America’s aerial firefighting fleet is a large and diversified one. Often referred to as a tool box with each tool having a specific use.
The heavy air tankers are used to build retardant lines, helicopters are used to cool down hot spots and ferry equipment and personnel. Scoopers are very effective when there is a ready body of water nearby.
Then, there are the Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs), probably the most versatile tool in the box.Of the approximately 75 SEATs in the U.S., 33 are on a federal Exclusive Use contract while the rest serve on state contracts or On Call.
All Exclusive Use pilots are initial attack qualified, which means they do not require any type of supervision and often times are the first asset to arrive on a fire.
Large fires make the news, while thousands of small fires escape the spotlight every year because a couple of SEATs were dispatched at the first sighting of smoke. These aircraft are stationed across the west in historical prone fire areas during the summer fire season. Usually, based in pairs they can operate from small municipal airports and with their self-contained support equipment can quickly reposition to wherever the need arises.
SEATs are also used on extended attack fires building lines right alongside the heavies or reinforcing weak spots. Because of their maneuverability, they are used where larger tankers cannot operate. A Fire Traffic Area (FTA) can be a very busy place.
The aircraft are separated by altitude with rotor wing aircraft positioned low, SEATs 500 feet above, heavies another 500 above and aerial supervision on top directing traffic. I have seen as many as twenty aircraft safely operating in a FTA at one time.
Install a set of amphibious floats on an Air Tractor AT-802 and it becomes a scooper known as the Fire Boss. Although, it has taken a few years for them to catch on in the USA, they have now become very popular.
Fire Managers have finally figured out that they can be used on the same mission as a Type 1 helicopter at a fraction of the cost. If there is a nearby water supply, a tremendous amount of water can be delivered in a short amount of time.
I know Fire Boss pilots that have completed 55-60 loads in one day.The SEAT program has really matured and is here to stay. If within forty miles of the fire, they are the least expensive method of retardant delivery for the government.
Four SEATs positioned close to a fire can deliver more than 60,000 gallons of retardant a day at a cost far less than any other asset. SEATs are just another tool in the box, but on a per gallon delivered basis they are by far the one of the best tools in the chest.