Airbus has successfully tested an Atlas A400M transport aircraft that has been converted into a water-bomber

A Senate report published in 2019 considered the fleet of aircraft used by civil security to fight forest fires “adapted” to the needs identified by French doctrine on the matter. At the time, it consisted of twelve Canadair CL-415s, seven S2F Trackers, three Dash 8 Q400 MRs, three Beechcraft King 200s and about forty EC-145 helicopters. In addition, if necessary, it was always possible to operate the European “RescEu” mechanism in order to obtain reinforcements from other member states, as was the case during the fires that just destroyed 20800 hectares of timber in the Gironde.

However, the document also indicated that this fleet was obsolete. Thus, the design of S2F Trackers, used in the so-called GAAR missions [guet aérien armé]with three tons of dampers in custody, dating back to the 1950s… It has since been decommissioned, thanks to the increased power of the DHC-8-402 [ou Dash 8] Mrbet [multirôle bombardier d’eau et de transport]of which a fifth copy has just been delivered by the General Directorate of Armaments [DGA] At the civil security air base in Nîmes.

The fact remains that the recent fires that made headlines have sparked debate about civil security… Some believe that the number of aircraft used to fight forest fires is insufficient. One concern is hardware availability, which isn’t always optimal when approaching summer. Thus, on July 15, four Canadair CL-415 aircraft were frozen for maintenance …

Having said that, France has chosen to have its own firefighting aircraft… This is not the case for Italy, Greece or even Spain, which supplement their resources by ordering private companies, such as Britain’s Babcock or America’s Ericsson. But another solution may soon be available… and if it proves effective, the Air and Space Forces could get more involved – if needed – in fighting wildfires. Note that already, like other armies, it was part of the system of Hephaestus.

Thus, on July 25, as it had already done for the C-295 a few years earlier, Airbus indicated that it had carried out a test campaign of the A400M “Atlas” transport aircraft with a prototype of the removable fire-fighting kit.

“These daytime tests involved dropping up to 20 tons of water from the existing tank in less than ten seconds, at low altitude. [150 pieds / 45 mètres] and low speed [125 nœuds / 230 km/h] “, Airbus explained. To clarify that this campaign, carried out in close cooperation with the 43rd Squadron of Ejército del Aire y del Espacio, specialized in fighting forest fires, aims to “check the amount of water and landing time as well as the ability of the aircraft to perform the tasks of hydro-bombers”. “.

INSTALLATION OF THIS RORO TYPE KIT [roll-on/roll-off] It does not require any modification to the A400M. The water is stored in a tank loaded in the hold of the aircraft and equipped with two separate outlets connected to water pipes which, when the crane is operating, expel water from two sections
Approximately half a square meter at the end of the rear ramp,” Airbus explains.

Moreover, the conversion of the A400M into a water-propelled grenade launcher is easy and fast, which makes it possible to intervene in the shortest possible time.

For comparison, a Canadair CL-415 can drop 6000 liters of water or damper when carrying a Dash 8 10,000 … twice as much as the A400M equipped with the kit just tested by Airbus. This is an element to take into account before considering the purchase – at the European level – of additional aircraft for civil security, as suggested by President Macron during his trip to the Gironde on July 20.

It should be noted that the French Navy also has the ability to fight forest fires, and its Dauphin N3 + helicopters can be equipped as “hydro-bombers” thanks to the “Bambi Bucket”, that is, a flexible nacelle that holds up to 700 liters of water. One of these devices was also recently called in to extinguish a fire that broke out in Punaauia in French Polynesia.

Photo: © AIRBUS SAU 2022 – Adrián Molinos – Mango

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