ASU Modifies CO Fire AT-802 for First Fixed-Wing NVG Firefighting Operations
CO Fire Aviation has a new tool to combat fires at night. Aviation Specialties Unlimited, Inc., (ASU) has modified an Air Tractor AT-802F for night vision goggle (NVG) operations, giving pilots an increased advantage in safety and effectiveness at night.
Fighting fires at night is an effective tool for combatting threatening wild fires. Temperatures drop, humidity typically increases, and it is easier to spot hot spots at night, making nighttime firefighting ideal.
“We have experienced our share of fires in Idaho that consumed and destroyed vital natural resources, forests, homes and beautiful parts of the mountainous and high desert landscape,” says ASU vice president of Engineering, Kip McDermott. “By modifying the Air Tractor for CO Fire, we have provided them with a key safety tool that will allow them to safely battle fires into the night.”
Since 1995 ASU has modified more than 1,300 aircraft for NVG operations, including the Thrush S-2R; PZL-Mielec M18; and rotorcraft including the Bell 206 and OH-58A for aerial application operations—but the AT-802 is the first fixed-wing dedicated to firefighting. Because of its 800-gallon capacity, maneuverability and speed with a 1,600-horsepower engine, the AT-802 is ideal for fighting fires in a variety of terrains and conditions.
CO Fire Aviation, starting with just one aircraft in 2015, has grown dramatically to eight aircraft and fourteen pilots to meet the growing demand for agile, aerial firefighting capabilities. It is currently performing daytime contracts with a number of state and federal agencies. Its experienced team now can offer the capability of nighttime aerial firefighting to customers domestically and abroad.
“Having operated NVGs in a variety of operations, our pilots knew that implementing a comprehensive NVG program would be the most significant way we could improve the safety and effectiveness of our aerial firefighting operations,” says CO fire chief pilot, Chris Doyle. “ASU’s experienced team has a strong track record with aerial applicators, and we trusted them to equip our aircraft and help us launch our NVG program.”
Half of the CO Fire pilots are currently NVG-certified, including two FAA-approved NVG instructor pilots that will be establishing an in-house NVG training program.
“Our pilot cadre has a wealth of extensive NVG experience,” says Doyle. He explains that several of the pilots have military experience providing close air support during combat and employing weapons delivery with the A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthog” aircraft. They were also U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School instructors.
Doyle has more than 26 years of flight experience and more than 10,000 accident-free hours of flight. He is a factory-certified Air Tractor 802 instructor and was also a maintenance test pilot for the military/weaponized version of the AT-802 in the Middle East, along with a number of his current pilot cadre who were the weapons and tactics instructors. “There is currently no other company in the world with more AT-802 NVG experience than CO Fire Aviation,” says Doyle.
“Later this year CO Fire will be conducting studies to refine and develop NVG firefighting tactics,” says Doyle. The study will involve developing safe and effective drop heights across a variety of illumination levels and in different terrain, such as dealing with well-moonlit and starlit nights as well as low-light scenarios, and setting requisite minimums to lux (illumination) levels vs. terrain vs. drop height. "We are always looking for innovations to help us lead the way in safety,” says Doyle.