safety of people, and the protection of our forests.

Chris Greenwood
Chris Greenwood
Chris is the owner of the Greenwood Group, a Hubzone approved business, which specializes in leasing aircraft to local, state and federal government for a variety of purposes.

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