2021 US Aerial Firefighting Capacity under a Level 5 threat

Fire Cloud in forest
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2021 record year as to Wildfire Threats

Planes and Helicopters powerful weapons against conflagrations

US Forest Service and CAL FIRE resources 

The destructive power of wildfires has dimensions beyond comprehension. Aircraft (planes and rotorcraft) provide quick, mobile, precise and effective vehicles to attack these dangerous conflagrations. The US is in the midst of the time of year when these disasters are at the peak of their attack of forests, structures, wildlife and people. In fact, the National Fire Information Center has determined that the current risks are at the highest levels.

Past Fire reports (click on the images for the full stories)


need for new firefighting aircraft





California FF aircraft




GA FF story


2021 Fire Threat map


National Fire News

National Preparedness Level 5

as of July 14, 2021, at 6 p.m. MDT (on a scale from 1 to 5)

National Fire Information Center Levels

Please check the IMSR for more information.

July 18, 2021

Eighty wildfires have burned 1,157,976 acres in 13 states. More than 19,700 wildland firefighters and support personnel and 35 Type 1 and Type 2 incident management teams are assigned to wildfires. To date, 34,941 wildfires have burned 2,509,231 acres in the United States.


Massive Forest Fires in 2021: Should We Be Concerned?




What is the current fleet readiness available to respond to this threat?



Here is an article with an extensive list of firefighting aircraft and another assessing the market for these aerial firefighting aircraft.




The federal team:


Planes and helicopters are critical tools in managing wildland fire. Although aircraft are often used to fight wildfires, aircraft alone cannot put them out. Firefighters rely on planes and helicopters to:

  • Deliver equipment and supplies.
  • Deploy smokejumpers and rappellers to a fire.
  • Transport firefighters.
  • Provide reconnaissance of new fires, fire locations, and fire behavior.
  • Drop fire retardant or water to slow down a fire so firefighters can contain it.
  • Ignite prescribed fires.

The Forest Service uses planes of many types and sizes to manage wildland fires. Some are owned by the Forest Service, many are leased or contracted and during times of high fire activity, military aircraft may be activated. When aircraft aren’t being used to support wildland fires, they may be used for other natural resource management activities, such as conducting aerial surveys of wildlife populations and forest health.





In 2014 the Forest Service announced that it added:

‘… four additional aircraft to its next-generation firefighting fleet, bringing the total amount of aircraft to 21 large airtankers (with opportunities to add additional aircraft, if needed) and more than 100 helicopters. The new aircraft will enter service in the coming weeks and support over 10,000 firefighters for the 2014 wildfire season.

“We continue to increase and modernize the fleet of aircraft available for wildland fire suppression activities,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “These new planes will combine with our existing fleet to support to our heroes on the ground fighting wildfires to keep our resources and communities safe.”

More recently, this service within the Department of Agriculture stated

“The USDA Forest Service is highly interested in new technologies and believes there is potential to fly Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to support a host of natural resource management activities, including forest health protection, wildfire suppression, research, recreational impacts, and law enforcement…

The FAA and the U.S. Forest Service consider all UAS, regardless of size or weight, to be aircraft. All UAS flown on National Forest System lands must comply with FAA and U.S. Forest Service laws, regulations and policies.

Firefighting aircraft – such as air attack aircraft, lead planes, airtankers and helicopters – typically fly in smoky, windy and turbulent conditions. Safety depends on knowing what other aircraft are operating in the airspace and where they are at all times. This is compromised by the presence of unauthorized UAS.”


Additional MAFFS-Equipped Aircraft Mobilized to Assist with Wildfires

Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS) , which can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than 10 seconds across a quarter-mile line.


The largest  firefighting aircraft  fleet is managed by CAL FIRECALFIRE LOGO

CAL FIRE’s fleet of over 60 fixed and rotary wing aircraft make it the largest civil aerial firefighting fleet in the world. CAL FIRE’s world-renowned aviation program responds to thousands of wildlands fires throughout California each year. CAL FIRE’s current aviation fleet includes Grumman S-2T airtankerBell UH-1H Super Huey HelicoptersSikorsky S70i Helicopters, and North American OV-10A (& 1 D Model) Bronco Air Tactical Aircraft. These aircraft, highly skilled pilots, and aviation support staff are strategically located throughout California at our 13 air tanker bases, 10 CAL FIRE helitack bases and one CAL FIRE/San Diego County Sheriff helitack base. Aircraft can reach the most remote State Responsibility Area (SRA) fires in approximately 20 minutes, with the goal of keeping 95% of fires at 10 acres or less.

CAL FIRE’s aviation program continues to look to the future in both technology and aerial firefighting capability. The recent addition of the 12 Sikorsky S70i CAL FIRE HAWK helicopters and future addition of 7 Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules airtankers are an example of CAL FIRE’s commitment to remain the premier firefighting aviation program in the world.

All CAL FIRE helicopters are flown by CAL FIRE pilots.  CAL FIRE’s current support contractor DynCorp International provides airtanker and air tactical fixed wing pilot services, and all aircraft maintenance services. DynCorp International has received numerous awards by the Federal Aviation Administration. LSI Logistic Specialties Inc. provides procurement and parts management services.

CAL FIRE Debuts Helicopter with Night Firefighting Ability

New $24 Million Helicopter Brings Military Technology to California Firefighting


The one of a dozen purchased by the state for $288 million— capable of flying up 160 mph and carrying 1,000 gallons of water in a steel tank affixed to its belly — can fly to Santa Rosa in 10 to 12 minutes and lay a 300-yard trail of water on a fire from 100 feet above ground or tree level on arrival greatest asset is suitability for nighttime firefighting ..  ferry seven firefighters in a spacious cabin and conduct rescues with a hoist and a 250-foot cable.

Additional Aircraft is available:

Dauntless Air Enters 2021 Wildfire Season with Expanded Fleet of 15 Fire Bosses

With the largest and most technologically advanced Fire Boss fleet in the US, the aerial firefighting company will support wildfire operations for the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and several state fire agencies

FROM SAAB: The AT-802F is an aerial firefighter aircraft capable of delivering up to 50,000 liters of water per hour. The ability to quickly get to remote sites and drop large amounts of water is crucial when assisting ground units in fighting forest fires

AT-802F Fire Boss aerial firefighting aircraft

AT-802F Fire Boss aerial firefighting aircraft



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