Oct. 17, 2016
Smokey the Bear never warned anyone about the danger of bombing wildfires with a few JDAMs – that would be crazy.
But what if the Air Force had giant water balloons to drop on these fires — a super-hydrating daisy cutter to give out of control fires a taste of shock and awe.
Now that's an idea just crazy enough to work.
Flexible Attack Innovations, now Saint Industries, is a California-based company that's come up with an idea it calls Precision Container Aerial Delivery System, or "PCADS," which it says can deliver cases of 250 gallons of fire retardant – a ton of liquid apiece – onto a target from 300 feet.
The Flexible Attack fire-killing method takes advantage of something that looks pretty close to the Container Delivery System that the military has used to airdrop supplies to troops on the ground since the 1950s.
The video shows a 4,000-gallon drop from a C-130. When the containers of liquid hit the airstream behind the plane, the containers fall apart and the liquid forms a rain effect.
The addition of the PCADS would be significant support for the Forest Service, whose aging air fleet is ill-equipped to fight the number of wildfires they unit faces. A 2015 ABC News report found the Forest Service's fleet is down to 11 planes from 44 a decade ago.
Since no plane has ever been designed specifically to fight wildfires, a package designed to integrate into the CDS is a distinct step forward.
The U.S military's current efforts to augment Forest Service firefighting efforts is the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System. Reserve and National Guard components put these in C-130s to convert them into tankers.
The palletized MAFFS tanks carry as much as 3,400 gallons of fire retardant, whereas the PCADS can carry up to 12,000 gallons. The MAFFS also act as more of a spray effect than a localized rain.
A U.S. Air Force C-130 equipped with a MAFFS system sprays retardant over the Black Crater Fire in Oregon, July 2006. (U.S. Forestry Service photo by Thomas Iraci )
The problem is, the MAFFS takes 24 hours to spool up for a mission and get the plane on the scene. That's a lot of time for a fire to go from manageable to out of control.
Reading this, you might be a little disappointed that the Air Force isn't using actual explosives to extinguish wildfires. Luckily, there are some Australians working on that method.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales are working to harness blast waves from high explosives to put out fires, preventing their spread while moving the fire away from its fuel source.
The researchers' next step is to scale up the concept of a directional explosive. A similar technique was used by coalition troops during Desert Storm to cap oil well fires set by retreating Iraqis.
(YouTube Video via Extreme World and Engineering)
The Hungarians strapped MiG-21 jet engines onto a Russian T-34 tank. When it came time to put out the fire, water is put into the jet stream and they open the throttle. The "Big Wind," as the tank is called, blows the fire out like a candle.
So the Forest Service may not only get air cover in the near future, they might get some armor as well.