Aircraft off to Canada after firefighting duty ends in Ballarat

MISSION accomplished, Victoria. Now Canada calls.

Two Ballarat-based firefighting aircraft will fly to Canada today to continue their role on the frontline against bushfire after spending months fighting fires in Victoria.

The Air Tractor AT-802F purpose-built fixed-wing firebombers will spend the next six days winging their way to Vancouver. 

American ferry pilots Ray Dyson and Jack Mezzo will both spend 45 to 50 flying hours in the two single-engined aircraft, as they hop from Ballarat to Brisbane, to Norfolk Island, Pago Pago, Hawaii, Santa Maria in the United States, and finally Vancouver. 

The two aircraft, Bomber 354 (VH-FFM) and Bomber 356 (VH-FFB) have completed a 12-week summer firefighting contract in Australia.

They will now complete a similar tour of duty in Canada during North America’s peak fire season.

Field Air in Ballarat has operated the two Air Tractors in Ballarat since early December. 

Management of the two planes will switch over to Conair Group Inc, the world’s largest firebombing contractor, for the duration of their stay in the northern hemisphere.

“This year was a particularly busy year,” Field Air business manager Stephen Holding says.

“It is fair to say it is our busiest fire season since Black Saturday (2009).

“In other summers the aircraft have been diverted for flood relief, but this year both aircraft were used quite heavily fighting fires. During the 12-week period they are on standby, they are on 15-minute alert, seven days a week.”

Field Air owns one of the aircraft, and Conair Group the other, the agreement between the two companies ensuring both units see plenty of action during their respective fire seasons.

Each is powered by a single turboprop engine that generates 1700 horsepower (1270kW), up to 10 times the power of some light aircraft, and can carry 3000 litres of fire retardant, foam or gel.

They were contracted mainly for use in north-east Victoria and were not in action at the recent Dereel fires. 

In addition to the two AT-802Fs, Field Air has an aircraft available for firefighting duties on a call-when-needed basis.

Field Air will switch its focus to agricultural aviation over the coming months.