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Water bombers compared

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, September 5, 2011

Two water bombers were busy dumping foam on trees at the Hay River Airport recently.

However, there was no forest fire to be fought.

NNSL photo/graphic

Paul Rivard, manager of forests in the Sahtu region with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, holds one of the plastic cups used to collect foam dropped on trees at the Hay River Airport in a test of the effectiveness of two types of water bombers. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The activity - 10 drops on Aug. 19 and 20 - was to compare the effectiveness of the Canadair CL-215 air tanker and the Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss, two different kinds of skimmer water bombers.

"We want to collect data on canopy penetration and ground coverage by the Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss and the CL-215," said Duane Sinclair, manager of aviation services with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR).

The department currently has four CL-215 air tankers.

The test drops were made on two grids - each 100-by-800 feet and about 200 feet apart - in a forested section of the Hay River Airport.

After each drop, a sample of the foam making its way down through the trees was collected on the forest floor by 231 plastic cups distributed throughout the grid. The cups were then numbered and capped, and placed in a bin.

Sinclair said there were at least four hours between each drop to allow the dripping of the foam to cease.

Over the two days, there were four drops by the CL-215 and six by the Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss.

During each drop, evaluators were watching from a helicopter, and six evaluators were on the ground.

The testing does not mean ENR is currently considering buying the Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss, Sinclair said.

"All it is is just to provide us information on what the aircraft, both the CL-215 and the 802 Fire Boss can do in standing timber," he said. "It was strictly a comparison and a straight evaluation of both aircraft."

However, he noted the CL-215 uses aviation gas.

Only one or two companies make aviation gas, he added. "It's harder to get."

On the other hand, the Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss uses Jet B fuel, which Sinclair noted is very accessible.

Another difference is the CL-215 has two engines, while the Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss is a single-engine aircraft.

Sinclair noted the CL-215 has two tanks on board, which each hold about 600 Imperial gallons for a total drop of roughly 1,200 gallons.

The Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss has a tank that can hold more than 600 Imperial gallons.

On Aug. 20, two Air Tractors following one another dropped their loads on a grid.

"We were assessing two drops versus the one drop in a 215," Sinclair explained.

Along with ENR, there were several other organizations involved in the study, including the U.S. Forest Services, the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada, and FPInnovations of Hinton, Alta.

Sinclair said FPInnovations and the U.S. Forest Services, which each had personnel in Hay River for the test, will analyze the data and get information back to the GNWT.

"We should see something I'm hoping in October," he said.

ENR brought in personnel from several communities to help with the study.

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