Learning to be an aerial firefighter in Argentina

    The best teacher is one who has “walked the walk and talked the talk”, an American saying meaning a teacher that has actually done, or possibly still does, the subject matter he or she is teaching. In this case, no better ag-pilot teacher than an active ag-pilot.
    This is especially true if the subject matter is aerial firefighting. The best aerial firefighters are those that have ag-Aviation experience; flying a loaded ag-aircraft near the ground. Aerial firefighters not only have these two challenges, but many others as well, such as often flying in mountainous terrain with smoke reducing visibility in turbulent air.
    Aviation schools specifically for aerial firefighting are hard to come by anywhere in the world. There is one in Spain and another in Brazil and others in the U.S. Recently, one was founded in Argentina by Roberta Tomassoni; Falconer.
    At Falconer, training can start for the first hour pilot, from solo through commercial, then ag and aerial firefighting in a dual cockpit AT-802, training for a complete curriculum, or some portion of it.
    Roberto started flying gliders when he was 15, and at 16 he got his private pilot license. Six years later, Roberto enrolled at INAC (the National Civil Aviation Institute) in Buenos Aires where he obtained his commercial licence. In the next year, 1993, Roberto got both his flight instructor and cropduster certificates.
    In 1994, Roberto traveled to González Chavez, in the Buenos Aires province, Argentina, where he flew his first season covering about 3,000 hectares in a Aero Boero 180. After his first season, he returned to his hometown, Marcos Juárez, and started flying for a local company called Avia SRL, which had two Piper Pawnees 235.
    Avia was owned by Eduardo Kern and Nelson Tomas (two of the most experienced cropdusters in Argentina at the time). Roberto flew for Avia for five years. Roberto said, “those years working for Avia were the most valuable of my career, not just because of the work, but because Edy and Nelson taught me how to become a true ag pilot.
    Looking after me as if I were their son, choosing the fields and checking weather conditions, giving me invaluable advice so that I didn’t suffer any accidents. In 2000, a great friend and one of the most experienced rice pilots in Argentina, Daniel Valfre, offers me a seat at Hermanos Stiefel, where Daniel was working at the time. This company was the first one to operate a turbine agcraft in Argentina.
    In his three years with Hermanos Stiefel, he covered over 180,000 hectares in center and north Argentina. In 2003, Roberto returns to Marcos Juárez and Omar Díaz, owner of AAXOD offers him a seat in an AT-402.
    Omar Díaz is a prominent ag operator, and was one of the first to invest on fire fighting operations. With Omar, Roberto flew all the Air Tractor models (AT-402, 502, 602 and 802) and started getting fire fighting experience, flying in Argentina and neighboring countries.
    In 2006, Omar Díaz and Roberto became partners in a company called Synergy. In the beginning, Synergy bought used agplanes in the US, overhauled them, flew them for one or two seasons in the company and then sold them domestically.
    In 2012, Synergy landed a large rice contract. Two of the company’s Huskies covered 10,000 hectares of rice five times in one season, all dry fertilizer work at 50-100 kg/ha. In 2013, Synergy bought a new dual cockpit 510P Thrush with a PT6A-34AG engine. During the 2014-2015 season, 10,000 hectares of rice were treated seven times with one Thrush and one Husky.
    In 2014, Roberto started Falconer Aviation, a ground and flight school based in the Marcos Juárez airport, a flight school planned to take a student from the first flight to the ag pilot and flight instructor certificates.
    Their focus will be to train ag and fire fighting pilots, based on Roberto’s experience. Basic training at Falconer starts in a Cessna-150. Ag-pilot training begins in the Ag-Husky and advances to the dual cockpits 510P Thrush and AT-802 Air Tractor.
    A Piper PA-11 is used for tailwheel training. Falconer instruction center will offer its best students temporary seats at real operation bases, where they’ll add experience to their new certificates, so they’ll leave the school with extensive knowledge on the subject, which Roberto hopes will attract foreign students.
    While flying ag and forest fires, Roberto kept giving flight instruction and training pilots for all existing licences, a experience he is bringing to Falconer.
    The airport where Falconer is based is strategically located, in the middle of the country and with a 3,600 foot asphalt runway, VOR station, a repair station and a weather station. For the next year, Falconer will start operating an FBO there for flight schools and charter flights.
    In over 27 years, with the support of his wife Carla, family, business partner and friends, Roberto Tomassoni has started from flying a Piper Pawnee to importing and selling ag-aircraft, flying ag full time and running an elite pilot training school, Falconer, for all pilot certificates including ag and aerial firefighting, filling a void in Argentine pilot training.

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