By Igor Bozinovski
Europe will remember the summer of 2018 by the continent-wide heatwave that brought drought and wildfires to places where no one expected: Sweden! While many were surprised by the Swedish wildfires, those with good memory remembered this nothing new, as only four years ago the Nordic nation survived a similar disaster when the Västmanland wildfire burned 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) and with one fatality. That fire, the largest in 40 years caught Sweden totally unprepared for fighting the disaster, especially in regards to the nation’s capability to organize and conduct serious aerial firefighting operations. Fortunately, in 2014 Italy and France provided firefighting aircraft after an appeal had been dispatched through European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism.
Many expect that punctual Swedes would have learned the lesson and would be well prepared for fighting wildfires. Unfortunately, that was not the case! This year, the nation faced the hottest July for the past 250 years and consequently more than fifty large wildfires appeared raging throughout much of Sweden, covering in total 250 km2 (100 square miles). With many of the fires raging, Sweden initially requested help from neighboring countries but when disaster went completely out of control a help in firefighting aircraft was requested via the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism with responses being received from France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Norway and Portugal.
Clearly, recognizing the effects of wildfires, Portugal is a nation that is still healing from the wounds of last year’s terrible and massive wildfires that claimed 115 lives across the nation. So, it was not a surprise that Lisbon was among the first that responded to Stockholm’s distress call. Portugal’s National Authority for Civil Protection (ANPC) dispatched to the Nordic wildfire zones two of its Air Tractor AT-802A Fire Bosses that were operating in Portugal under contract with the local, Tondela-based company Agro-Montiar.
Fire Bosses, registered EC-MML (c/n 802A-0649) and EC-MRA (c/n 802A-0690), were piloted by four very experienced pilots; José Galiano, José Luis Domínguez, Éder Navacerrada and Vítor Araujo. The deployment to Sweden required five stops along the route with the fire bombers arriving at Örebro, a city located some 160 km west of Swedish capital Stockholm, on 25 July.
With logistics provided by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för Samhällsskydd och Beredskap, MSB), the Fire Bosses started operations on 26 July and were actively involved in fighting wildfires with 30 July the last day of operations. During that time, the aircraft scooped water mainly from the nearby Nora Lake, but also from others lakes available in the wider area around Örebro. For the purpose of refueling, the Härjedalen airport was used.
Maintaining 100% fleet operational readiness, a total of 46.5 hours flight time was logged during the three days of operations (26, 27 and 30 July). Twenty-seven flight hours were direct firefighting operations that resulted in 356 water drops and 1,068,000 liters of water delivered over Swedish wildfires. The statistics show on average, a Fire Bosses dropped over 3,000 liters every 4.5 minutes achieving an impressive 13 drops per hour. That rate equaled to over 39,000 liters of water delivered by the Agro-Montiar Fire Bosses every hour of firefighting operations.
The Portuguese Fire Bosses deployment to Sweden was successfully completed on 1 August when the pair of aircraft departed Örebro and promptly returned home to join aerial firefighting operations over the Iberian Peninsula. By that time the crisis in Sweden was under control with help from rains that extinguished most of the fires. This, obviously, did not solve Sweden’s chronic shortage of aerial firefighting assets that certainly should not be ignored, especially if predictions of the World Weather Attribution group scientists estimating that due to climate changes a similar heatwave will affect southern Scandinavia on average once on every 10 years.
Being much smaller than the twin-engine CL-215/415 Canadair water-bomber with its 6,140-liter capacity, the PT6-powered AT-802 remains the largest single-engine turbine aircraft in the world with its 3,104-liter capacity. The aircraft departs the production line in Olney, Texas with tricycle-type tail-wheel landing gear in either the AT-802A single-seat or the AT-802 dual cockpit configuration. When the airframe is stripped of its classical landing gear configuration and Wipair’s Fire Boss floats are installed, the aircraft gets its Fire Boss designation that is a recognizable aviation trade mark for truly capable, tightly specialized fire bomber that can land on paved or unpaved runways, as well as landing and scooping water on rivers, lakes and open seas.
With an impressive capacity of 3,104 liters of water and the capability to use highly effective firefighting foam and retardant, the FRDS computer system for selection of fire bombardment mode, and with a relatively small financial input needed for its procurement and ongoing operational use and maintenance, more than 750 Air Tractor AT-802s have been produced since 1992, becoming the aerial firefighting standard for most wildfires-prone European countries. As a result, apart from Portugal, approximately 80 firefighting AT-802s are in operation in Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Cyprus and Israel. The AT-802 is also used in firefighting operations in Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and the U.S.