IDF pioneers innovations in aerial firefighting

Two years after Carmel Forest Fire, IAF’s Aerial Firefighting Unit is implementing a number of upgrades, including upgraded aircraft and increased training

Date: 12/04/2012, 3:15 PM     Author: Shir Golan, IAF Website

In late 2010, the largest fire in the State of Israel’s history ravaged the Carmel Forest – burning 25,000 acres of forest, destroying millions of trees, and killing 44 people. Aircraft from around the world came to Israel’s aid, and Israel’s UAV combed the area day and night.

Following the fire, politicians put a priority on developing the capability to fight fires from the skies. The responsibility to fulfill this mission fell to the IAF, which this year inaugurated its Aerial Firefighting Unit. This new unit operates in conjunction with private Israeli companies Elbit Systems, which developed the firefighting aircrafts, and Chim-Nir, which is responsible for operating and maintaining the aircraft.

New aircrafts, new pilots, and new surveillance systems

These days, the IAF is working with the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Internal Security on ensuring the future of the Aerial Firefighting Unit. These bodies are currently preparing to receive new aircraft, increasing the amount of training within the Unit, and enlisting new pilots. In addition, there are plans to install new communications and surveillance equipment on the Unit’s aircraft.

“From what we’ve learned from our operations to date, we know what gaps need to be bridged in order to improve our operations,” said Lt. Col. Rami, head of the Aerial Firefighting Unit. “We are working with the Civil Aviation Authority and other national authorities, and it is clear that the aerial firefighting capability is in a much better place than it was a couple of years ago. This involves not only aircraft that are suited to the mission, but also proper real-time decisions, the quick manner in which we have initiated the program, and the training we perform.”

Recently, the Aerial Firefighting Unit began training in the area of Beit Shemesh in collaboration with local firefighting authorities. “We are looking forward,” said Lt. Col. Rami. “We are learning lessons from the previous year of training and are making changes. During the summer, for instance, the takeoff time dropped from half an hour to fifteen minutes. In addition, we are trying to promote international cooperation with pilots from Greece and Spain.”