Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Fire Boss

We hopped on a plane in Edmonton, lifted over the mountains and down into Abbotsford in southern B.C., an easy short evening flight.  The next morning we got to go and visit the Conair hangars at the airport, and see the 'Fire Boss' plane, the one William flew, up close and personal.

 Conair is one of the biggest aerial firefighting operations on the continent, providing much of the air support for forest fire fighting in Alaska, the Yukon, B.C. and Alberta.  It also has operations in the U.S. and France.

And this is the 'Fire Boss', a smaller waterbomber that can land on lakes, scoop up water, and return directly to the fire.  Because it can operate quickly, it is often sent into a fire first.  If lakes are close, they can make many water drops in a day.  They operate in teams of 4-6 together, led by a spotter plane called the bird dog.  It'd seen pictures of the plane, but never a plane itself, and couldn't quite make out how it all fit together, so I was glad to see an actual plane.

The water scoop is just a small tube on the bottom of the floats.  Water passes through the floats in a pipe up to a large tank in the fusilage, in front of the pilot (giving the plane what looks like an extra long nose).

And when it's in position over the fire, the pilot opens the bomb doors on the bottom of the plane, and drops the water where the spotter directs.

These planes also have wheels, so they can land at airstrips if necessary for refueling.  Here you can see the water pipe leading up from each float to the tank in the fusilage.

It's certainly a challenge to fly, with all the normal controls of a float plane, but also the controls for taking on water and dropping it.  And it's a cramped little space for the pilot.

The company had quite a lineup of these planes back for the winter.  They'll all get a winter overhall, but otherwise sit here until next fire season starts in April.

We also saw the larger water bombers which William flew in his first year with Conair.  You can see the water tank on the bottom of the plane.

This plane is large enough to need both a pilot and co-pilot, and must return to an airbase for refilling with fire retardant spray.

And finally we saw the big CS215's, a huge float plane that uses the body of the plane as the main float.  One of Will's friends told us that his aim was to eventually learn to fly this plane.

This one is in the hangar getting it's winter overhall.  It has outrigger floats on each end of the wings.  I really enjoyed seeing these planes; it helped me understand the job Will had (and loved), much better that just hearing about it.  I was glad we got the chance to go and visit.

15 comments:

  1. We my husband and I enjoyed seeing the planes. What a great job they must do in putting out fires. All Firefighters are heroes as was your son Will. Doing what you love everyday...that says something for a life well lived. :)

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  2. Nice to see these planes up close and see what it all entails to operate them. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. This would have been a very heartening visit, and bring you closer to Will's life and days as a pilot in those fire fighting planes. Great design, huge wings on the last one, and ingenious way to scoop the water, then release. Again, thanks for sharing this part of Will's life with us.

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  4. Wow I had no idea how these planes worked. Thanks for showing us up close! You can be proud that your son was doing good things fighting fires.

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  5. Thanks for sharing that with me. In the UK we have no such thing so I had no idea how these things operated. Of all the things that early aviators must have thought of I'm sure none envisaged using planes to put out forest fires. They must be a fine body of men who fly undertake this vital work.

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  6. I have not seen these close up. When one thinks about what they do , I have more respect than ever for the pilots who save great swaths of land.

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  7. Thanks for showing these planes to me. I had no idea how they work, but now I do, and I am glad they maintain the planes so well. It'a a little bittersweet looking at them for me, though. Heroic work, for sure.

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  8. I hope this excursion has given you peace.
    What brave people these guys and gals are!
    My neighbour used to go out west every summer to fight fires before he retired.

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  9. They are impressive aircraft, particularly up close.

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  10. It sounds to me like this was a trip that brought you and your family as close to your son as you could possibly be, and I know that must have been comforting. I was especially awed by the up-close-and-personal view of the complicated-looking controls and cramped space for the pilot. I could almost see your son sitting in that seat. I am so glad he was able to do what he dearly loved in his short life. Many would not be able to say that.

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  11. You have a nicely laid out series of photos with descriptions of these waterbombers. I've never even thought about them before but your post was interesting and informative.

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  12. Very interesting how these work. Good post as ever!

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  13. Lovely photos and post . These air craft and people are amazing . Thanks for sharing . Have a good day !

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  14. Wow, that's quite some technology! You have courage to do this. Best wishes.

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  15. Very interesting to see these planes and how they scoop up the water.

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