Coulson Aviation began a successful Night Fire Suppression Trial Program in partnership with Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) and the Victorian Government in 2016 .

The initial and extended attack suppression program was widely used in Victoria during the 2018/19 South Eastern Australia fire season. For these operations FIREWATCH™ technology was employed, allowing for precision retardant drops during the night.

The FIREWATCH™ system was developed by Coulson Aviation to take advantage of lower temperatures, higher relative humidity, and decreased winds typically prevalent during the night.

FIREWATCH™ aircraft & equipment requirements:

  • Multi-functional supervision aircraft (fixed or rotary wing aircraft) with;
  • NVG (Night Vision Goggle) technology for pilots
  • advanced communication and data transmission equipment
  • infrared mapping technology
  • laser guidance technology

Advantages of FIREWATCH™ deployment can provide:

  • The ability to carry out fire suppression missions 24/7
  • Enhanced drop zone accuracy
  • Less drops, missions, and fuel cost
  • Less maintenance, wear & tear, flight hours, and pilot fatigue

How FIREWATCH™ works:

  • Lead supervision aircraft outfitted with NVG and infrared mapping technology are used to pinpoint the ideal drop zone for retardant
  • The mapped drop zone data is transmitted via satellite to the tanker aircraft
  • Lasers are used to in the dark of night to illuminate the mapped drop zone
  • The tanker crew drops the retardant on the drop zone
  • The precision and accuracy of FIREWATCH™ deployment makes aerial firefighting at night more accurate and productive than day time firefighting.  

Another key component of the successful Victorian aerial firefighting programs is the use of “hover filling”. Hover filling is the process whereby firefighting helicopter hovers over an open water source, drops a flexible fill line down into the water, then pumps the water onboard.

Advantages of Hover Filling:

  • Hover filling greatly increases safety for all concerned as the tanker helicopters no longer have to repeat landings and take-offs during aerial firefighting missions (landing and take-off are the most perilous stages of any aircraft flight / civil or military).
  • Hover filling greatly increases the speed of retardant delivery, which greatly enhances mission success rates for aerial firefighting teams

As demonstrated with the Victorian trial, the ability to increase water delivery and effective fire suppression was greatly enhanced with the ability to hover-fill from the nearest available water source rather than return to a fixed ground filling facility to refill.

The certification through the Victorian trial now enables Coulson teams to undertake night fire suppression missions anywhere in Australia. 

Coulson Aviation has continued this work, extending the use of FIREWATCH™ suppression operations with its fleet of Boeing Chinook and Sikorsky helicopters. Their Chinook CH-47 (Boeing), Sikorsky S-61, S-76, and UH-60 helicopters are currently contracted in California to carry out night time fire operations. This is the third year Coulson’s teams, aircraft, and technologies have been operating out of Orange County. 

These videos and pics show the teams operating a Coulson Aviation Sikorsky S-61 in Victoria, Australia earlier this year.