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Southern Belle heads south

written by australianaviation.com.au | January 21, 2016

The DC-10 VLAT has relocated to Avalon. (Paul Sadler)

The DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) firebomber Southern Belle has relocated from New South Wales to Avalon in Victoria.

The DC-10, temporarily named Southern Belle for its deployment to Australia, had been based at RAAF Base Richmond, alongside an L-100-30 Hercules Large Air Tanker, after arriving in Australia in late September.

“Now the risk is decreasing in the northern part of NSW, it has been relocated to Victoria to support what is traditionally now the peak of our season,” Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said in a statement on Thursday.

The DC-10, registered N612AX, joins two Large Air Tankers already based at Avalon, a Coulson C-130Q Hercules and a Conair RJ85, both of which have been busy this fire season, having been used on the Scotsburn, Lancefield and Wye River fires.

According to Emergency Management Victoria, due to its size and capacity – it is capable of carrying 43,910 litres of fire suppressant per load – the DC-10 will only be used on specific fires where long lines of retardant might need to be dropped for indirect attack.


The aircraft returns to Victoria after having been operated out of Avalon under a trial for the 2009-10 bushfire season.

But an assessment of the trial by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Council found that the potential of the 40 tonne load to cause injury or property damage meant that it was unsuited to Victorian conditions, particularly around urban interface areas. That finding saw the Victorian Government scraps plans to bring the aircraft back to the state for the 2010-11 season.

The deployment of the VLAT and LAT firebombing aircraft to Australia is jointly funded by the Commonwealth and respective state governments, with Southern Belle under contract from 10 Tanker Air Carrier in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the US

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Comments (11)

  • Dane


    Why is it our C-130 fleet can’t be equipped with a RO/RO retardant dispensing system similar to what the USAF and ANG use for their fire season. It seems bizarre that state governments fork out millions for contracts to have overseas operators come here with almost identical equipment, when we could make better use of our own tax payer funded aircraft and crews.

  • G4george


    How about a couple of trips to Tassie……a lot of money to just park it on a runway for 3 months.

  • adammudhen


    @Dane, pretty sure our C-130s are already pretty bloody busy, plus flogging their hours off dropping on fires hardly seems like the best use of these resources. I always wonder what people think the Air Force etc do that they could just spare a few C-130s to spend the summer fighting fires.

    @G4george, last summer the Coulson C-130 did make a number of trips to Tassie, dropping on a fire on the north coast (staging out of Avalon, it didn’t land there).

  • Raymond


    So if the trial and assessment deemed it unsuited to Victorian conditions and plans to bring it back were scrapped, why then is it now back in Victoria?

    Have Victorian conditions changed since then? Is the assessment being ignored?

    Not saying it shouldn’t be, it’s just that this part doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me…

  • Red Barron


    Agree with Dane. All this extra state and federal money for fixed wing bombers and sky cranes. There are 30 odd Blackhawks and MRH 90’s we cold could hang Bambi buckets off. Yes I hear all the military nah Sayers they are defense force but in a time of peace surely the flight hours could be used up on something useful rather than the usual Sunday drive flying hours and flying around V8 race events as promos. Dane for PM

  • GAGA


    I share the same question as Dane.

    I travel past RAAF Richmond regularly and see the fleet of C130s just sitting dormant. Over the last few months this has of course been sitting there and I do wonder why on earth it’s needed given we already have a number of fully paid transport aircraft sitting around waiting for work.

  • Ben


    Dane I imagine the retro-fit would be an incredibly expensive and time intensive task. The RAAF C-130’s are equipped to be used as cargo aircraft and would be required to be operationally ready to meet the needs of defence operations. I suspect unless the Governments, state and federal invested in purchasing a mission specific aircraft for firefighting which would sit idle for the majority of the year, contracting aerial firefighting out to private companies (foreign or domestic) is the most cost efficient approach.

  • typ


    @ Adammudhen, I go past Richmond RAAF regularly and there are at least 5 C130s at any given time just sitting on the tarmac. Not being serviced. Not being loaded/unloaded. Just sitting there.

    @Ben, There are kits for the C130, other people are using them for firefighting. In fact Australia has hired C130s from overseas commercial operators for firefighting before. Why should it be incredibly expensive and time consuming? Hiring the Southern Belle can’t be cheap.

    Plus, it’s not like dangerous fires are a one time event or are planned events that allow us to hire out a plane beforehand. What’s the point of hiring stuff out constantly when we could just have something more permanent?

    That said, I’ve worked for government departments and know how they like to do accounting these days.. A short term hire is much cheaper than a permanent purchase even though that short term hire has to be done over and over and costs much more over long term whilst the permanent purchase will last years and work out much cheaper.
    But someone has to be accountable for the cost of the lifetime purchase. Bad for the EFY book in that particular year.. Easier to just do a cheapo and leave the ongoing cost to someone else next time around..

  • Gazza


    Yes we could do with a few dumps in Tassie at the moment, hello..

  • Gary


    Well it is up to the Tasmanian Emergency services to request extra support, suggest you call on them first. Neither the ADF or VLAT can barge their way in – they will only become involved when requested to do so.

  • Malki


    Several things to consider: Modification is expensive; Hiring from overseas operators is expensive. Consideration for seasonal uses of such varying aircraft of varying sizes can be expensive – Everybody involved in the decision making process must at least be rational and logical, the Northern and Southern fire seasons allow the tankers to be used in the southern summer and the northern summer. It’s going to cost money and lots of it, regardless so they would choose whatever is the easiest and cheapest option.
    F%@# the expense, the taxpayer can afford it??? (Bureaucracy and Red Tape)

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