Australia is set to test a very large air tanker, such as the Boeing 747 Supertanker or McDonnell Douglas DC-10, for aerial firefighting for the first time early in 2010.

The aircraft will be deployed in Victoria between January and late March. The move follows the worst fires in the country's history in February, during which more than 170 people died in Victoria, and amid expectations of a severe fire season this year.

The National Aerial Firefighting Centre, which procures and manages a national aerial firefighting fleet to fight fires throughout the country each year, will run the procurement tender process and evaluate the trial, with support from the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre.

The centre has been evaluating very large air tankers following the release of its Future Aerial Fire Management Capability request for proposal released early last year (Flight International, 25-31 August). Issues of cost-effectiveness and ground infrastructure have previously prevented the use of large air tankers in Australia.

"Large aircraft that can carry up to eight times the water or retardant of smaller firefighting aircraft are untested in Australian conditions," says Victoria's police and emergency services minister Bob Cameron. He adds: "Firefighting agencies will need to determine how they'll work in Australian conditions and Victoria will test how effective the big machines can be in fighting fires in conjunction with our current fleet of smaller firefighting aircraft."

Victoria has 34 contracted firefighting aircraft for this year's firefighting season, which has already started, and access to a further 176 fixed-wing aircraft and 38 helicopters that are on call.

The large air tanker - some of which are capable of laying a continuous line of retardant or water 30m (100ft) wide for 1.2km (0.65nm)- would be assessed for immediate attack when a fire is small, its impact on a developing fire to help contain it and on a control line. Victoria also plans to test a new suppressant gel as an alternative to traditional foam for firebombing.

Source: Flight International