Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Water Plane..The Water Plane..!

A Russian company is now promoting the world's first jet water bomber purposely built for fighting wildfires.  In the last few years, the Beriev Be-200 Altair has helped fight forest fires in a number of countries including Greece, Italy, Portugal, Malaysia, Indonesia and Israel.

The flying fire-fighter suppresses fires by dropping water and/or chemical retardants. Eight water tanks are located under the cabin floor in the center fuselage section.  But the cool thing is that it can skim a lake and scoop up water, "on the fly" so to speak, skimming the source at 90% of takeoff speed.  Four retractable water scoops are used in this mode to scoop up a total of 12 tons of water in just 14 seconds.  I didn't see any reports of how many fish, boats or swimmers the system can handle, though.  However, if you're concerned about these dangers, the tanks can be alternatively filled from a hydrant or other water source on the ground. 

In it's multi-purpose configuration, the company reports that the "..water tanks can be removed quickly for carrying cargo or people.." - unless of course they're filled with water.  Anyway, with these tanks removed, 72 people can travel in pressurized and air conditioned comfort, or up to 30 stretchers with seven medical crew and go where needed.  I suppose if one of the water tanks was left in at least 25 stretchered patients could even take baths - again, no report to this effect - I'm just surmising.  But it's main purpose is fire fighting.  Water can be dropped in a single dump in right at one second, or, in up to eight consecutive drops.  The aircraft also carries six tanks for fire-retarding chemical agents.

The company so far has a total of 26 confirmed and optional sales, but they are thinking that growing threats of huge forest fires due to global warming will push their demand up well over 100 planes in the next 10 years.  They also are looking to the US whose fleet of fire-fighting planes tend to be old military air tankers that are aging quickly and will need to be replaced soon.   Heck, with corn markets as high as they are, I'm surprised some of the Californian ag folks aren't looking at these as high-tech irrigation systems.  They could even skim out of Lake Powell at night and the Nevadans might not ever catch on!  One thing's for pretty sure - Kansas is too far to make such water soirees economically viable!! 

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