Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Patrick Hildebrand of the Columbia Basin Composite Squadron hears about operation of the Convair 580 while fellow Washington Wing members stand near.
The Convair 580 stands ready for a firefighting flight if needed.
Photos by 2nd Lt. Dolores Ford, Washington Wing
2nd Lt. Dolores Ford
Public Affairs Officer
Columbia Basin Composite Squadron
WASHINGTON -- Cadets and officers participating in the Washington Wing Emergency Services Training Academy recently explored an unusual example of emergency services – firefighting from the air.
Several of those attending the academy, held at Camp Robert L. Boucher in Ephrata, traveled Sept. 22 to the Moses Lake Airtanker Base at Port of Moses Lake’s Grant County International Airport to see a Convair 580 Airtanker, one of many aircraft used in firefighting efforts in various areas of Washington and surrounding states.
Touring both the base and the Convair allowed the members of five composite squadrons – Columbia Basin, Fairchild, Inter-State, Northern Desert and Pangborn – and two pilots from the Yakima Composite Squadron to more deeply understand the aircraft’s role in firefighting missions.
The visit proved especially timely, with fires burning in various parts of Washington and smoke lingering in the air even as the tour took place.
Upon arriving the CAP contingent received a briefing from Robert Meade, base manager, who shared many points regarding the facility’s operations. Meade told the Washington Wing members that the site, which began operation in June 2001, was “the first Forest Service base of this design to be built” and pumped more than 1.4 million gallons of fire retardant during its first year of operation.
It’s also “the first Forest Service base to handle the DC-10,” he said – and not just one DC-10, but two.
Meade added that the facility is the “only airtanker base in the state of Washington” and also features “the longest main runway in the country west of the Mississippi.”
After Meade’s briefing, the members headed for the Convair, where co-pilot Nels Kristenson led the tour. The visitors immediately noticed that the interior had been almost completely gutted in order to lighten the aircraft as much as possible – understandable, since the Convair’s tank adds 2,000 gallons of fire retardant to the load.
The Convair’s turbine engines produce 4,000 horsepower for takeoff, allowing the plane to quickly reach its destination. Once there, it releases its cargo from an altitude of 100 to 150 feet, with the retardant itself dropping from the tank at 120 knots and decelerating as it falls.
“It is a different mission to ‘water bombing,’ as we are not attempting to actually suppress the fire so much as we are preventing its growth, [allowing] ground crews to work more safely and effectively to suppress the fire,” Kristenson told his audience.
Even as the tour took place, the Convair sat ready to respond in case it was needed to assist with the firefighting campaign not far away. For the moment, though, its mission in the meantime – helping provide the CAP visitors with a new understanding of an important aspect of emergency services in their region – could be considered a success.