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Some helicopters and airplanes from aerial firefighters

Some helicopters and airplanes from aerial firefighters
Bell 412.
©Hugo Ramos / Hlcopters.

In this article we will talk about some of the helicopters and planes currently used by aerial firefighters around the world.

Aerial Firefighters Helicopters

During wildfires the helicopters are used for firefighter and cargo transport to fighter the fires, water or retardant application, fire reconnaissance, aerial ignition operations, search and rescue (SAR), law enforcement missions, short-haul, sling loads, and more.

The Type 1 helicopters (models type Erickson Air Crane, Chinook) are the largest, fastest flying and the most expensive helicopters operated on wildland fires. The typically carry 700 gallons of water or/with retardant agent load via a bucket or a snorkel that fills an internal tank. These helicopters can strategically drop thousands of gallons of water with/or retardant with pinpoint accuracy, all while working closely with ground personnel and other firefighting aircraft.

The firefighter helicopters refill their buckets at dip sites such in the sea, alakes, reservoirs, swiming pools, water tanks or any sources that are deep enough for the refill operation. The tanked helicopters with snorkel capabilities can draft from open water sources and little river curses and another hand the helicopters with buckets only can pull water from sources that are deep enough for the buckets.

Some helicopters and airplanes from aerial firefighters
Airbus Helicopters AS350 B3+.
©Hugo Ramos / Hlcopters.

Some Type 1 helicopters can also transport up to 15 totally equipped personnel to the wildfires. Others are only used to drop water, fire retardant, and move firefighting supplies and equipment.

The Type 2 helicopters (models type UH-60 Black Hawk, Bell 412) are very effective initial attack resources. They can transport about nine firefighters at one time. These helicopters can support to personnel on ground by delivering up to 300 gallons of water over the fireline.

Although the Type 3 helicopters (models type H125, Bell 407) are smaller, generally they have a most maniobrablity and higher cruise speed than a typical Type 2 helicopter and arrive on the scene of an initial attack wildfire faster. They are capable of carrying four to five firefighters at a time, and use up to 180 gallon water bucket.

Some helicopters and airplanes from aerial firefighters
A U.S. Army UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter flown by Soldiers from the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, California Army National Guard, lands with a bucket during aerial wildland firefighting training with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, March 19, 2022, in Silverado, California.
Cal Guard and CAL FIRE have a decades-long partnership for battling California’s larger wildfires.
U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Crystal Housman.

Firefighter Airplanes

The Very Large Airtankers, also referred to as VLATs, can deliver thousands of gallons of water with fire retardant in one time. Because of their size, they are less maneuverable than smaller airtankers. VLATs drop fire retardant at least 250 feet above the top of the vegetation in flames.

Two VLATs used to support wildland firefighters on the ground are the DC-10 and the Boeing 747. The DC-10 can deliver up to 9,400 gallons of fire retardant at one time. The Boeing 747 can carry 17,500 gallons of fire retardant. The U.S. Forest Service is responsible for managing the VLAT contracts.

Large Airtanker

The large airtankers carry between 2,000 to 4,000 gallons of water with fire retardant in support of wildland firefighter personnel on the ground. These aircraft are smaller than the VLAT and are more maneuverable.

Single Engine Airtanker

A single engine airtanker, or SEAT, is the smallest airtanker. These aircraft can deliver up to 800 gallons water with fire retardant to wildland firefighters on the ground. They are ideal for wildfires in lighter fuels like grasses and sagebrush.

Water Scoopers (type Canadair CL-215 and 415)

Some helicopters and airplanes from aerial firefighters
Canadair CL-215T (Spanish Air Force).
©Hugo Ramos/ Hlcopters.

Water Scoopers are amphibious aircraft that skim the surface of a body of water and scoop water into an onboard tank and then drop it on a wildland fire.

Some Water Scoopers can transport up to 1,600 gallons of water. It can take as little as 10-12 seconds to refill the tanks to capacity. The aircraft can scoop from water sources that are about 6.5 feet deep and 300 feet wide. The Scoopers aircrews usually use the sea and lakes but can also scoop from rivers.

The Water Scoopers are capable of dropping water on wildland fires from a height of about 100 to 150 feet above ground level.

Its very important to remember that aerial firefighters risk their lives every year for the benefit of all of us. Therefore, if you see them act, you should not hinder their work during the water refills.

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The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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