More Small Aircraft Join Wildfire Fight

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The wildfire season is upon us and small aircraft are playing a more prominent role in putting them out. Because of the rash of accidents involving heavier firefighting aircraft last year, this season will see more use of smaller, single-engine airplanes fighting the blazes. This is mainly due to the U.S. Forest Service's and the Bureau of Land Management's restrictions on several larger models of fire tankers, including the C130A. The Baltimore Sun reported the big iron will have to carry 15-percent lighter loads to reduce wing stress. A fleet of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) will take up the firefighting slack. SEAT aircraft, usually crop-duster variants, normally have a capacity of 500 to 800 gallons. While these small tanker aircraft have been around for a numbers of years, they were overshadowed by the larger aircraft. According to Bernie Post, who oversees firefighting operations for the Colorado State Forest Service in Fort Collins, last year's fire season in Colorado brought a number of SEAT pilots to the skies flying 194 sorties against 61 wildfires. Post said 51 were brought under control in short order using the smaller aircraft. The Bureau of Land Management has leased SEATs for California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Nevada. In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has contracts in Arizona, Minnesota and Washington.