Night firefighting a reality

By Country News

Kestrel Aviation, a specialist helicopter firefighting company, is preparing to launch its night vision firefighting capability in Australia, paving the way for firefighting after dark in Australia for the first time.

Kestrel has completed the first two trial phases, involving dropping water at low levels onto pre-determined targets using its advanced Conair 85-KE fire-attack system, something that has not previously been achieved in Australia.

The final phase, conducted in partnership with Victorian emergency management agencies, will involve applying the low-level water drops into a controlled fire environment, to obtain final approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to start live, night-time aerial firefighting.

‘‘Victoria is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world,’’ Kestrel managing director Ray Cronin said.

‘‘Night-time aerial firebombing has the potential to improve the ability of Victoria and other states to fight fires, affording better protection for bushfire-prone communities,’’ he said.

‘‘Kestrel is combining its industry-leading helicopter pilot skills with innovative technology to drop water and suppressants on fires in all conditions at night.

‘‘These low-level, night-time deployments of water from Kestrel’s advanced helicopter belly tank are the first to deliver with considerable accuracy in Australia.’’

Kestrel has several skilled pilots with night-flying accreditation, who will be conducting the firebombing operations alongside Victorian emergency management personnel.

The next stage will involve live night-vision firebombing trials with Emergency Management Victoria, CFA and DELWP.

‘‘We anticipate receiving approval to go ‘live’, being ready to fight frontline bushfires at night, by the end of March,’’ Mr Cronin said.

Kestrel’s base at Mangalore is ideally situated for preliminary night trials, with a variety of terrain and celestial luminosity (various moon phases, clouded versus clear skies, and so on) that help to determine the feasibility of night bombing activities.

Kestrel is using Australian-made Night Eyes vision goggles, which offer the advanced image performance critical to the unique fire ground environment.