Published On: Thu, Apr 23rd, 2015

How Today’s Aerial Firefighting Technology Helps To Combat Wildfires

Wildfires are an annual occurrence that affect many parts of the world. Although some of those fires get caused by humans, most are down to the searing heat of the sun igniting vegetation. As you can imagine, one small fire can often become a huge out of control problem.

To help combat wildfires, aerial firefighting techniques get deployed. They are quicker to implement than conventional on-the-ground teams. And they can tackle larger areas with ease. But, have you ever wondered what technology gets used to put out wildfires? Here are a few typical examples:

Aerial firefighting


Perhaps the quickest and easiest of all aircraft to deploy in a wildfire scenario is helicopters! Some of them might get fitted with tanks (a.k.a. “helitankers) while others carry buckets. There are various models in use in 2015, and some get equipped with a foam cannon mounted up front.

Those that have buckets, like the one in the photo, get filled by submerging them in a body of water. That means helicopter pilots often fly low over lakes and rivers. In some cases, they may “dip” their buckets into portable tanks.

The “Bambi Bucket” is a popular and flexible bucket that can also get filled on the ground prior to the helicopter departing. For more info on aerial firefighting, in particular the choppers used, do a search for helicopters like the Bell 204.

Air Tankers

You might know them as air tankers, but some people call them water bombers. In a nutshell, they are fixed-wing planes that get filled at a base location. Some air tankers can get filled by skimming a river or water reservoir, much in the same way as helitankers.

Air tanker technology is nothing new. In fact, the US Air Force started working on aircraft that could drop “water bombs” back in the 1940s! Of course, these days the technology gets used for putting out wildfires rather than as a weapon during times of war.

For smaller wildfires, single engine planes get used. They tend to have a capacity of around 800 gallons or 3,000 liters of water. These aircraft don’t just get used for putting out fires. They are also utilized for agricultural purposes (i.e. spraying crops).

The largest air tanker to ever get deployed for firefighting purposes was the mighty Boeing 747 jumbo jet! It can carry 24,000 gallons of water, and cover an area of 25,000 feet.

McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft also get used for the purposes of aerial firefighting.

They are capable of deploying over 12,000 gallons of fire retardant and are used by companies like 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

Lead planes

While it’s easy to get a view of wildfires by air, it’s the job of a lead plane to direct aerial firefighters to the worst affected areas. Planes such as the Cessna 310 get used for this purpose.

Many lead planes often have video recording equipment on board. They get used to document the wildfire’s progress in any given location.