Australian helicopter company leads way in night firefighting

Kestrel Aviation (Kestrel), one of Australia’s leading specialist helicopter firefighting companies, is preparing to launch its night vision firefighting capability in Australia, paving the way for firefighting after dark in Australia for the first time.

Kestrel Aviation’s “Helitacck 346” testing nighttime firefighting operations in Mangalore, Victoria, in Jan. 2018. Kestrel Aviation Photo

Kestrel has completed the first two trial phases, involving dropping water at low levels onto pre-determined targets using its advanced Conair 85-­KE fire attack system, something that has not previously been achieved in Australia. The final phase, to be conducted in partnership with emergency management agencies in Victoria, will involve applying the low-­level water drops into a controlled fire environment, to obtain final approval from the Civil Aviation Safety
Authority (CASA) to commence live, night-­time aerial firefighting.

“Victoria is one of the most bushfire prone areas in the world,” said Kestrel managing director Ray Cronin.

“Nighttime aerial firebombing has the potential to improve the ability of Victoria and other states to fight fires, affording better protection for bushfire-prone communities,” he said.

“Kestrel is combining its industry-­leading helicopter pilot skills with innovative technology to drop water and suppressants on fires in all conditions at night.

“These low level, night time deployments of water from Kestrel’s advanced helicopter belly tank are the first to deliver with considerable accuracy in Australia.

“Safety is a key focus and we have been working with CASA to meet all the safety regulations and gain the necessary approvals to participate in the trial.”

Kestrel has several skilled pilots with night-­flying accreditation, who will be conducting the firebombing operations alongside Victorian emergency management personnel. The next stage will involve live night vision firebombing trials with Emergency Management Victoria (EMV), the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP).

“We anticipate receiving approval to go ‘live,’ being ready to fight frontline bushfires at night, by the end of March,” Mr Cronin said.


Kestrel’s base at Mangalore, Central Victoria, is ideally situated for preliminary night trials, with a variety of terrain and celestial luminosity (various moon phases, clouded versus clear skies, and so on) that help to determine the feasibility of night bombing activities.

Kestrel is using Australian-­made “Night Eyes” vision goggles, which offer advanced image performance that is critical to the unique fire ground environment.

“This is a unique opportunity for Australian companies to showcase their capabilities and take the critical firefighting suppression flight past daylight hours,” said Mr Cronin.

“We believe Kestrel’s lead will provide a pathway for a sustainable future in nighttime firefighting within the local helicopter industry in Australia.

“We wish to acknowledge the contributions of all our partners in allowing us to evolve this innovative technology – CASA, NAFC, EMV and CFA -­ as well as our highly trained Kestrel team members.

“Night firebombing operations are already conducted offshore, and Australians can have confidence that specialist companies such as Kestrel are doing everything to stay abreast of international capabilities in fire suppression.”

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