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Victoria’s two large air tankers support SA firefighting effort

written by australianaviation.com.au | January 7, 2015

An Avro RJ85 is brought into position at RAAF Base Edinburgh. (Defence)
The Avro RJ85 is brought into position at RAAF Base Edinburgh. (Defence)

Victoria’s two large air tankers have been called into service in South Australia as part of the state’s efforts to contain bushfires north-east of Adelaide.

The two aircraft – a Lockheed C-130Q Hercules and an Avro RJ85 – were operating out of RAAF Base Edinburgh. The RAAF has provided logistics support to the firefighting effort.

An C-130Q Hercules is loaded with fire retardant at RAAF Base Edinburgh. (Defence)
The C-130Q Hercules is loaded with fire retardant at RAAF Base Edinburgh. (Defence)

SA Premier Jay Weatherill told reporters on Tuesday up to 38 homes and 125 outhouses had been destroyed.

The Hercules has a capacity of 12,500 litres, while a fully loaded RJ had the ability to carry 13,250 litres, according to a fact sheet from Victoria’s Department of Environment and Primary Industries. Both aircraft arrived in Australia in mid-December from North America and are contracted for a 12-week period over summer. The two large air tankers are based at Avalon Airport and part of Victoria’s 46-strong firefighting aircraft fleet for this bushfire season.

It was the first time both these aircraft have worked in the Southern Hemisphere, Bryan Rees from the Aviation Services Unit of Victoria’s Department of Environment and Primary Industries said.

“They are relatively new to fire bombing,” Rees said. “They are being called the next generation of air tankers.”

A selection of Victoria's firefighting aircraft assets at Avalon Airport. (Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries)
A selection of Victoria’s firefighting aircraft assets at Avalon Airport. (Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries)

Comments (10)

  • Tom


    What a sound investment. I hope at this years Avalon Airshow they have a focus on this capability, its an area which all states should invest further. Champion effort for all of the Fire Fighting Aviators flying the skies over SA

  • William


    Pity a few of the ex-RAAF C-130Hs couldn’t have been bought by a local company and turned into firefighting aircraft.

  • Lucas


    What a disgrace that a developed nation has not got its own fire fighting logistics…other than a few air-tractors and a few choppers. Come on guys its not like these fire disasters don’t happen every year!!!
    Instead we like to pay other nations to keep their aviation industry alive….
    The federal government better start taking aviation seriously in this country, and actually start to fund an ever so needed industry, or we will be in danger of falling behind the rest of the world.
    For crying out loud we even have air Tahiti flying government personnel around in their A340.

  • Trash Hauler


    Perhaps it is actually cheaper to lease these aircraft for the period required (with experienced crews) rather than buying huge assets and having them sit idle for 9 months of the year? Using military C-130-Js is out of question, the fleet is already flat out with not enough crews and extra training would be required (also good luck finding any military pilots with any knowledge of fire bombing operations). Just trying to look at it from a different slant, however I have no idea how much we pay to lease these foreign aircraft so my argument could be invalid….

  • Tony


    It is sad for those who lost homes that the federal gov donated the 4 c130’s free to Indonesia. Trials were conducted using Raaf c130 with the U.S. Maff modular fire fighting system. It appears it was successful and that only problem was the cost of using the Raaf aircraft.. 4 air bombers used in quick succession would copy the U.S. method of attacking large fires with deluges of suppressant. Well done to victoria for leasing the large U.S. registered fire bombers. Sad that australia already had the capability but gave it away.

  • Great to see support for our own fire fighting and emergency services solution. Caribou Cargo has been attempting to derive funding from government agencies since the floods of 2011.

    Unfortunately, the government operates on a “Call when needed” approach. This means private companies need to stump up all the funding to become certified equipped and trained to sit on their hands until called upon. With niche aircraft that cannot be used for mainstream work, the expensive assets will sit idle until used. Private business cannot sustain the ebb and tide of idle periods and as such cannot survive “ON STANDBY” without government support.

    Lucas is right. Every year, the same thing. Look at Canada and the USA. Forward thinking and “Proactive” rather than “Reactive”. However, rather than invest in a solution that may be on standby for thousands of dollars per flying hour, our government chooses to call in others from overseas at tens of thousands of dollars per flying hours.

    Caribou Cargo has some of the solution at hand, but cannot operate from our home soil due to the lack of support from our own government.

    Talk to your local minister and lets start making a change.

    Paul Strike
    MD Caribou Cargo Pty Ltd

  • RichardB


    I can only concur with most of the comments above, it’s crazy that Australia does not have its own Fire fighting Aircraft. As for being idle for 9 months, would not happen! There is more and more demand world wide for these aircraft they would be leased out to Europe or the USA

  • Ken Swartz


    Both the C-130Q and the RJ85 air tankers were developed by Canadian companies based in British Columbia. Canada has a large air tanker fleet that is about seven times the size of the US fleet that dropped to nine aircraft (Lockheed Neptune’s) a couple of fire seasons ago. Both the C-130Q and RJ85 are now on long-term contracts with the US Forest Service. The USAF Air National Guard uses a “pressurized” MAFFS tank system (with a nozzle replacing one of the jump doors) in its “on-call” C-130Js but the system is apparently very heavy, mechanically complex and not as effective as “gravity” drop systems that drop retardant through bomb doors in the belly of the aircraft

  • Aero Eng Aviator


    I am all for use of aircraft whenever possible …… but can anyone point me to objective evidence that water and /or retardant application from the air achieves a reduction in the fire rate of advance or intensity of a big fire? Published data I have been able to find leads me to believe that aerial application of water or retardant is only effective on very small low intensity fires so as to put them out before they become big ones.

    One use of aircraft or drones that I would like to see, since I live in high fire risk area, is to use them to conduct surveillance on higher fire risk days. This could help catch the people who light grass or bush fires for entertainment and to detect all fires in a very early stage of development so people on the ground can put them out.

  • Michael


    Hiring from the northern hemisphere means we get off season rates! If we owned our own aircraft they’d be idle for seven months of the year, and we’d have trouble hiring them out because the hire market in the northern hemisphere is so competitive.

    Plus if we hire from overseas we get the latest tech – if we had our own we’d need to invest heaps in R&D to go with it.

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