Air Tractor AT-802 – The newest weapon of the Israeli air force

Israel possesses one of the most powerful air forces of the Middle East. Because of this, it was shocking that Medinat Yisrael (The State of Israel) went to its knees in early December 2010 because it was not able to appropriately face, fight and win the battle against the wildfire.
The weakness of Israel to this kind of threat became clearly visible when the fire in the Carmel Forest turned into the worst wildfire in the nation’s history. The fire ended in tragedy, killing 44 people and consuming more than 5,000 hectares (12,500 acres). Before Israel’s leadership was aware of the size and seriousness of the crisis, the deadly wildfire engulfed several kibbutzim (small communities) and was on the gates of Israel’s third-largest city, Haifa.
The fire resulted in immediate evacuations of 17,000 residents. At that point, it became obvious that the country was unable to handle the crisis and launched a desperate call for international help. Global mobilization of resources and impressive multi-national fire-fighting fleets consisting of 30 aircraft from 11 different countries conducted a total of 681 sorties between December 3-5, 2010.
Once the wildfire was under control, Israel was faced with one very tough question: How did the neglect to invest in the equipment and personnel needed to effectively combat wildfires happen? In a country of 7 million, the Carmel tragedy left Israel with only 1,500 firefighters, zero state-owned aircraft for fighting fires and only a few private-owned agricultural planes with limited capacities to fight wildfires. Because of this, the government ordered the Israeli air force to establish an aerial fire-fighting unit.
Surprisingly, the air force ordered a small fleet of seven purpose-designed, US-made Air Tractor AT-802 single-engine fire-fighting planes. Elbit Systems was awarded a four-year contract to provide seven dual cockpit AT-802 land-based planes, as well as related flight training for round-the-clock aerial fire-fighting services.
Two of the aircraft are float-equipped Fire Bosses. The task of operating the aircraft was subcontracted to Chim-Nir Flight Services, a local aviation company with an extensive history operating agricultural planes.
Over 400 AT-802s are flying worldwide, 300 fighting fires in U.S., Canada, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Australia and Indonesia. The AT-802 advantages are clearly recognized, especially among Mediterranean and Balkan countries.
The Croatian air force operates six AT-802s, Montenegro two, Cyprus Department of Forest has one and Macedonia operates three Fire Boss amphibious single-seaters.
Being named “Elad Riven” in a memory of the teenage Fire Scout volunteer killed in the Carmel Fire, the fire-fighting squadron completed its first training exercise April 26, 2011. At this time, the Israeli AT-802s became the property of Elbit System’s subsidiary Snunit Aviation Services and received Israeli markings in the form of a squadron logo on the tail and new civil registrations. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Rami of the Israeli air force, the purpose of the “Elad” unit is to command, prepare, control and monitor aerial fire-fighting missions.
The squadron uses two bases: Meggido airfield in northern Israel where three land-based and two amphibian AT-802s are based; and Hartzlia airport in central Israel that is home to two land-based AT-802s.
Early 2011 NASA’s predictions that summer would be hell-hot were correct when August 2011 became one of the hottest months ever in Israel since 1767. A month earlier, Israel was faced with a wildfire, again.
Unlike December 2010, Israel was ready with its AT-802s. July 17 a large wildfire erupted in the Jerusalem Forest moving within three hours to only several hundred meters from Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, requiring evacuation of the 45-acre campus.
Reaction was prompt and very professional – around 200 firefighters organized in 37 teams supported by four AT-802s. The quick scrambling of the planes in combination with their continuous bombardment of the blaze brought the wildfire under control. The commander of the Israeli air force fire-fighting squadron defined the fire as a “complex event”.
The AT-802s were over the flames within 40 minutes of the fire’s outbreak. They carried out rapid sorties, assuring there was a plane over the forest every five minutes. “The smoke gave police and firefighters on the ground a lot of trouble. The AT-802s made a significant contribution to reducing that”, said Lieutenant Colonel Rami.
“This is an event that could have continued well into the night had it not been for our AT-802s.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked “Elad” squadron for its success in battling the blaze and demonstrating high-level of competency and readiness for performing Routine Security Measures (RSM), especially with the help of the AT-802s..
The Carmel Fire was very painful for Israel and was the spark that opened the eyes of local politicians that the Israeli air force was in a need of a new and unique kind of weapon – a specialized aerial platform for fighting fires. That new weapon has been identified and procured – the Air Tractor AT-802.
Indeed, the AT-802 fleet demonstrated to be a game changer for Israel, helping the small country finally and effectively overcome an obvious shortage of nation-owned aerial means for fighting fires. More importantly, it helped Israel to become a self-sufficient country in terms of fighting wildfires. Now, instead of depending on other countries’ help, Israel is in a position to help those in a need of fighting fires by air.

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