Hercules firefighting tanker begins contract with NSW Rural Fire Service

written by australianaviation.com.au | September 1, 2015
The Lockheed Hercules firefighting air tanker N405LC demonstrates its capabilities at RAAF Base Richmond. (Jaryd Stock)
The Lockheed Hercules firefighting air tanker N405LC demonstrates its capabilities at RAAF Base Richmond. (Jaryd Stock)

A Lockheed Hercules firefighting air tanker has arrived at RAAF Base Richmond as part of the NSW Rural Fire Service’s (RFS) two-year trial of a large air tanker during the upcoming bushfire season.

The stretched L-100-30 (model 382G) Hercules, registered N405LC to Lynden Air Cargo and on contract from Coulson Flying Tankers of Portland, Oregon, was put through its paces on a demonstration flight at RAAF Base Richmond on Tuesday.

In a note to media at the event, the NSW Rural Fire Service said the L-100-30 Hercules Large Air Tanker (LAT), which can carry up to 15,450 litres and takes just 10 minutes to refuel, was chosen due to its successful operational history in fire fighting.

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“It is able to reach remote fires rapidly with a large load of fire retardant, suppressants or water and drop, and they quickly return to the base to reload,” the NSW RFS said.

The aircraft will be based at RAAF Base Richmond from September 1 until early December, the NSW RFS said, with secondary regional airbases such as RAAF Base Williamtown, Dubbo, Tamworth and Canberra also able to accommodate the aircraft to increase coverage of key risk areas and improve operational efficiency.

“This will allow the LAT to operate on fires anywhere in the state,” it said.

The stretched Hercules arrived at Brisbane Airport on Sunday afternoon, having made its way to Australia from Anchorage Alaska via Kahului and the Marshall Islands.

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After an overnight, it then headed to RAAF Base Richmond on Monday morning.

A Lynden Air Cargo C-130 firefighting air tanker at Brisbane Airport. (Lance Broad)q
The Lynden Air Cargo Lockheed L-100-30 (model 382G) Hercules at Brisbane Airport. (Lance Broad)

N405LC, named Thor, is the larger sistership to C-130Q Hercules air tanker N130FF which operated in Australia during last summer’s bushfire season under contract with the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Thor is due to joined by  a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) which the NSW RFS said would join its firefighting air fleet at the end of September and be available for deployment in the state between October and the end of January 2016.

The RFS said it would have 35 aircraft supporting the firefighting effort over the coming bushfire season, which would be “supported by over 100 tactical aircraft from operators that have net standards to carry out aerial firefighting activities”.

“The aircraft will be strategically located across the state in accordance with the predicted fire risk to facilitate rapid initial attack in support of ground fire fighters,” the RFS said.

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6 Comments

  • Bruce

    says:

    Great to see and I’m glad this is taking place. What bamboozles me is the conflicting information around this. One fire season the Victorian Government agencies (CFA, DSE, Parks Victoria) tell you that large fixed wing fire bombers are good value. The next fire season they tell you that this type of asset is unsuited to Victorian bushfires. Volunteers from the CFA have often told me the latter, proffering the advantages of small fixed and rotary winged firebombers (which to my mind is akin to urinating on a bush fire, expecting it will extinguish same).

    Can someone advise me how bushfires in the USA, Canada and southern Europe are so different from those in SE Australia, and why the Victorian Government’s fire fighting agencies and their staff seem to vacillate about the appropriateness of these assets being deployed in this part of the world? I would have thought being able to drop very large volumes of water onto almost any fire of significance would be a huge plus.

    Or is there some other political agenda at work here?

  • Brian

    says:

    Once a fire is big, there is little (in a strategic sense) that even a large tanker can do.

    A typical patern of lightning strikes might give you half a dozen small remote fires. You need to be able to locate these and hit them all before they grow. Big fires are just little fires that nobody got on top of fast enough.

    There are going to be thousands of small fires each summer. They need to be contained cost effectively. If four volunteers in a 20-year-old truck can do it, great. If not, you might need more exotic resources… but the more exotic they get the more expensive they get and the less of them you have.

    You need the right mix of resources. Some big and some small.

  • adammudhen

    says:

    A great resource, but surely these types of assets should be a national capability, not simply a ‘state issue’. Note that last season’s C-130Q (N130FF) was flown from Avalon down to Tasmania’s north coast several times to fight a fire there. I can see a situation where states are fighting each other to secure aircraft. Plus, a large, national approach would surely be cheaper for all involved.

  • Tom

    says:

    How does this aircraft reload water? I’ve seen some aircraft that skim the water in a river and remain in flight the whole time. Or does it top up whilst grounded ,eg raaf base, then take off again?

  • Paul

    says:

    This aircraft loads water or retardant whilst on the ground.

    There are very limited lakes, rivers etc that fixed wing aircraft can use in Australia which is why larger aircraft have not been used that way.

    The Skycrane often known as “Elvis” can suck 9500 litres of water in 45 seconds whilst in flight and while deployed to NSW last fire season also flew to WA to assist with fires over there.

    Time will tell if this type of aircraft is worth using, but if you don’t try you will not know.

  • bob

    says:

    why didn’t we do this sooner

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