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Tags aerial , firefighting , helicopters

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Old 16th April 2019, 12:31 PM   #1
sackett
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Aerial structural firefighting

During the Notre Dame fire, President Donny Scheissdipff made a characteristically boneheaded suggestion about using water bombers. Somebody in France took the time to answer publicly, explaining why that wouldnít work; probably other people had had the same idea; perhaps it was worth someoneís time to post a reply.

But even a dolt can have the germ of an idea. I once had the luck, quite a few years ago, to see a Sikorsky Skycrane making trial runs over the California coast, filling its tank at sea and then dumping water onshore. This technique, using the Skycrane and other copters, works well against brush and forest fires.

Could firefighting helicopters be used against structural fires? The advantage of a copter is its ability to hover. I donít think hovering is much used against wildfires, where wide coverage is important, but against a more circumscribed blaze in a building, it might be feasible; I leave that question to the chopper pilots to answer.

Hovering over a burning Notre Dame while dumping water would have to be done from just the right altitude: low enough to cool and damp flames, but high enough for rotor wash to disperse the water and prevent battering of the structure; the method for releasing the water might have to be adapted to that specialized purpose. Updraft from the fire would be a serious factor, possibly defeating a first application, and also threatening the aircraft. Again, I leave practical evaluation to the pilots who would have to fly such a mission.

Itís wonderful to think of relays of copters attacking that heart-breaking fire with water gulped seconds before from the Seine. Would it be possible?
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Old 16th April 2019, 12:41 PM   #2
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Well, I sure am no expert, but I think that when is using aircraft to fight forest fires, then one does not have to worry about people on the ground because they are cleared out of the way.

In the case of the recent, and quite unfortunate, Notre Dame fire, there were quite a few people inside dealing with the fire. And if aircraft were used to dump water on to the fire, then it might be likely that some of the people on the ground could be hurt in the process.
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Old 16th April 2019, 12:49 PM   #3
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Even for forest fires, aerial dousing is usually done on the trees around the fire to slow the spread, not on the fire directly.
Reason being that the steam cloud can blast embers much further than they would travel on their own, spreading the fire faster instead of extinguishing it.

It is also incredibly dangerous for a helicopter to hover near a fire - the smoke can damage and/or stall the engines. A helicopter would have to be at quite an altitude to stay safe.

And then there is the issue of dumping cold water on hot stone - it would probably have cracked the walls and caused the cathedral to collapse.
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Old 16th April 2019, 12:52 PM   #4
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I'd think hovering in the updraft from the fire while low enough to do a sufficiently accurate and controlled dump would be tricky. And risky. Even a large building like Notre Dame is a pretty small target compared with a wildfire.
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Old 16th April 2019, 12:55 PM   #5
sackett
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Originally Posted by Crossbow View Post
Well, I sure am no expert, but I think that when is using aircraft to fight forest fires, then one does not have to worry about people on the ground because they are cleared out of the way.

In the case of the recent, and quite unfortunate, Notre Dame fire, there were quite a few people inside dealing with the fire. And if aircraft were used to dump water on to the fire, then it might be likely that some of the people on the ground could be hurt in the process.
I sure & hell hope that the air and ground crews could coordinate well enough to avoid that.

I also don't, of course, envision solid bricks of water dropping on a structure. That Skycrane appeared to be depositing a fairly dispersed rain -- while in forward flight rather than hover, I admit. (It also didn't reload with water while in hover, but rather in slow forward flight, to keep the spume kicked up by the rotor behind the engine intakes.) That's why I suggest relays of water-copters, to attempt to smother the flames rather than outright extinguish them.

Where Darth Rotor when you need him?
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Old 16th April 2019, 04:02 PM   #6
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At Chernobyl there was an attempt to use helicopters to dump slurry into the reactor to smother the fire.

It did not go well; the crews mostly missed the huge hole in the reactor building.
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Old 17th April 2019, 01:32 PM   #7
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Perhaps a hose could be attached to the 'copter so that it could be at some lateral distance from the fire and avoid the updraft? In that case it could also be much closer and thus supply a relatively accurate stream of water from above.
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Old 17th April 2019, 01:40 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Roboramma View Post
Perhaps a hose could be attached to the 'copter so that it could be at some lateral distance from the fire and avoid the updraft? In that case it could also be much closer and thus supply a relatively accurate stream of water from above.
I wondered the same thing. Could the flying crane carry a water tank, pump and water canon, then spray from various altitudes as needed?
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Old 18th April 2019, 05:14 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by JimOfAllTrades View Post
I wondered the same thing. Could the flying crane carry a water tank, pump and water canon, then spray from various altitudes as needed?
First thing I thought, watching that Skycrane: hey, reverse the pump and shoot a stick of water at spot fires.

