A US Fish and Wildlife Service officer looks back over her left shoulder to watch a Super Scooper aircraft swoop in low and skim across Skilak Lake. The Swan Lake Fire began in June 2019 and raged for months, burning more than 162,000 acres of land south of Anchorage, Alaska.
Air assets available to wildland firefighters include helicopters using the Bambi Bucket tool to drop water over the flames, C-130 aircraft that deploy streams of red retardant, and these incredible amphibious planes.
The concept of the flying boat amphibious aircraft was born before World War I. Pan American Airways used nine Boeing Model 314 Clipper planes, produced from 1938 to 1941, to fly commercial clients overseas in the height of luxury. Yet in time, the hardened concrete runways built during World War II to enable the transport of both personnel and materiel made the water bombers almost obsolete. Then came Canadair, which developed the CL-215, or “Super Scooper,” in the 1960s.
The Super Scooper today has four water tanks with a total capacity of about 1,620 gallons. Traveling at 100 mph, the aircraft needs 10 to 12 seconds maximum to fill a full payload of water before liftoff. Although rare, the water bombers have existed in rotation since the 1990s and are a great asset to wildfire suppression in the right situations.