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

A Senate report published in 2019 considers that the fleet of aircraft used by the Civil Security to fight forest fires is “adapted” to the needs defined by the French doctrine on this matter. At that 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 is always possible to bring into play the European “RescEu” mechanism to get reinforcement from other Member States, as happened during the two recent fires. only destroyed 20,800 hectares of trees in the Gironde.

However, the document also points out that this fleet is getting old. Therefore, the design of S2F Trackers, is used for the so-called GAAR missions [guet aérien armé]with three tons of retardant in the handle, dating back to the 1950s… They have since been taken out of service, thanks to the increased power of the DHC-8-402 [ou Dash 8] MRBET [multirôle bombardier d’eau et de transport]of which the fifth copy was recently given to the Directorate General of Armaments [DGA] at the Civil Security Air Base in Nîmes.

The fact remains that the recent fires that have made headlines have caused controversy in the ways of Civil Security… some believe that the number of planes used to fight against forest fires is not enough. One of the concerns is the availability of devices, which is not always optimal when summer is approaching. Thus, on July 15, four Canadair CL-415s were grounded for maintenance operations…

That said, France chose to have its own fighter jets… This is not the case of Italy, Greece or even Spain, which increased their resources by asking private companies, such as the British Babcock or the American Erikson. But another solution will be available soon… And if it proves to be effective, then the Air & Space Force can be more involved – if necessary – in fighting forest fires. Note that this is, like other armies, as part of the Hephaestus system.

So, on July 25, and as it was done for the C-295 a few years ago, Airbus indicated that it was conducting a test campaign involving an A400M “Atlas” equipped aircraft of a prototype of removable kit for firefighting.

“Carried out during the day, these tests consist of dropping up to 20 tons of water from the current reservoir in less than ten seconds, at low altitude. [150 pieds / 45 mètres] and low speed [125 nœuds / 230 km/h] “, explains Airbus. And to know that this campaign, carried out in close collaboration with the 43rd squadron of the Ejército del Aire y del Espacio, specialized in the fight against forest fires, aims to ” proving the amount of water and the time of dropping as well as the ability of the aircraft to carry out water bombing missions”.

The installation of this RORO type kit [roll-on/roll-off] does not require any changes to the A400M. The water is stored in a tank loaded in the aircraft’s hold and equipped with “two separate outlets to which are connected water pipes that, when jettison is triggered, release the water in both sections.
approximately half a square meter at the end of the rear ramp,” Airbus explained.

In addition, the transformation of an A400M into a water bomber is quick and easy, which makes it possible to intervene in the shortest possible time.

By way of comparison, a Canadair CL-415 can drop 6,000 liters of water or retardant when a Dash 8 carries 10,000… This is double that of an A400M equipped with the kit Airbus recently tested. And this is an element that will be taken into account before considering the purchase – at the European level – of additional planes for civil security, as President Macron proposed during his trip to the Gironde on July 20. .

It is worth noting that the French Navy also has the capacity to fight forest fires, its Dauphin N3+ helicopters can be rigged as “water bombers” thanks to a “Bambi Bucket”, ie a flexible nacelle that holds in 700 liters of water. One of these devices was also recently called to extinguish a bush fire that broke out in Punaauia, in French Polynesia.

Photo: © AIRBUS SAU 2022 – Adrián Molinos – Mango

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