Drones have, I think, been used to carry hoses aloft, at least in trials.

Next: electric-powered drones (no engines sucking in smoke and debris) hovering and delivering rain/fog to the heart of the fire.
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Last edited by sackett; 18th April 2019 at 05:16 AM. Reason: My thick fingerd
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Old 18th April 2019, 05:30 AM   #10
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I cannot begin to imagine the devastation that would be caused by dumping tons of water from altitude onto a 900 year-old building in the middle of a major city.
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Old 18th April 2019, 07:22 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
I cannot begin to imagine the devastation that would be caused by dumping tons of water from altitude onto a 900 year-old building in the middle of a major city.
Neither can I. That's why I don't envision doing such a thing. I suggest a gradual and dispersed wetting by relays of aerial vehicles that can hover or make low-speed passes. If they're pilotless and can endure a smoke plume, good.

I think I shouldn't even have mentioned Frito Benito's brain-dead notion.
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Old 18th April 2019, 09:22 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
I cannot begin to imagine the devastation that would be caused by dumping tons of water from altitude onto a 900 year-old building in the middle of a major city.
I wonder if it would have much impact (literally).

[anecdote]While performing helicopter slung dispersant drills, my ground crew wandered out into the middle of the area of airport we were using. Of course oilfield chopper pilots being what they are, targeted the personnel targets rather than the orange plastic cones laid out for the drill.

500litres of water 1/2 a tonne, dropped from about 30m had little impact effect on personnel. Just a heavy rain. We were not using the disperser head at the time, so the water dumping from the tank was quite quick.[/anecdote]
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Old 18th April 2019, 10:34 PM   #13
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... which is why Helicopters drop extinguisher foam instead of water - which would have been harmful to the Seine in this case.
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Old 19th April 2019, 12:05 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by EHocking View Post
I wonder if it would have much impact (literally).

[anecdote]While performing helicopter slung dispersant drills, my ground crew wandered out into the middle of the area of airport we were using. Of course oilfield chopper pilots being what they are, targeted the personnel targets rather than the orange plastic cones laid out for the drill.

500litres of water 1/2 a tonne, dropped from about 30m had little impact effect on personnel. Just a heavy rain. We were not using the disperser head at the time, so the water dumping from the tank was quite quick.[/anecdote]
Each person might have received 5 liters of water. Maybe even less.
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Old 19th April 2019, 12:16 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by The Great Zaganza View Post
... which is why Helicopters drop extinguisher foam instead of water - which would have been harmful to the Seine in this case.
Not exclusively at all. Water is much more likely to be used. It is usually more abundant, available, cheaper (if not free) and has much less environmental impact than chemical retardants. Some even question using seawater drops.

See Helicopter bucketWP which are slung beneath a chopper and dunked into dams or lakes to refill. Similarly an Aircrane/Skycrane which drops a hose and pumps the water into onboard tanks.
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Old 19th April 2019, 10:16 AM   #16
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During the last fire season, I was troubled enough to try to think up ways to improve the effectiveness of aerial firefighting. After much labor, the giant brain came up with pelleted water ice, and/or pelleted dry ice. The latter is of course an especially good damper because it deprives the fire of oxygen.

"Pelleted" is the operant word, and I freely confess that my Stone Age grasp of engineering fails to suggest any way to do that.

So here I am, grunting, "Fire bad! You kill bad fire! Yes?"
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Old 19th April 2019, 11:21 AM   #17
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I happened to see some of the early live coverage of the fire, including the collapse of the spire, and also wondered at the time whether it would have been better handled by aerial means, but that was due in part to the fact that the coverage made the on-site firefighting invisible, and it appeared that the fire spread from a small point to a larger with little being done. Subsequent news makes it clear that this wasn't so, and that there were people, as well as a nifty firefighting robot, inside. It may be that there were people inside under the burning roof, which aerial water might have caused to collapse further, not to mention the possibility that it might have caused greater damage to the walls. Some of the pictures I've seen of the aftermath suggest that the damage at floor level was not so terrible, but I imagine huge amounts of water might have had a pretty devastating effect.
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