AT-802F Field Report
Firefighting Operations in Eastern Europe
Fast Becoming Balkan Firefighting Leader
It has become almost an annual event. Each year, across southeastern Europe, hot and dry weather, a prolonged drought, and strong winds combine to spark devastating and deadly wildfires costing many lives, thousands of hectares of forest and incalculable property losses. In the face of this increasingly frequent threat, Air Tractor’s AT-802F single engine air tanker is fast gaining popularity among firefighting services in many Mediterranean and Balkan countries.
The AT-802F is fast, agile and purpose-built for rapid response firefighting.
As more firefighting contractors and government agencies see the AT-802F in action, it’s earning a place as key asset in their aerial firefighting arsenal. Not just for initial attack, but for extended attack in support of firefighting ground crews.
The AT-802F is fast, agile and purpose-built for rapid response firefighting. Powered by the reliable Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67AG turbine engine, the AT-802F has a ferry speed approaching 200 mph (322 kph). And because the turbine engine requires no warm-up time, an AT-802F can take on a full 820 gal (3,104 L) load and be in the air, headed for the front fire lines in as few as five minutes after receiving a dispatch.
Following the terrible wildfires in 2007, the government of Croatia expanded its aerial firefighting fleet with the purchase of five water float-configured AT-802A Fire Boss aircraft. These new aircraft joined one two-seat AT-802F that had been purchased earlier and used as a trainer and operational air tanker. The six Air Tractor aircraft are assigned to the 855 Firefighting Squadron, a dedicated firefighting unit based at Zadar-Zamunik Air Force Base
The AT-802F offers exceptional firefighting performance
Macedonia purchased three AT-802A Fire Bosses between November 2009 and March 2010 to supplement its firefighting fleet. Director of the Protection and Rescue Directorate, Mr. Shaban Saliu said that AT-802A Fire Boss was purchased because it is able to scoop water from the many lakes across Macedonia which makes the aircraft ideally suited for Macedonian landscape. He also notes that the Air Tractor is the best possible choice for small and economically limited countries like Macedonia. Mr. Saliu explained that AT-802A is inexpensive to purchase, operate and maintain ” yet offers exceptional firefighting performance. The aircraft’s multipurpose capability for preventive forest-protection surveillance flights, fertilizing Macedonian forests as well as for spraying Macedonia’s agricultural fields is also a strong advantage, Saliu says.
Cyprus acquired its first AT-802F in October 2009. The arrival of the two-seat AT-802F at the Cypriot Department of Forestry, part of the Cypriot Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, was the culmination of a contract signed with Air Tractor Europe in February 2009 after public tender process was completed during 2008. The aircraft is already operational with the Cypriot Department of Forestry for firefighting and spraying operations. The aircraft is based at Larnaca International Airport, on the southeast coast of Cyprus.
The governments of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece have also expressed interest in purchasing the Air Tractor firefighting aircraft.
An After-The-Sale Performance Program
Hugo Arceo, Sales Manager for Air Tractor Europe notes that interest in the 802F is strong, and Air Tractor Europe is well positioned to meet that demand. Many of the Eastern European governments that have recently purchased the AT-802F or Fire Boss have little or no experience operating and maintaining single engine air tankers. Air Tractor Europe provides these government agencies with much more than just the aircraft. We developed and provide a comprehensive program of flight and maintenance training to help our customers get maximum performance from their aircraft investment. Beyond 802F pilot and mechanic training, we also outfit the squadrons with spare parts, maintenance tools and operational support services, says Arceo.
Air Tractor sales in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Israel, Turkey and North Africa are handed by Air Tractor Europe, a division of Avialsa. Headquartered near Valencia Spain, Air Tractor Europe provides sales, rental, parts sales, technical and maintenance support for Air Tractor and a wide range of aircraft. Avialsa’s maintenance center is certified by the Spanish Civil Aviation Administration and operates avionics, and propeller shop.
Because mission readiness is so critical for aerial firefighting assets, Air Tractor Europe has a â€œwhatever it takes approach to customer support. Questions and issues will always arise in any operation as dynamic as aerial firefighting, says Arceo. Every time one of our customers has had an issue or a technical problem, we’ve had a specialist team from Air Tractor Europe on site within hours. It’s this high level of service after the sale that helps our customers realize the true value and performance capabilities of the AT-802F.
