Australian-owned Kestrel Aviation, based in Mangalore in central Victoria, has upgraded its Airbus AS332L1 Super Puma (Helitak 349) over the winter as it transitions into the State’s Night Fire Aviation Program (NFAP). Now known as the “Shadow Cat”, the aircraft is arguably the first of its type globally that has been approved for aerial firefighting operations at night.
In its new livery paint scheme, which is familiar across Kestrel’s impressive fleet of Bell Medium and Black Hawk helicopters, the Super Puma now starts its fourth year of operations with the company; proving to be a real multi-mission capable asset with its winch, rappel, passenger carriage, heavy lift, and fire suppression activities with either its belly tank or 4,000-litre (1000 Gal) Bambi-Max bucket.
Photo by Dave Sodestrom
Fitted with extended range fuel tanks and a ferry speed of 130knots, Shadow Cat has an endurance of over four hours, meaning it has the ability for its crew to fly to all parts of Victoria and still maintain an ability to undertake up to two hours of fire suppression on arrival before refueling.
As part of its engagement with the Victorian fire authorities this season, Kestrel’s engineering team has been hard at work over the winter to modify the aircraft for night operations. This has included changes to the flight deck to allow for night vision goggle operations and the fitting of external lighting and oversized mirrors that assist the crew with increased visibility whilst undertaking hover-fill activities at night.
With a proven history of operations amongst offshore, military, and para-military organizations around the world, the AS332L1 Super Puma has a proven safety record that has quickly brought the model to the forefront of firefighting operations around the world thanks to its transport category classification and multi-mission abilities.
Photo by Dave Sodestrom
Shadow Cat will ply its trade at Essendon during the 2023/2024 fire season, where it will operate in conjunction with Microflite’s Airbus H135 (Firebird 308) as part of the NFAP. Essendon will also be the air base for Helitak 341, which sees the return of the proven Erickson S-64F Air Crane® airframe. One of two that will operate in Victoria this season under the longstanding relationship between Kestrel and Erickson.