9/09/2009

Form Follows Function

My fascination with wildfire air tankers began years ago, because who could not be impressed with the size and sound of these gorgeous airplanes? And since then I've been fortunate enough to see them often, following them to fires in our area like a predator. Out of all the airplanes I've seen fight fires, naturally the Canadair CL-215 is close to my heart. Due, no doubt, to it's radial engines. Recently though, I've discovered a contender to my favorite airplanes category that I might have overlooked...
On a run to Thunder Bay a couple weeks ago, I got cleared to visit the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources airbase, where I found CL-415 C-GOGH waiting for me. CL-415's are often mistaken for their piston sisters from afar, but the 415 is individual and has several variations from the 215, not in the least it's turbine engines. Bombardier modified the 215 with PW123AF turbines and designated them as the 215T. In 1993, the company began production of this newly modified aircraft, under the designation of CL-415. C-GOGH was built in 1998 and has serial number 2034.Some of the features of the 415 over the 215 is increased operating speed and weight, and a larger water capacity, as well as updated avionics. There are a lot of statistics about this airplane that are worth researching, but I have little patience for anything but the basics. 415's are operated all over the world, and many of them live and work in Canada, an advantage for those of us who get to hang out with them instead of just seeing them from a distance. Often the first indication of a forest fire is not the smell or the sight of smoke, but the whiny sound of these airplanes on their way to do battle.

The stress on the flight deck during fire operations is incredible, and with only a two person crew aboard, a pilot and flight engineer would have their hands full just controlling straight and level flight in an airplane as heavy as a 415. During the intense currents and heat of a forest fire, these bombers would waste fuel loads and increase the risk of accident without some direction from something a bit smaller and faster to help them position for water drops.
This is where the air tankers get a little help from their friends, in the form of a spotter. Leading the the Ontario MNR's 415's is C-FMUM, an Aero Commander built in 1971. All I was able to figure out about this airplane is it's serial number, 3100. I know that several different designations of the Aero Commander were manufactured; please see above paragraph regarding patience...

Respect must be given to the airplanes and crews, both on the ground and in the air, who operate under stressful and dangerous conditions, working hard to change the outcome of fires that have the ability to alter our landscape forever.

2 comments:

chris said...

The 415 is beauty and beast, all in one.

Danielle Gibeault said...

Fabulous blog! I just added you to my "best of the blogs" list at myskymom.com. Any interest in listing me on your blogroll as well? I'm a CFI writing a question and answer column with a sense of humor for pilots, student pilots, and the curious. Let me know what you think, or if there's anything else I can help you out with.

Thanks,
Danielle