The scoop on the new scooper tanker
Sporting a pair of intakes not much bigger than an iPad, a specialized aircraft based at Minden-Tahoe Airport can fill a 1,500-gallon tank in 12 seconds.
Bridger Aerospace Chief Executive Officer Tim Sheehy said the big yellow aircraft that resembles a seaplane is one of five in the country specially built for firefighting.
“We’re able to get more water onto the fire faster than any other asset,” Sheehy said of the CL-415 Enhanced Aerial Firefighter. “The rapid nature of the turnaround and the cost per gallon is about 20 percent of a large air tanker, because how much you can do in a single day.”
Bridger Aerospace is based out of Boseman, Mont., and operates several aircraft across the country.
He said once the probes open, the force of the aircraft skimming a lake surface at 90 knots is sufficient to fill the tanks.
Last week’s Topsy Fire saw the aircraft dropping water to prevent what could have been much worse.
“We can launch quickly,” Sheehy said. “When the Topsy Fire started we went right to Lake Tahoe and within 38 minutes we were able to drop water on the fire.”
The water scooper is barely a month old and has already seen quite a few fires, including the Cedar Fire in Elko and the Churchill Butte Fire.
“This is the only purpose-built firefighting aircraft in the world,” Sheehy said. “Every other aircraft you see fighting fires, as good as many of them are, they are all converted from another purpose. So, they were either airliners or military transports or crop dusters configured with water drop systems.”
Sheehy said the aircraft has the highest safety record of any firefighting aircraft.
The scooper missed the Numbers Fire by a week. Big jet tankers used on that fire dropped retardant, but the turnaround time between their base and the Pine Nuts reduced their effectiveness.
“Takers drop retardant indirectly to corral a fire, whereas aircraft like this are direct attack in that they can drop water directly on the fire,” Sheehy said. “The turn time on the Cedar Fire was five minutes per drop, so we were able to deliver up to 150,000 gallons onto that fire.”
When there isn’t a Lake Tahoe, or Topaz or Walker Lake handy, the aircraft can be filled using a fire hose.
There are only four other older models of the aircraft, and Bridger plans to purchase five more over the next two years.
Sheehy credited the state forestry department with understanding the value of the aircraft. The contract between the state and Bridger lasts until Labor Day.
It has been 11 years since the Bureau of Land Management closed the big tanker base at Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Smaller firefighting aircraft fly out of the airport, including the Nevada Division of Forestry’s helicopter and single-engine air tankers.
So far this summer, Douglas County has had a severe fire season with the 18,380-acre Numbers Fire, which claimed as many as 43 structures, including several homes.
While not as big as the 1993 Bison Fire, the loss of homes means it could end up being the most expensive fire in Douglas County history.