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R.I.P. – AERIAL FIREFIGHTING INNOVATION

AERIAL FIREFIGHTING INNOVATION

(In Spanish here)

Innovation in aerial firefighting, with few exceptions, is not O.K., it is K.O.

The technology gap between what customers demand and what incumbent organizations can provide has grown. Innovation is usually nothing more than a hollow slogan promoted and repeated over and over again.

We have repeatedly stated that society has state-of-the-art technology and that massive fires happen as “Black Swans”; unavoidable surprises beyond the control of corporations and beyond government.

But when you dig deeper and look at the inside of the industry, you see that many specialized corporations have real difficulties adapting to new technologies and innovations.

Neither megafires nor financial crises are unpredictable Black Swans. Similar patterns repeat year after year and are no longer surprising. Both the incumbent operators and the established firefighting setup share some of the blame for the fire’s results. In the same way, banks and the economic system are liable to an extent for the damage caused to a debt-suffocated society.

We, as ordinary citizens, are also responsible if these issues become normalized, whether it is financial abuse or faulty services.

Based on the original idea of writer and philosopher Nassim Taleb, this video explains the concept of the Black Swans and the impact of the highly unlikely.

 

Why is there a technological gap between what customers want and what incumbent organizations are able to provide?

  • Established firms tend to use continuous exploitation cycles, distinguishing themselves by infrequent, sustainable innovation; those that enhance existing technologies.
  • We lack exploration cycles characterized by disruptive strategies and innovation, which would drastically change products and services.
  • Some companies in this industry are resistant to change.
  • Organizations that follow the current paradigm sometimes struggle to connect with the original purpose their founders had back then
  • Wildfire prevention and suppression are not considered Homeland Security issues, thus not as adequately funded as e.g. the military.

 

Fires at the urban-wildland interface threaten human lives. Our lifestyle is comfortable. Until the house burns, or it hits us close to home.
As they continue to save banks and support companies that do not invest enough in innovation, we have the individual responsibility and the collective opportunity to take the lead and change the course, instead of resigning ourselves to the comfort of victimhood.

Let’s begin.

Same aircraft, same tactics, used 60 years ago

“Telephone did not come out of the persistent improvement of postal delivery” – Amit Kalantri.

As of today, we are still flying the same aircraft used 60 years ago for firefighting. Due to corporate interests and political pressures, we are stubbornly trying to repurpose them.

The case of the USA – California has already been discussed in this article. A state that continues to employ overstepped aircraft and tactics that could be improved based on recent studies. This is in direct contrast to the vast Air Force fleet, both in terms of cost and technology.

An example is the F-35 Lighting II, a fighter aircraft that the United States Air Force intends to buy more than 2,400 units for a price of $323 billion, or more than $100 million per aircraft. The most expensive defense program in history.

 

F-35 Lighting II de la U.S.A.F.                                                                                     Grumman S2-Tracker

Meanwhile, they continue to use the Grumman S2-T, which was designed more than 70 years ago but adapted and retrofitted for a purpose it was never intended for.

Would it be possible to adapt the design of a WWII bomber to meet the needs of a modern fighter?

In fact, this does not happen, and the approach is a clean-sheet design according to the needs of society and of the Air Force.

Investment in Prevention and Suppression VS. investment in Defense

It would be worth a full article to discuss what society needs. Political interests do not always reflect community interests. It is quite likely that many Californians believe securing our citizens and forests from wildland-urban interface fires like those of Paradise or Mati in Greece is more important than sending soldiers and billions of dollars to places they have never even heard of.

Similarly, some citizens living in areas at risk of fires at the wildland-urban interface such as Madrid or Gerona may perceive forest fires and climate change as greater threats than Morocco and Spain’s geopolitical rivalries. They might support a budgetary adjustment to increase prevention and suppression and reduce Air Force assets.

Alternatively, if we ask the relatives of those who lost their lives during 9/11 and 11M (Spain), I bet they would prefer investing in defense.

Last, there are those who believe that it is neither black nor white. According to current threats, a long-term firefighting prevention plan could be implemented along with an effective army

The technological gap between civil and military

Money talks

In addition to the previous debate, what I have been able to verify first-hand is that my military colleagues have been flying at Mach 2 for decades, using automated systems, voice control, fly-by-wire, glide path vectors, and E.F.V.S., enabling 12-year-old boys, used to tablets and video games, to perform an approach below minima.

However, aerial firefighting cannot be done safely at night. Muscle memory is our flagship automatism, and our most sophisticated instrument is called “the balls hanging from the stick.” In other words, more refined and bombastic: “sense of the pants.”

Here is a cockpit photo of a couple of S.E.A.T.s we usually use. Despite the variations among companies, they are all pretty similar.

 

Civilian Air Tractor and Thrush cockpits widely used for aerial firefighting and agricultural flying

Quite a simple layout. We do not even have an angle of attack indicator, which is crucial for judging attitudes and managing energy for the type of flying we do.

