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Even before the Second World War, the air­planes had been employed for forest patrolling, monitored the fire situation and airlifted firemen. The aircraft water dropping experiments were carried out(in the USSR the Po-2 and R-5 were upgraded for such experiments), but because of small volumes of the dropped fluid and absence of the single forest fire-fighting sys­tem, such use of airplanes was inefficient. 

After the war, the situation changed dramatically. Especially it concerned the USA, where many remaining bombers were sold out at knock-down prices, and the government started to worry about the growing damage inflicted by forest fires. It turned out to be quite easy to upgrade the bomber for water dropping, and in the 50s in the USA and in Canada, a whole air army of B-17, B-24, B-26, PB4Y, TIGERCAT, AVENGER and other airplanes appeared. Over the twenty years after the war, the market of fire-fighting airplanes had successfully filled with upgraded bombers of World War II versions and civil aircraft of DC-4 or DC-6 types. In the early 60s, it was already insuf­ficient. 

So in 1967, in Canada the Canadair CL-215 amphibian, developed specially for aerial fire-fighting, made its first flight. Trie main differ­ence of the CL-215 from other fire-fighting air­planes was its ability to taKe water during a sliding (gliding) on the surface of a lake or a river. From the bottom of a fuselage two intaking manifolds extended, and water went directly into the special tanks, placed in the airplane cargo cabin. Canada's territory is rich with pure reservoirs, therefore, it is not hard to find a 1,200 m reservoir to take 6 tons of water. The water was dropped through the doors in the bottom opened by the  pilot command. If the whole fluid is drained simul­taneously, the ground coverage area would make 85x20 m, with 2 liters/sq.m maximal concentra­tion at the center of the drain zone.

Since the early 70s, the aircraft share in fire-fighting activities has considerably increased. The special fire-extinguishing retardant-liquids and foam solutions were developed. It changed the forest fire-fighting tactics. Greater attention has been paid to cooperation between ground and air assets. The aviation assets of the forest fire extin­guishing were divided into three main groups.

To the first group, the airplanes and heli­copters with fire-extinguishing liquid tanks capac­ity up to three thousand liters can be referred. They are the agricultural airplanes of PZL type, M-18, MAC-6 "Fieldmaster", Pilatus "Turbo-Porter", An-2P, Bell 205, SA330 "Puma" heli­copters. They are used during small fires with light wind, if the base airfield and enough water quantity are available nearby. The second group includes the airplanes with tanks with a fire-extin­guishing fluid capacity of 3-6 thousands of liters. It is the mentioned above CL-215/ 415, and also upgraded fire-fighting versions of Grumman "Trekker", Lockheed "Neptune", AM 748, C-119 " Flying Backscar", An-32P and Be-12. They are used during the medium fires, which are usually accompanying by a strong wind. If the fire were not extinguished in one pass, the defensive strip tactics is performing. Water, and more often, the foam solution or retardant (they are more effec­tive), is dropped in front of the approaching fire front, which allows fire-fighters to hamper it growth and play for time until ground fire-fighting units deploy.

The third group are the "water bombers", as they are called in America. They are used during forest fires of all kinds - from the small fires, when the flame is extinguished just in the first drop, to the largest and destructive catastrophes, when the fast laying of protective strips of the most possible length is required. In this group the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Martin Mars flying boat and domestic Be-200 and II-76TD aircraft with the easily-removable VAP system (aviation drain device).

After the disastrous fires of 1970 in the southern California, when more than 500 houses burnt down and about 300 000 Ga of forests were devastated, the US government got seriously disturbed by forest fire problem and decided to involve the Air Force in the forest fire-fighting. The contract with the FMC firm on designing the easily-removable fire-fighting sys­tem, installed aboard the C-130 airplane, was signed. The C-130, equipped with the MAFFS system, ensures receiving during simultaneous drop from all tanks the fluid spot of 250x60 meters and concentration at the spot centre of 3,2 liter/sq.m. 

After the tests' completion, the US Forestry Department purchased the eight sets of equipment. These sets were placed at three Air Force bases in the western part of the US to be used by the Air National Guard units and Air Force Reserve units. Another "water bomber11 is the Mars flying boat able to drop 27,000 I of water in one go. This airplane can be surely attributed to the flying relics. Out of seven patrol boats, man­ufactured during 1945-1946, four were delivered to Canada for their upgrading into fire-fighting airplanes. 

Today, only two machines exist. Both airplanes belong to the FIFT company and are based at the Lake Sproat in Canada. They are intended for the protection of the timber growing in this region, which is owned by private wood-processing companies, just like the CL-215, Mars can take water in the gliding mode and drop it in several stages. Maintaining in operation the world-larges flying boat is expensive, but now Mars has justified itself by rescuing the nearby forests from about 40 large fires annually. But the largest of the fire-fighting aircraft is the li-76 fire-fighting "bomber* equipped with the drain avia­tion device (VAP). 