Success in the Balkans
In Croatia, the 855 Firefighting Squadron, a dedicated Croatian Air Force aerial firefighting unit, now operates a fleet of six AT-802Fs from Zadar-Zamunik Air Force Base. They were brought into operational use by Captain Milan Doen, Commander of the Air Tractor platoon in the fire-fighting squadron, and his three colleagues Tomislav Vacenovski, Darko Kucer and Ante Ljubas. With the easy flight characteristics of the AT-802F, and specialized training provided by Air Tractor Europe, pilots of the firefighting squadron soon introduced the aircraft into full service and were successfully completing firefighting missions. Says Doen, Our fire-fighting pilots at Zemunik Airbase quickly became proficient flying the AT-802F and were performing on an equal level with our larger Canadair air tankers. Because they are single-seat aircraft, each pilot had to self-train and become familiar with the capabilities and limits of the aircraft. We had 40 hours of training and began fighting fires. During the first season fighting fires with the AT-802F we emphasized safety, safety, safety. We often made 50 to 60 sorties per day, which requires a high level of concentration and stamina. Our pilots and the 802F performed exceptionally well. The 802F is a most reliable aircraft, and its maintenance is not expensive. It brings a lot of water to the fire for a modest operational cost.
A Legacy of Performance In Tough Conditions
Since its introduction in the 1990s, the Air Tractor AT-802F has earned respect at the front lines of wildfires around the globe. As an initial attack air tanker, the AT-802F is regarded within aerial firefighting circles as a fast, maneuverable aircraft that’s both operationally effective and very economical to operate. In contrast to multi-engine air tankers that must be based at larger airfields, the 802F can operate from dirt strips, land with floats on nearby lakes and sea harbors, and work from roads a few miles from the fire, dramatically reducing ferry times to and from the front lines. Short-field performance capability, fast ferry speeds and rapid turnaround on the ground are significant advantages when response time is critical. Equipped with Air Tractor’s patented constant-flow Fire Retardant Dispersal System (FRDS), the AT-802F allows pilots and aerial fire controllers the flexibility to select the optimal coverage level for the fire size and fuel source, whether it’s a grass fire or heavy forest canopy. The 802F pilot selects the coverage level, the amount of fire retardant to be dropped, and the ground speed. Then the FRDS computer automatically controls the hydraulically-actuated fire gate doors, making continuous door opening adjustments to deliver a consistent coverage level from the start to the end of the drop. The computer even adjusts the delivery to account for changing airspeed and turbulence. And because the computer controls the drop, the pilot is free to concentrate fully on flying the aircraft. More than forty current-production Air Tractor FRDS Gen II fire gate systems are in service worldwide. This updated computerized fire gate system has proven to be remarkably reliable, with demonstrated performance in harsh firefighting conditions. It incorporates simple on board diagnostics with a preflight check and a new pilot interface display, among other improvements.
Fires in urban/wildland interface areas are especially challenging for aerial tankers. Not so, for the AT-802F. The compact, agile 802F can deliver precise retardant coverage levels at low altitude to critical hot spots, protecting individual ground structures and supporting fire crews on the ground.
In rugged topography with steep canyon walls or deep ravines, the Air Tractor 802F is small enough and has the maneuverability to provide effective coverage where high-flying, larger air tankers can’t go. The 802F is also often used in a support role to close gaps in lines of retardant dropped by heavy air tankers from higher altitudes.
Equipped with Wipaire amphibious floats, the Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss scoops 800 gallons (3,028 L) of water in 12-15 seconds and is on its way again to the fire in less than one minute. A pair of Fire Boss aircraft can deliver more water at a fraction of the operational cost of one Canadair CL-415 water bomber.
The Fire Boss can drop an initial load of retardant, then remain close to the fire line, scooping water from a nearby harbor, sea inlet or lake. When used in coordination with other aerial firefighting aircraft, the Fire Boss can provide fire commanders almost continuous fire suppression assets over a fire.
Unlike aging ex-military aircraft that have been pressed into service as aerial tankers, the AT-802 is a current production aircraft specifically designed and built for fighting wildfires, with ready parts and support availability provided by a worldwide network of Air Tractor dealers. “The performance of the AT-802 typically exceeds our customers’ expectations,” says Hugo Arceo. And they’re particularly pleased that the operating cost of the 802F is much lower than other fixed wing air tankers. This, combined with its versatility and maneuverability makes the 802F an important aerial asset for our customers.
The AT-802F is regarded within aerial firefighting circles as a fast, maneuverable aircraft that’s both operationally effective and very economical to operate.
With an outlook for continuing economic constraints on European government budgets, doing more with less is a common theme among national and local fire protection authorities across the continent. In that sense, the Air Tractor AT-802F is providing both excellent service to citizens and extending already stretched firefighting operations budgets. The operational efficiency and economic advantages of the AT-802F really stand out in times like these, says Arceo. It’s all in a day’s work for an Air Tractor; but to our customers, we look like heroes helping them in a difficult situation. And when the heat is on, that’s a good place to be.