Fire Aviation – The PC-12 in Use
Two PC-12s play a key role in fire-fighting missions in the USA: Operated by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, they are also used in search and rescue efforts. Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd
On average, seven million acres of forest, rangeland, and grasslands in the United States are consumed by fire each year. To put this in perspective, that is a burn area equivalent in size to 70 percent of the entire country of Switzerland. Preventing and controlling the spread of these fires is a critical mission for the U.S. Forest Service and government agencies.
A valuable fire-fighting asset
The two PC-12s went into service as multi-mission aircraft (MMA) in 2014. Each aircraft is flown about 550 hours per year, with the dry, hot summer months being particularly busy.
Bruce Dikken is the Unit Chief of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control in Denver with responsibility for the two PC-12s and their mission use. Dikken explains that his team assists local agencies whose fire-management resources do not typically include aircraft. The PC-12s’ role is to identify fires while they are still small, and provide intelligence on the fire’s perimeter and behaviour so that they can be tackled before they grow larger.
The PC-12s fly over the fire at 10,000 feet so as not to interfere with the fire-fighting tanker aircraft operating below them. The PC-12s are equipped with infrared imaging equipment to record information which is then transmitted to crews on the ground.
While owned by the State of Colorado, the aircraft are often loaned out to other states and federal agencies where active fires require additional support. Last December, the PC-12s played an important role in managing the largest forest fire ever seen in southern California: The “Thomas” fire ravaged almost 440 square miles, forcing over 100,000 people to evacuate their homes. It took 8,500 firefighters to finally get the fire under control. The PC-12s flew two sorties each day, the first at 3:30 in the morning, and the second at 12:30 in the afternoon, providing intelligence data on the size and movement of the fire to planners on the ground.
Reliable, efficient, proven
The PC-12 is an ideal platform for roles in fire-fighting and search and rescue efforts because it is affordable, fast, can stay airborne for a long time, and can be operated from almost any airfield. From its base in Denver, a PC-12 can be over any point in the state of Colorado within one hour of receiving a call. The suite of sensors and communications equipment it carries greatly improves firefighter safety and efficiency in handling an incident.
When asked what his crews like best about the PC-12, Dikken replied, “The aircraft is just super reliable, very efficient, and fun to fly. And the support we always receive from Pilatus is simply top-notch. For example, on our way out to California to support the ‘Thomas’ fire, we had an AOG (aircraft-on-ground) situation. Pilatus opened the parts warehouse during the night and got us what we needed to continue the next morning. That type of support to public agencies is critical to saving lives and helping us accomplish our mission.”