Aircraft in Bushfire Management in Western Australia


Bushfires have been a concern for their destructive powerever since white settlers first began to populate Australia. Ironically, white forestry and agricultural practices have exacerbated the natural problems with bushfires. In the mid-1960s the Western Australian Forests Department and the CSIRO developed a method of lighting controlled fires from aircraft to reduce the amount of fuel available in the event of an uncontrolled fire.

The first aircraft used in trials was Cessna 337 Super Skymaster VH-RZO, seen above at Jandakot on 11 October 1969. The method devleoped used a chemical reaction initiated in phials that were ejected from the aircraft. Needless to say, the Department of Civil Aviation was initially askance at the thought of deliberately introducing fire aboard an aircraft, but eventually they were pursuaded of the safety of the system.

VH-RZO was imported as new stock for Cessna dealer Simpson Aviation at Jandakot and registered on 20 July 1966. It was sold to Air Culture Pty Ltd at Jandakot, when company owner Bill Boulden set up a short-lived air charter enterprise as a sideline to his main aerial agricultural business. The Cessna 337 was abandoned as the fire lighting platform when it was shown to be unable to maintain altitude on one engine with all the personnel and gear aboard. Beech Barons were subsequently employed on this work.

VH-RZO was soon sold on to Trans West Air Charter. Trans West Air Charter later traded it back to parent company Simpson Aviation on a newer Cessna twin. VH-RZO ended its days at remote Rutland Plains Station in Far North Queensland on 24 March 1977. Ironically, the pilot had departed Kowanyama Aboriginal Reserve using the front engine only after the rear engine would not start, but force landed 3 miles from Rutland Plains strip.


Aircraft in Bushfire Management

(Photo: Geoff Goodall)


< Click on the icon at left to read Forrester Roger Underwood's account of the beginnings of the use of aircraft in bushfire management in Western Australia (1 MB .pdf file).

This account was originally delivered as a talk to the WA Old Fliers Group at Jandakot in September 3009.


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Aircraft in Bushfire Management - Underwood