Each year, several squadrons of C-130 aircraft are readied for firefighter duty: the 145th Air Wing from Charlotte, N.C., 146th Air Wing from Point Hueneme, Calif., 302nd Wing of the Air Force Reserves from Colorado Springs, and the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyoming. The mission has been limited to these few squadrons because there are only eight of the Mobile Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) available for these units to use to rope in wildfires.
But other military transport squadrons could lend them a hand in the near future. Boeing and Weyerhaeuser, working with Flexible Alternatives and ICL Performance Products, have come up with a new firefighting system that recalls an era when the mighty 8th Air Force carpet-bombed objectives. The system has been labeled "PCADS," which stands for "Precision Container Air Delivery System."
Were enabling [the military] to carry out their existing mission of aerial delivery without endangering the crews or the airplanes, while providing a higher level of [firefighting] effectiveness, said Rick Goddard, Director of Sales in Weyerhaeuser's Bulk Packaging Group and a former Marine aviator. If you can provide a solution that is more effective, both in cost and on the ground, that is consistent with the tools and training [of the military], and is better for the environment [than current firefighting chemicals], look at the benefits.
PCADS is basically a 4-foot cubic box with a biodegradable bladder inside. The package can be loaded onto any number of military transport planes (16 onto a C-130, 70 onto a C-17) and rolled out the back over a fire per the SOP for performing food drops. The lid of the package flies upward, pulling on straps that rip the bladder open, spilling water, fire retardant, or firefighting gel into the air.
PCADS separates the aerial firefighting system from the delivery aircraft, said William Cleary, an Advanced Systems Project Manager for Boeing in Long Beach, California. It allows for safe delivery day or night while utilizing aircraft delivery systems to ensure aerial firefighting accuracy.
And one of the biggest assets to the program is that it is a mission familiar to transport crews across the military. PCADS is a technology that can be modified or changed with little or no cost to the consumer, which compares well when considering a fixed aerial asset such as an air tanker or modular mechanical system, said Ty Bonnar, Vice President of Simi Valley-based Flexible Alternatives and PCADS Director of Operations. PCADS is simple but effective technology which can be used on various aircraft, including the C-130, C-27, IL-76, and C-17 basically any platform with a ramp and cargo bays.
Bottom line: PCADS increases the number of aircraft capable of fighting wildfires. The PCADS project is an exciting development as an alternative aerial firefighting application approach, said Gordon Springell, Gel Business Leader for ICL Performance Products. With the use of Phos-Chek Aqua Gel-K, as seen during the recent Kingman trial, the enhancement of the water medium [with gel] improves, quite dramatically, the PCADS drop characteristics, and retention of moisture on the ground, and, therefore, the ability to extinguish burning fuels on forest fires, especially in direct attack.
Go here to see a video and a more detailed description of the PCADS system.