The two VAP-2 tanks contain 420001 of water or special fire extinguishing fluid. The development of the fire-fighting equip­ment for the li-76 was carried out by the develop­er on its own. The basic requirements to the sys­tem were: the design and operation simplicity, and also possibility of any II-76 transport airplane re-equipment without any design modification. As there was no work experience in this field, in the beginning rather exotic concepts of the fire-fight­ing systems used to appear, like, for example, the use of PGS-500 platforms mounting plastic water bags. In the air or when impacting the ground, the bags are torn and water extinguishes fire. The danger of such systems for people, who could appear in the fire area, was timely foreseen. Finally, the design, consisting of two tanks, placed alongside the whole airplane cargo cabin with the fluid filling system (filling ports) at one end and drain system (covers with locks and grooves) at the other, was approved. 

The fluid freely goes through the airplane open cargo manhole. Late in 1988, the experimental prototype of the drain aviation device (VAP), consisting of two cylindrical containers each holding 16,000 tons of fluid, was designed, and in early 1989 it was man­ufactured. To speed up the development, steel iubes were used, which are normally used to build natural gas pipelines, with a full diameter of 1,220 mm and a wall thickness of 14 mm. The tests of the airplane stability and controllability during the water drop in various combinations (separately, simultaneously, with the different tank opening time at speeds ranging from 260 up to 400 km/h) proved the chosen concept to be right. The cov­erage area with step-by-step drain from two tanks was 600x80 m, at a speed of 280 km/h and the 80-m water drop altitude. With simultaneous water drop from two tanks, tJhe area was 400x100 m. 

The ground fluid concentration exceeded 5 l/sq.m at the coverage area center with a gradual decrease towards the area's bounds. The water drop time was about 8 seconds. In the summer 1990, the possibility to test airplane with the VAP equipment during real fires in Krasnoyarsk area appeared. The fires were extinguished in the flat country taiga environment, hilly areas (relief height up to 600 i) and in mountains terrain (relief height up to 2500 i). Water drops were carried out against compact (2-5 ga) beds of fires of an aver­age intensity and against large-scale fires (up to 50 ga). During this operation, the methods of fly­ing the airplane during the forest fire extinguishing operations in the regions with complicated relief profile was developed.
in the spring 1992, two fires in military depots, where a lot of live ammunition was
stored, happened. 

The liyushin II-76MD, equipped with the VAP, participated in tackling them. The first incident happened on April 9, at night, near Yerevan. The fire began at one of ammunition depots, with the series of explosions having followed. It was necessary to load the VAP onboard the airplane and fill in tanks with water to save time in the fire area. At noon, the airplane, piloted by Soviet merited test-pilot Igor Zakirov (in 1994, he was given the high rank of the Hero of the Russian Federation) departed to Yerevan. The first flight lasted about an hour and included the territory reconnaissance, evaluating the fire  intensity, direction of approach and drain of water on depots. The water drop approaches were complicated not only because of the mountainous area, but also because of lightning conductors on the depots' premises. During the second flight, ammunition explosions started, hence, it was necessary to repeat the drop passes. The third flight was made already in the twilight.

The Ministry of Emergencies' experts directly participated in flights, including first deputy minis­ter Yu.L Vorobyov, Hardly more than a month passed, and there were again explosions in the military ammunition depot, but this time it was in Vladivostok. And again the Slyusnin crew (this time commanded by the EDB chief pilot, merited test-pilot of the USSR, Hero of the Soviet Union, Stanislav Bliznyuk, was scrambled to Vladivostok to take part in the fire fighting operation. After the air­plane's arrival, in the early morning the depot fly-around was made in the Mi-14 helicopter, and the airplane work schedule was drawn up. The task was very complicated. The depots were encom­passed by horseshoe-shaped mountains 300-400 m high. The approach to the fire bed was possible only from one direction, but this approach was hampered by a factory as made about 70 rn high. And again this time, the goal was achieved.

In those flight the ministry's experts partici­pated too, headed by Tsentrospas first deputy chief I.S. Prokopchik, In early 1993, due tot eh Ministry's interest, the improved VAP-2 with 42,000-liter tanks was designed by the EDB. The Ministry of Emergencies ordered five systems to be manufactured. The total weight of the VAP-2 with water was about 45 tons. At the same time, the establishing of Tsentrospas aviation started. The birth of Tsentrospas was due to the deeper understanding by the authorities of the necessity of creating in Russia the civil protection system. 

