Fighting forest fires at night: BC Wildfire Service successfully tests night vision helicopter operations
VANCOUVER -- There’s a new weapon in B.C.’s forest firefighting arsenal.
After two years of planning, the BC Wildfire Service has successfully tested a helitanker --a helicopter with a water tank-- equipped with night vision goggle technology.
“It is a game changer,” said Leanne Ingham, superintendent of aviation management for the BC Wildfire Service.
Nighttime aerial firefighting occurs in other jurisdictions, such as California, but if implemented here, it would be a Canadian first.
"It won’t be used everywhere….but this gives us more tools in our toolbox," Ingham added.
Nighttime aerial operations would be advantageous because conditions at night are often better for fighting fires.
"The temperatures are down, the humidity is up and often the wind is down. So it makes the water that much more effective coming from the aircraft," she said.
The aircraft being used is an Airbus AS365 N2 Dauphin, owned and operated by Talon Helicopters, based in Richmond.
The aircraft has been outfitted with a 900L tank on its belly, along with a custom night vision-friendly instrument panel in the cockpit.
"Every single bulb and instrument has had to be modified,” said Murray. "So it doesn’t interfere with the pilot's vision at night or with the use of the night vision goggles.
Normally, aerial operations have to cease at sunset, but Murray says the new technology, which has been approved for use by Transport Canada will "allow us to keep flying all night, if required."
The technology also has the potential to expand operations at night for search and rescue groups.
For wildfire operations, the next step is to conduct tests on live fires. So far, tests have been limited to controlled campfires.
"There are some things we can’t test in a controlled environment,” said Ingham, citing the unpredictability of conditions in a live fire situation. "But we’re pretty optimistic.”