The US is a very large market for regional jets, which are made in Brazil and Canada. Those foreign manufacturers took the risk and developed airplanes which meet those needs. Now a Chinese manufacturer appears poised to address an American need for firefighting amphibious plane to fill this apparent void.
This summer’s news media has covered a number of wildfires in which aircraft have been used to attack the blazes which consume forests, parks, homes, communities and lives in their paths. The pictures portray difficult battles in which largely antiquated airplanes are the most effective equipment to deluge the flames with water. The above↑ picture and the below↓article tell the tale of a proposed Chinese solution.
The US fleet used for attack forest fires includes some old airplanes, such as the Martin Mars, a 1942 amphibious plane which can land in a nearby water source, refill its liquid cargo and return quickly to the fire site. Other planes, which are not able to land in lakes, are also old. The NTSB expressed concerns about the age of the existing “water bomber” aircraft, due to their aging and need for high maintenance. The Government Accountability Office studied the situation and concluded in 2013 that the US Departments of Agriculture and Interior should investigate the development of new, more reliable airplanes. [Note: helicopters with greater maneuverability, but lesser capacity, do not appear to have the same aging problems.]
In response to that substantial evidence of a need comes China Aviation Industry General Aircraft’s Zhuhai branch which has been developing the above amphibian for a water bomber. The TA600 will have a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 tons and a maximum range of more than 5,000 kilometers. This impressive bird should be ready by 2015.
If the TA600 meets its specifications, it will provide a much needed tool in the battle against US wildfires. It will be interesting to see if an American manufacturer can produce a competitive alternative.
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