In August 1993, the Tsentrospas aviation received its first two II-76TD airplanes, and in 1995, under the Government of Russia Decree, the State unitary aviation enterprise, which became the specialized successor to the Tsentrospas group, was established. At the same time, the airplane operation during the real fires continued (for example, in the summer 1993, in the Crimea and in the autumn of the same year in Kislovodsk-Zheleznogorsk region). This unique airplane also made its debut at the western mar­ket. The beginning was at the 1993 air-show in Paris, then in September of the same year, the II-76 with the VAP participated in the UNO training in Austria. In 1994, the Rescue Equipment '94 exhibition was held in Moscow. There the airplane was shown near Noginsk, and in September a display drop was made at the Boscomb Down proving ground of the British Royal Air Force during the Farnborough international air show.  Representatives of the US  Forestry Department, evaluating the airplane's capabilities, participated in the demonstration flight. 

In April the airplane participated in the Australian air show in Melbourne. In November 1995, the II-76 fire-fighting version was shown in Belgium at the Brussel-Eurika'95, 44 World Show of inventions, scientific researches and innovations, where the airplane and its fire-fighting equipment won the gold medal and diploma of the International Jury.

Many countries showed their interest in this airplane, especially considering the fact that it was not the purchase of the airplane offered, but the purchasing of its fire-fighting services provided by MFE pilots flying the Russian airplane. The Australian Council of fire-fighting departments considered the use of the 11-76 fire-fighting aircraft in Australia and, in accordance with the Australian request, in October 1995, tests of the II-76 with VAP-2 were successfully carried out in Zhukovsky for using special fire-extinguishing foam which is used alongside with water and retardant during the forest fire fighting operations. The Americans had to recall the unique performance of the II-76 because of the summer 1998.

In expired FY'98, the US Forestry Department spent $262 million on suppressing extensive for­est fires. It is quite obvious that the considerable help is required for the American airplanes able to take aboard 10,000 liters of water, tops. Some American experts call the II-76 "the fire-fighting strategic weapon". It seems that gasping in the smoke, the Florida state authorities have already decided to lease the Russian airplane but negoti­ations on the lease, carried out through the Global Resources Inc. company, based in Virginia, have led to nothing.

"Such a deal with the USA, apparently, ideally meets the situation, - wrote Christian Science Monitor. - The American authorities spend mil­lions of dollars on fighting the forest fires. The Russians, on their part, by signing the contract with the US government could earn vital currency and help the West indeed instead of milking it for handouts. However, the Russian airplane still remains in Russia. Even if this airplane has only half of advantages spoken about, we would like that airplane to be with us." In Europe the situation is different. The Greek government has recently asked the Russian Ministry of Emergencies for the fire-fighting II-76TD aircraft with the crew and operating personnel for the period from June 15 till August 31, 1999 to fight forest fires that usually happen in Greece in that period. Over the month, the unique Russian airplane made 25 flights pour­ing 1,050 tons of water on the fire beds.

The fire extinguishing sometimes passed in extremely difficult conditions, when the airplane had to drop water at the 300 km/h speed in low visibility and smoke at altitudes from 50 to 100 meters above the burning tree-tops and climb­ing without the possibility to manoeuvre in val­leys stressed by mountains. In  some cases, a single multi-ton water drop was enough to sup­press the fire. And again, the excellent work of Russian fire-fighting airplane that has no ana­logues across the globe drew the keen interest not only in the Greece but also in the Mediterranean countries of Europe.

"One could see that after the water drop, the black smoke was replaced with the white one, and the Turks watching the fire burst into applause and enthusiastic shouts: all three drops hit just where it was necessary. (Today newspaper, August 21, 1999). At the same time, the fire-fighting version of the II-76TD aircraft is used not only for operating abroad but for domestic operations too.

Here it is proper to recall the Ministry of emer­gencies' aviation activities in 1997-1998 during forest fire fighting operations in the Khabarovsk region, Moscow region, military ammunition depot fire extinguishing in the vicinity of Yekaterinburg, as well as the fires in the vicinity of Volgograd. In those operations the experts of the Ministry's avi­ation mastered relevant working techniques, showed their high professionalism and excellent training, which is the reason to believe that they will accomplish any mission assigned to them.





OKB Illyshin
Firefighting aircraft
Four jet engine D-30 KP Seria 2
Thrust, kgf
4 x 12.000
Length, m
Height, m
Wing span, m
Wing area, m2
- Empty aircraft, kg
- Maximum take-off, kg
- Internal fuel, ltr
Maximum speed, km/h
Cruising speed, km/h
Range, km
Combat range, km
Service ceiling, m
Payload, kg -
- water
44.000 (42.000) kg or 44 paratroops or 5.000 kg firefighting equipment or 150 passengers.