Turkey Internationally Debuts New Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss on Exercise in North Macedonia

The international debut of Turkey’s newest aerial fire-fighting asset—the Air Tractor AT-802 turbine-powered fire bomber—took place during the European Union-supported IPA Floods and Fires (IPAFF) full-scale field civilian protection exercise in North Macedonia from March 18 to 22, 2024.

For the purpose of the exercise a pair of twin-seat, amphibian-configured, floats-equipped Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss planes belonging to the General Directorate of Forestry (Orman Genel Müdürlüğü, OGM), institution subordinated to the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Tarım ve Orman Bakanlığı) were deployed to Skopje international airport on 18 March 2024. The aircraft were the first Air Tractors that joined OGM in March and April 2023, together with two additional single-seaters of the same type that also arrived in Turkey, where they were publicly presented for the first time on 3 May 2023 at Etimesgut air base, west of the capital Ankara.

The Turkish Fire Bosses arrived in North Macedonia and were flown by two former Turkish Air Force (Türk Hava Kuvvetleri) pilots, who were accompanied by two mechanics for the journey. They joined in North Macedonia the fleet of three single-seat AT-802A Fire Boss amphibian planes operated by the host nation’s Protection and Rescue Directorate (Direkcija za Zaštita i Spasuvanje, DZS).

The exercise’s aerial fire-fighting demonstrations saw repeated use of Air Tractors in a three-ship formation involving the Macedonian Z3-BGV aircraft and the two visiting Turkish planes. Once the exercise was successfully completed, the Turkish firebombers departed North Macedonia towards its home base in Ankara.

The IPAFF exercise was an excellent chance for OGM and DZS to demonstrate the capabilities of the AT-802 to the exercise-participating European Union and Western Balkans nations but also a practical demonstration of OFM in front of  DZS of the twin-seat AT-802 Fire Boss aircraft equipped with the fuel-efficient 1,700HP PT6A-67F engine. This was important for the DZS’s Flight for Specialized Aircraft Services (Oddelenie za specijalizirani uslugi so vozduhoplovi) due its long-demanded need in front of the Government of North Macedonia for acquisition of at least one twin-seat AT-802 Fire Boss that in addition to increasing DZS’s existing fleet capacity, would also serve as a platform for the training of new and existing pilots. DZS also needed to upgrade its existing planes with the new Trotter Controls Fire Retardant Dispersal System (FRDS) Gen III systems and replace the existing 1,350HP PT6A-67AG with new and more powerful PT6A-67F engines.

While North Macedonia is a 15-year user of AT-802, Turkey is one of the latest to have utilized this aircraft type. Its interest in the plane began in 2021 when the devastating summer wildfires resulted in more than 220,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of forest being burned, in addition to many human victims and enormous economic damage being suffered.

In response, in the spring of 2022, the Turkish government signed an agreement with Spanish company Titan Firefighting Company to lease ten land-based AT-802 planes for 2022-2024. In the first year of the agreement, a significant reduction in the burned area (only 15,000 hectares/37,000 acres) was achieved, with wildfires regularly extinguished in the first hours of ignition. Aside from defending Turkey, two leased planes were also sent to extinguish wildfires in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus and Georgia.

Impressed by the AT-802 performances, the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Spanish company Air Tractor Europe signed an agreement on 16 February 2023 for the purchase by Turkey of 20 AT-802 aircraft, 15 in amphibian Fire Boss and 5 in ground-based configuration together with related training and integrated logistical support (ILS) package for a period of 7 years. Under the agreement, the delivery tempo of four aircraft annually is planned, with this year’s delivery of four planes scheduled for April 2024. With the agreed tempo, OGM will complete the 20-strong AT-802 fleet by 2027.

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