Victorian Government Night Firefighting Aviation Program

The state of Victoria in Australia is now in its seventh year of contiguous operations of the Night Fire Aviation Program (NFAP). From the humble beginnings of the program, it has now grown to employ state-of-the-art technology on multiple platforms.

This allows for the emergency management teams to manage a fire incident, and to further trial, understand, and develop the night aviation attack capability. The program is broken into two separate segments, night firebombing, and night aerial intelligence-gathering services.

Both segments were put to the test on several fires this year within the state. The program is supported with equipment from several operators who are on contract with Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) during the fire season. After an intensive workup or training program prior to the commencement of the program, all crews were currency certified and also flew several trial flights with their respective rotary platforms to satisfy all CASA and EMV requirements.

Mangalore-based Kestrel Aviation which has developed night fire-bombing systems onto its Bell 412 VH-KHU of Helitak 346, has been with the program from its earliest days.

Coulson Aviation Australia a subsidiary of the North American company, has also been involved with the program beginning with their Sikorsky S-61 and today with their larger Boeing CH-47 Chinook. Coulson is into its season of operations with the type for both day and nighttime aerial attacks.

The third company contributing to the program is Moorabbin base Microflite Aviation. The company is also no stranger to aerial firefighting with several of its helicopters on contract in Victoria and in other states as air attack platforms and air intelligence gathering (AIG) aircraft. Microflite operates its Airbus Helicopters H135 VH-UJQ or Firebird 308 for this mission. This helicopter has undergone significant upgrades to its external and internal features to make it mission capable.

The air attack platform has some of the latest technology incorporated into its operating features. This includes an infra-red high-definition video camera that relays information while airborne and also gathers data during the day and at night for incorporation into a fire attack strategy. The enhancements also enable decision-making while on an active fire and can be streamed to control centers to better inform operations.

EMV also opened a dedicated firebase at Essendon Fields Airport this year to accommodate the fleet as they grow the program giving the operational personnel premises to operate and integrate within.

The NFAP program will continue to allow it to be best practice within the aerial firefighting community within Australia. Several other states and territories have now signaled their intention to undergo a similar program and have been watching Victoria’s progress with keen interest.

The program operates alongside a 50-plus state fleet of aircraft, protecting Victorians from fire threats.

Dave Sodestrom
Dave Sodestrom
Dave Sodestrom is a writer and photographer based in Victoria, Australia, and is one of the founders of Aviation Spotters Online.

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