As another Australian summer winds down, Kevin Hopf, Chief Pilot for 10 Tanker Air Carrier, is preparing for his return to Alberquerque, New Mexico at the end of the fire season.
“We have three DC-10s converted into fire-fighting air tankers. The first was converted in 2006,” says Kevin who is currently managing operations at Avalon, Vic. 8,500 miles from home.
“Each tanker holds 44,000 litres of fire retardant, which weighs 47,000 kilos. At the moment, we have contracts to fly the summer months in North America and in 2009/10 we secured a 90-day contract in Victoria. We were based out of Avalon on a trial basis and this year we were based in NSW for a 120-day contract.”
Throughout October – January, 10 Tanker ‘Southern Belle’ flew approximately 45 hours on almost a dozen fires throughout the state and further south at Lancefield and Scotsburn in Victoria with one trip to South Australia.
One notable difference fighting fires here, compared to North America, is the nature of the Australian fires.
“We travel all over North America, but most of our activity is usually in the western states starting in April and continuing through to November. Over there, we’re used to fighting pine and large trees that are wide at the base and narrower at the top, so the highest intensity of the fire is on the ground. Australia’s eucalyptus trees are widest at the top, but full of the trees smallest branches, which leaves a lot of fuel up high to burn,” he says.
“There’s no difference in the way we dispense the retardant at all. When we go to work, the job is similar to what we do at home, but the nature of the fires is different. The higher speed of a jet, and the fact that it can carry three to four times that of a conventional air tanker, makes the Southern Belle a much desired piece of equipment.”
10 Tanker has flown about 40 operational hours this Australian fire season.