As the fire season moves into high gear across Australia. Two operators are now gearing up for the change of operations that is night time firebombing. 
This important operation will further help the various agencies tackle blazes when calmer conditions prevail. 
Kestrel Aviation has been instrumental in developing the mission case with the crews, aircraft, and developing the profiles for the deployment of it in the real world. 
Emergency Management Victoria launched its recommenced Night Fire Aviation Program (NFAP) on Monday evening the 30th November at Wesburn near Warburton in Victoria. The demonstration is based on a real-world scenario in the Yarra Valley with fire in bushland threatening the urban interface.
The program’s objective is to integrate night operations into the current suite of aircraft available to manage a fire incident and to further trial and understand the night aviation capability. It includes both night firebombing and night aerial intelligence gathering services. Kestrel has been at the forefront of this program since its inception in 2018. 
The development of the Initial Attack After Dark strategies which includes Specialist Intelligence Gathering (SIG), Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS) will enable the equipped helicopters to be deployed to the fire without having seen the fire in daylight, but with clear conditions, good light, and well-mapped areas with good intelligence.
The EMV Commissioner Andrew Crisp was on hand to brief the assembled media on the mission and the roles the two helicopters would conduct during the demonstration.   

EMV Commissioner Andrew Crisp addresses the assembled media.

Aviation Spotters Online was a guest of Kestrel Aviation to witness the demonstration to local Fire Rescue Brigades at a quarry. The demonstration saw one of Kestrel’s Bell 412 VH-KHU which operates as Helitak ‘346’ partner with Professional Helicopter Servies, Airbus Helicopters AS355 VH-PHN which operates as Firebird ‘318’. 

Professional Helicopter Servies is based out of Moorabbin Airport. They operate several examples of the Squirrel. Airbus Helicopters AS355 VH-PHN which operates as Firebird ‘318’ is a twin-engined version. This 1986 build airframe was originally delivered to an operator in the United Kingdom, before moving to France then Israel before it arrived in Australia in 2015.

The two machines were tasked to operate from the Wesburn (Sportsground and SES facility)  which was utilised as the airbase for refueling, briefing, AAS crew changeover, and media briefing.
The two helicopters then transited to the quarry 15k WNW of Wesburn for the bombing activity. Conducting multiple drops on the simulated fire the assembled fire crews, and media were able to witness the evolution of this now vital role in protecting property and people for Victorians. 

Kestrel Bell 412 VH-KHU is a 1992 build airframe. Originally delivered to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Keishichō in 1993 the helicopter was purchased by Kestrel following retirement by the force in 2013. Now flying in the companies signature red and white livery, the helicopter is fitted with a 1500+litre Conair 85-KE belly tank. The tank is designed to allow the helicopter to hover-fill from a water source, utilising the attached snorkel. Inside the cabin, the pilots can add a mixture of fire fighting suppressant foam to increase the effectiveness of the mix when it is dropped on a fire. The helicopter is also capable of winch, rappel, long line operations.


The two pilots who operated Helitak 346 were Captains Richard Butterworth and Shane Holmes during the demonstration. Captain Butterworth developed the night firebombing program for Kestrel of which he is also the project manager and flight lead.


Helitak 346 is seen pre-season, with the lower skids and the Conair 85-KE Tank removed. VH-KHW is seen in its fire season equipped role.

With the impending season already showing a significant tempo in the northern parts of Victoria, it looks as though the night time aerial fire fighting role will be utilised significantly.
This fire season the NVIS 

With the ever-increasing requirements for better equipment that can deliver the mission profile on time and on target the Kestrel Aviation team headed by Ray Cronin, and backed up General Manager Justin Charlesworth.    

The company continues its investment in aerial fire fighting in Australia with the announcement this week that the first UH-60 Blackhawk in the familiar red and white livery is on a boat headed arriving in time for the 2020/21 season. 
Exciting times ahead for the Mangalore, Victoria based operation.
ASO would like to again thank Kestrel Avaiton for their hosting of myself and invitation to the event.
Dave Soda Soderstrom

A fraction of the Kestrel Fleet at the companies Mangalore base, note Helitak 346 is the first one in the foreground.