Who knew that the Japanese have probably the best fire-fighter bomber available? Shinmaywa originally built the US-2 as a military spec amphibious rescue aircraft. It has been converted into a water bomber. It is expensive (c.$100m) but way more flexible than the Boeing 737 Fireliner. Ultimately, isn’t efficiency the whole ballgame in defeating mega-fires?
The US-2 can carry 15t of firefighting water and fire extinguishers, which is equivalent to the amount that about 21 ordinary firefighting helicopters can carry. The STOL aircraft can drop water with pinpoint accuracy on the area where a fire has spread. By taxiing on the surface of the water/ocean/lake for approximately 20 seconds, the 15-ton water tank can be filled up. This means cycle time can be far faster. Dump, scoop, dump, repeat. It is the ability to help contain a fire that makes it so useful.
The Boeing 737 Fireliner has the same payload as the US-2. The problem with the converted commercial jet is the cycle time is awful. It operates out of 4 airports in NSW because of the length of runway required. While it might take 12 minutes to refill the retardant, if it needs to fly an hour away to do so, the retardant refill time is over 2 hours and that doesn’t take into account checks or refuelling for the aircraft itself. So in order to contain bushfires, it is pretty useless unless the blaze is local.
The US-2 is the aircraft the fire services should have deployed. It also requires slower spotter aircraft too. The 737 requires two Citation jets to keep ahead of it. That didn’t stop the NSW Gov’t spending $26m to get it. Yet more thoughtless deployment of capital.
Why did the RFS management sign off on buying a used military helicopter which spends 5hrs in maintenance for every hour it spends in the air? Why did some RFS units receive new equipment when the existing trucks were only a year old? Who is keeping proper accounts of how monies are allocated? Of course, we all want firefighters to have the best possible equipment but if the administration is lousy, just chucking more money at the problem is futile. Not a bad time to audit the fire services after this disaster.
As with any government spending, we should heed the saying,
“Those who cry out that the government should ‘do something’ never even ask for data on what has actually happened when the government did something, compared to what actually happened when the government did nothing.”
FNF Media covered off bushfires and climate change here.