Using aircraft to drop water and retardants on wildfires and forest fires can be an impressive sight. It’s also an effective strategy that has helped save many lives and billions of dollars in property damage over the years.
In a similar effort, Airbus has developed a self-contained firefighting kit that turns a standard Airbus A400M turboprop military transport aircraft into a firefighting bomber to drop water and retardants on conflagrations.
Airbus Defence and Space recently carried out a flight-test campaign of the A400M Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO) firefighting prototype kit, dropping 20,000 liters of retardant and creating high-concentration lines over 400 meters long on the ground. The flight-test campaign was conducted over a period of two weeks in southwestern and central Spain, including six drops, three of which used red-colored retardant and three using water.
This roll-on/roll-off kit doesn’t require any modifications to the aircraft and can be used on any aircraft in the A400M fleet. The water is stored in a fixed tank in the cargo hold and retained by two independent doors. These doors are connected to two flood pipes, so when the discharge is triggered, the water is expelled through two sections at the end of the ramp. The current design of the prototype can drop up to 20,000 liters in a single discharge, which is pretty impressive.
Also, the tanks can be filled in under 10 minutes using standard high-pressure pumps on the ground. The aircraft is also able to take off and land on short and unpaved runways, which is a pretty unique feature. It can operate from a wide range of air bases and airfields as well.
During the campaign, the 43rd Firefighting Squadron of the Spanish Air Force was involved as a technical advisor, assuring that this capability in the A400M has operational value for any potential operator.
In July 2022, Airbus tested a removable firefighting demonstrator kit on the A400M for the first time. The company concluded that the A400M firefighting kit offers additional capabilities not available on the market thanks to its high-dropping capacity, high maneuverability with the latest safety standards, day and night operation, and the potential to convert any regular A400M in any fleet to a firefighting aircraft at very short notice.
The introduction of this RORO solution allows a rapid reaction to unforeseen fires and reconfiguration of the aircraft to any of its other roles. The A400M boasts low-level flight capability and can maneuver at low speeds, making it ideal for accurately dropping payloads of water at very low heights, as low as 150ft.
“We have tested a new version of the kit, improving dropping efficiency and reducing discharge time by over 30% compared to last year, while combined with rapid deployment and easy installation on the A400M aircraft,” said Jean-Brice Dumont, Head of Military Air Systems at Airbus Defence and Space in a statement. “We continue to pioneer new solutions and capabilities for our A400M fleet, in this case protecting populations and natural environments from fires.”