Fighting Caldor’s fire, a feat from heaven

A CL-415 dives into Lake Tahoe in the fight against the Caldor fire. The CL-415 can drop more than 20 charges of water on a fire in an hour, depending on the proximity to the water source. Each load is 1600 gallons and up.
Forest service provided / US

Ground-based firefighters endure difficult conditions on terrain that is sometimes unsuitable for a puma. But now they are getting the help of new aerial firefighting equipment in the form of large transport planes, the biggest on the Caldor Fire being a DC-10 supplied by 10 Tanker, one of four older planes. line DC-10-30 converted to a massive aerial firefighting tool.

The Caldor 10 Fire Fighting Tanker was officially owned by Continental Airlines and began new life as an aerial firefighting tool circa 2006. Based in Albuquerque, NM, these DC-10-30s are currently the most great fire bombing tool in fire fighting arsenal. , dropping 85,000 pounds (9,400 gallons) of retarder (or water) in a single pass one mile long and hundreds of feet wide, all in about 20 seconds. And for the Caldor Fire, the McClellan-based 10 Tanker can take off, deliver its load and return to base in 35-40 minutes and relaunch 20 minutes later.

Tanker 10, which has a wingspan of 165 feet, is 182 feet long and is about 57 feet tall, began life carrying nearly 400 passengers in a fuselage with an interior width of almost 19 feet. It has three super powerful GE jet engines with 51,000 pounds of thrust. With approximately three hours of fuel on board (approximately 9,000 gallons) and nearly 90,000 pounds of flame retardant and / or water, a 10 Tanker weighs 390,000 pounds, which adds considerably to its performance safety margin.

A 10 Tanker usually follows a lead aircraft – in Cal Fire’s case, an OV-10 Bronco – and it approaches its “bomb” just 250-300 feet above the trees at a speed of 140 knots. (around 160 mph). At least 30 degrees of flaps are deployed for additional lift and control, but flying this bird at such light weights makes it very responsive to its three jet engines. Cell strain is also reduced at such low speeds while still allowing the DC-10-30 to place its incendiary material exactly where it needs to go. Pilots race with nose-down pressures on the control yoke, then release the pressure after the race as the big DC-10 performs a fast and well-controlled climb with gigantic reserve power.

There are only four 10 Tankers in operation (one on the Caldor Fire). Other excellent ex-airliners also provided bombing services in the fight against Caldor; one being an MD-87 airliner converted by Erickson and the other an Avro RJ85. Each plane can carry 3,000 gallons of incendiary material. There were also two CL-415 Super Scoopers on the fire. The RJ85s and Super Scoopers were from Aeroflite, a company in Spokane, Washington.

The CL-415 has been fighting fires for more than four decades, originally as a piston-operated CL-215. But the much improved turbine-powered CL-415 is amazing in that it can drop more than 20 charges of water on a fire in an hour, depending on how close the water source is. Each load is 1600 gallons and more. In Tahoe, with the lake so close, the two Super Scoopers could make 45 drops of 1,600 gallons in an hour or nearly one drop every 80 seconds. There is a Spanish demonstration video of the CL-415 in operation on the Internet which lasts about four minutes (type “43 Grupo 2012” in your address bar).

Aeroflite has been in the aerial firefighting business since 1963, starting with the DC-4s and a few years later acquired their first pair of CL-215s. Now he uses the Avro RJ85 and CL-415. The Avro RJ85 was originally a mid-size airliner with four jet engines, a high wing and known for its low speed stability, making it an excellent choice for conversion to a firefighter. It carries 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardants and can lay a long strip of material on a fire with pinpoint accuracy. Approaching a fire at just 150-175 feet at a speed of about 130 knots (150 mph), Aeroflite pilots are certified as initial attack pilots, so a lead aircraft is not required although Cal Fire may provide one or provide specific drop locations. The RJ85 is powered by four advanced Honeywell blower jets of approximately 7,000 pounds of thrust each. He flies with a 27,000 pound load of fire retardant. When taken out, the RJ85 has incredible reserve power. The runtime of the RJ85 is only 16 minutes including taxi time for landing and take off.

The CL-415 mentioned above was specially designed by Canadair / Bombardier (yes those guys who make Ski-Doo and Sea-Doo) as an incendiary bomber. Powered by twin Pratt and Whitney turboprop engines of nearly 2,400 hp each, it can suck up a load of 1,600 gallons of water in five seconds and be on a fire in less than a minute. While its top speed is around 225 mph, high speed is not a requirement; low speed stability and reserve power are and the CL-415 delivers on its promises. With approach speeds of just 110 knots (126 mph) and terrain clearance of just 150 feet, this 45,000 pound fire bomber can inflict stunning blows on a fire with amazing accuracy and efficiency – and do it. every three minutes or less as in the case of the Caldor fire. After a fall, his weight drops by almost 14,000 pounds, making him a very agile performer.

A CL-415 Super Scooper drops water on Caldor’s Fire in the Desolation wilderness.
Forest Service Provided / US

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