FEATURE: The Rainmakers — MNRF studying air tanker effectiveness

A Manitoba CL-215 drops its colossal load of water on a drop zone at Dryden Regional Airport, June 27.
Photo by Chris Marchand

By Chris Marchand

A belly-tanker equipped Bell 212 helicopter hovers over the drop zone at Dryden Regional Airport.
Photo by Chris Marchand

Dryden Regional Airport played host to an impressive spectacle of aviation in the name of science last week.

Researchers from the Canadian Forest Service and FP Innovations teamed up with hosts The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Dryden Fire Centre to take an in-depth look at the effectiveness of various fire-fighting aircraft with the hopes of better understanding how to best deploy different aircraft in wildfire operations.

Employing sensitive infra-red cameras and a system of containers around a drop zone, researchers measured the firestopping payloads of aircraft like the large CL-215, on loan from Manitoba; the more common to these parts CL-415; smaller planes like the Twin Otter and the Air Tractor 802 Fireboss; as well as a Bell 212 helicopter equipped with a belly tanks.

“What we’re trying to do is get a better understanding of the different ways that different types of water-bombers drop,” said Canadian Forest Service researcher Josh Johnston. “How is the water hitting the ground? What pattern is it forming and how much water is in each part of it? We’re also looking at how long it takes for that water to evaporate. The idea is to get an understanding of the best way to use each individual waterbomber to get cost effectiveness out of drops.”

A rare sight, perhaps even a first — a Ontario CL-415 drops a payload of fire retardant at Dryden Regional Airport. Photo courtesy Gord Angeconeb

Just shy of the drop-zone, mounted at the top of a portable tower system is the camera system that helps them map the ‘footprint’ of each plane’s drop.

“It can discern 0.001 degrees for every pixel,” said Johnston. “It’s not your standard off the shelf infra-red camera. It’s extremely sensitive and it’s generating a huge amount of data. Normally we use this thing to study fire behaviour but in this case it’s too wet for fires, so let’s study the suppression side of things.”

MNRF Aerial Fire Operations Coordinator Jason Robinson and Fire Science Specialist Colin McFayden led the effort locally.

Canadian Forest Service Research Scientist Josh Johnston watches an infrared camera display following a water bomber drop, June 27 at Dryden regional Airport. Photo by Chris Marchand

Using a highly sensitive IR camera for this type of use has not been done to our knowledge,” said McFayden. “The lessons we learn in Dryden will be used to continue to develop a practical and efficient way to measure airtanker drops. Down the road it will be used to measure the effect of different drops on fire intensity.”

An Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss was among the smaller aircraft tested during a week of mapping he footprints of various water bomber aircraft.
Photo courtesy Gord Angeconeb

Between commercial and private aviation and the increased MNRF activity, it made for a busy week at Dryden Regional Airport.

“We’re a huge supporter of the MNRF and all they do,” said DRA manager Norm Sanders. “It’s good economics for Dryden and we’re happy to have them.”

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