Canadian based Conair Inc. has a long and proven history in fixed wing firefighting. Their aircraft fleet includes fixed wing air tankers and air attack platforms of every size and dimension. Conair operate single engine (SEAT) aircraft such as the Air Tractor 802 capable of carrying 3000 litres of retardant, multi-engined (MEAT) aircraft such as the CV580 and Electra L188, and large air tanker (LAT) aircraft (capable of carrying 12,000 litres).
Australian based operator Field Air, shares a commonality with Conair in that they are both Air Tractor dealers in their respective parts of the world, and are both involved in aerial firefighting. Field Air has a fleet of Air Tractor aircraft on fire contracts over summer, as well as a number of purely agricultural Air Tractor aircraft.
Air Tractor aircraft are the world leading SEAT air attack aircraft with their 802 model, which comes as both wheeled and amphibious versions. The amphibious version, the Fireboss, is capable of landing on both water and land. There are more than 700 Air Tractor 802 aircraft worldwide and many of these are dedicated firefighting machines. Both Conair and Field Air enjoy the reliability and versatility of these aircraft within the aerial fire scene.
However, just as a tradesman likes to have a number of tools in his toolbox, when authorities are fighting fires it helps if you have a variety of aircraft available, so that you may choose the right aircraft for the job, and sometimes you need to bring the big guns in.
Conair developed the British Aerospace Avro RJ85 to a large air tanker platform, and Field Air is happy to have been able to bring this remarkable aircraft to Australia, so that local authorities here could utilize its potential.
The Avro RJ85 (known as “RJ”) was initially developed and brought about by the USFS’s “Next Generation Air Tanker” program. This program was introduced to encourage newer and larger air tanker capabilities in the US, however the benefits have been seen worldwide.
Conair performed an exhaustive search of potential aircraft makes and models before settling on the Avro RJ85 as its large air tanker platform of choice. Its reasons for the choice came down to a number of factors: the power to weight ratio (which is why the 85 variant was selected), the number of aircraft available for conversion to air tankers (there were a number of Avro aircraft coming off leases), the reliability of the aircraft and engine, and the aircraft age (being relatively modern). These factors combined to form the perfect platform for the RJ air tanker we see today.
Conair’s engineering and design team then set about fitting and creating an external tanking system for the retardant load. Why an external retardant tank? Because then the pressurization within the aircraft cabin could be maintained, allowing for greater crew comfort, and giving an ability to travel at height and cover long distances to the fireground quickly.
Following a long program of testing, the first RJ85 air tanker was completed and IAB certified in 2013. This aircraft was subsequently put into service in the US and Australia. Since then, Conair have continued to perform further RJ85 air tanker conversions. There are now eight RJ85 air tanker aircraft operational and assisting authorities in fighting fires around the world.
In Australia, the RJ85 has provided aerial firefighting services across the country, and over the past 3 summers has had operations in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
Safe to say, it has been a worthy collaboration, and both Field Air and Conair are here on the Australian fire scene to stay.