Every other year the Aerial Firefighting conference comes to North America. This year it was held at McLellan Field near Sacramento. A tow day conference, I originally was going to attend on both days. Unfortunately, I had a work conflict and had to miss the first day. Fortunately I was able to be there on the second day which was the day that included a demonstration session on the airfield. An internal exhibition of products and services was open for the entire time but the demonstration included a wide number of airframes – far too large to fit indoors.
There was a wide variety of types on display. Helicopters are a big part of aerial firefighting and there was a number on display. Airbus Helicopters had brought their H215 demonstrator along as the conclusion of their North American tour. This version of the Super Puma is a derivative of the AS332 (and indeed this airframe had a data plate that listed it as an AS332) and is designed to be a simplified and cheaper version providing a more affordable utility type. It was alongside a new Bell 412 and some refurbished airframes including a Bell 205 and a freshly refurbished UH-60 Black Hawk.
Fixed wing types came in all shapes and sizes too. Air Tractor AT802s were on display in both wheeled and amphibious configurations and these two aircraft put on a number of water drop demonstrations. A Pilatus PC-12 provided a demonstration of management of a fire with down linked information. Calfire had a Bronco and a Tracker on the ramp while a bunch of Broncos were busy in a flying program to get ready for the season. MAFFS had a P-3 on the ramp while another took off early in the program. A Bombardier CL415 shared ramp space with a Neptune conversion of the BAE Systems RJ85.
However, the ramp was dominated by one aircraft. Global Supertanker had brought their converted Boeing 747-400 to show off. They have taken the system from the 747-100 airframe previously in use and added it to a more modern version of the airframe. Fresh from the paint shop and shortly to receive approval of the STC, they were keen to show off the aircraft. I am not sure how well it will fit in with the needs of firefighting agencies around the world but it certainly is an impressive beast.
I didn’t get to take as many stills as I had planned. The organizers asked me to shoot some video for the, which I did. Hayman was working with me so he made sure we had the necessary shots for the GAR feature. After a few passes, I was able to switch and get some stills anyway. I also got roped in to taking the group photo for the conference attendees. If I had known that was required, I would have made some arrangements to get a better vantage point. Still, it was a good day out and the conference sessions I saw were similarly informative. Next year it is in France. Perhaps we shall have to go!