Back At Base For Victoria’s Fire-fighting Aerial Might

Impressive new fire-fighting aircraft have landed at Essendon Fields Airport. In total four hi-tech fire-fighting aircraft, and their crew, will call Essendon Fields home for the next four months.

Operating from Essendon Fields until late March will be three rotary aircraft; a Eurocopter AS322L Super Puma Helitack 349, a new Aircrane – Helitack 341 “Isabelle”, and Firebird 308. An Infra Red Firescan 126 fixed-wing aircraft will also call Essendon Fields home. The aircraft are part of the state’s 51-strong firefighting fleet – one more than last year’s contingent.

Matt Marais, GM Aviation at Essendon Fields, said it was an impressive sight to see all four aircraft sitting ready to go on the tarmac at Essendon Fields.

“Essendon Fields Airport is the proud home of the State’s emergency services air wings. Over 8,000 annual incidents are attended by Air Ambulance Victoria and the Victoria Police Air Wing alone, with thousands of other emergency flights passing through our airport each year, ranging from medical evacuations, to search and rescue missions and urgent organ transport. It’s the summer months that the focus shifts to aerial fire-fighting aircraft, which typically rotate their presence around the world, depending on the season’’ he said.

An air attack supervision and information gathering Firebird 308 helicopter, crewed and operated by Microflite, will make its third visit to Essendon Fields Airport, supporting night operations aided by new technology including an infra-red high-definition video camera. These enhancements will help operational decision-making and can be streamed to control centers to better inform operations.

The Eurocopter AS322L Super Puma Helitack 349 will be a new appearance, crewed and operated by Kestrel Aviation. It is one of the most advanced fire-fighting aircraft in the world and operating as part of the night fire aviation program with a capacity of 2,500 litres.

The Erickson Air Crane high volume fire bombing helicopters have long have long been a part of Victoria’s aerial firefighting efforts in Victoria and elsewhere. With a maximum take-off weight of 19,050kgs and a cruising speed of 170km/h, the Air Crane is a high-capacity Type 1 helicopter with the capacity to carry 10,000 litres of water. Once a nearby body of water is located such as a dam, swimming pool, lake or ocean, a hose is lowered from the helitanker to skim the water and fill the tank in just 45 seconds. This aircraft will also be crewed and operated by Kestrel Aviation.

Erickson gives each of its aircraft a nickname, the most famous being “Elvis” which received its name after working for the US National Guard in Memphis. This year “Isabelle” will be based at Essendon Fields supporting fire-fighting efforts in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne.

The aircraft are an important support service for the tens of thousands of dedicated emergency services workers from the Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES), Country Fire Authority (CFA), Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic), Fire Rescue Victoria (FRC), and many other agencies.

“Victorians are no stranger to concurrent and converging emergencies and our aviation fleet remains to be an important asset alongside our hardworking and dedicated firefighters,” said Emergency Management Commissioner Rick Nugent.

Victorians can expect increased fire risk in central and western Victoria, along the Surf Coast and in East Gippsland. Fire safety is everyone’s responsibility and Victorians should be using this time to prepare themselves and their homes.

“Our aircraft will support our firefighters on the ground to help keep the community safe – but we need everyone to do their part to by being ready to act and respond to the fire risk,” finished  Minister for Emergency Services Jaclyn Symes.

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