The following is the same aircraft modified for use in the defense industry:

Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man world!

Air Tractor and Thrush customized models to serve the military industry. Source airtractor.com and iomax.net

A pilot with avionics experience can easily see the differences: top-of-the-line instrumentation, the Rolex watch, the fine Italian carpaccio, the weekend Dolce & Gabbana perfume, and that Tom Ford suit for the special occasions.

Angle of attack would probably be the least relevant instrument to the military pilot who is surrounded by other impressive pieces of technology: Head-Up Displays, Glide Path Vectors, redundant systems and instruments, sensors, and screens that could spot the hair color of people thousands of feet below.

The AT-802U Long sword is the military version of the Air Tractor. Here’s the Thrush 660 Archangel. All Public information.

 

Could we be facing an upside-down scenario?

Pilots fighting fires in hostile areas, using farmer technology in armed conflicts

A state-of-the-art fighter jet dropping bombs over a forest fire

The paradox arises when some civilian firefighting pilots fly in red zones where we get shot. As strange as it sounds, we use a system halfway between homemade and professional armor. 1.5 inch Kevlar plates protect us from bullets; on the back of the seat, on the floor, on the cockpit sides, doors and windows.

Additionally, we have developed a firebombing scheme that is more like an air-ground attack (varying entrance, departure patterns, and heights) than a normal aerial firefighting procedure. As well as fighting fires, we need to be aware of an additional enemy. Hills and valleys are not just relevant to aircraft performance, they could also be used as targets.

One colleague was hit by an AK-47 caliber bullet 10 inches from his head, crossing the cockpit side to side.

I have not been told; I witnessed it.

I have acted as a volunteer in red zones affected by a social conflict I am not a part of, I’ve fought fires from my mission and principles’ bottom, and seeing it in retrospect, also from stupidity!

It becomes paradoxical when some civilian firefighting pilots fly in red zones where we get shot. Yes, it sounds weird, but we use an armor system halfway the homemade-improvised and the professional. 1.5 inches Kevlar plates to protect ourselves from bullets; on the back of the seat, on the floor, on the cockpit sides, doors, and windows, up to a third of its surface.

We have also created firebombing procedures more similar to air-ground attacks (varying entrance, departure patterns, and heights) than to the standard aerial firefighting procedures in the rest of the world. Apart from fighting the fire, we need to keep an eye on an extra enemy, and hills and valleys are not just relevant to aircraft performance, but they could also represent a good shooting point.

A colleague got an AK-47 caliber bullet crossing the cockpit from side to side, just 10 inches from the head.

And once again, they have not told me; I lived it.

I have been there several seasons as a volunteer in red zones affected by a social conflict that I am not a part of, fighting fires from the bottom of my purpose and principles, and why not say it now in hindsight and seeing the bigger picture; from stupidity.

 

Our base, which appears in the video and has a double fence, guard dogs, lights, armed guards, and looks like a prison in the middle of a forest, was attacked one night, and all 3 firefighting helicopters were destroyed.

Here is another instance of a Skycrane that was set on fire during the night.

I wonder who is responsible for this reversal of reality?

What happened to our “Archangel” with the “Longsword”? Who is responsible for ensuring the crew’s safety, for setting up the right basis for the contracts, for choosing the best assets for the mission and for the correct standards?

The operators? The contractors? The fire departments? The government? The brand sales department?

Or just pilots who accept it?

I’m not sure.

It is my hope that all parties involved take a step back and reevaluate the situation, otherwise, we will end up having a fatality at some point.

What I´m sure of, is that I have seen videos of state-of-the-art fighter jets bombing fires without any ground-to-air response.

It did not catch me on the other side of the world, nor have I heard it by far indirect sources: I was there fighting fires from the front line that year under a European Mechanism.

The bombs’ strategy still echoes in my head as a massive question mark. Maybe it’s just a master plan not understood at my front-line user level.

During this interview, Tomer Inbar says words of wisdom that make us think about it

 

Final thought; I can only say it louder, not clearer:

“When deaths from forest fires, material losses, and health problems are equated with the destruction caused by acts of war or terrorism, there will be no flame that dares to show up across forests again.”

Technology and creative processes

This point relates well to creative processes and technological improvements.

Whenever we seek to improve anything, be it a state-of-the-art supersonic fighter or a firefighting aircraft, we must ask two questions:

  1. What are end-users demanding?
  2. How can we improve current processes and products?

There is no doubt that the most significant power in the world has sat down to develop the F-35. Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, and Northrop Grumman, as primary partners, have addressed both questions. Other powers such as the UK, Italy, Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Turkey have contributed to the program.

Does this process, so basic and necessary, happen in aerial firefighting?

Absolutely not.

It’s not just the United States, where Silicon Valley, a worldwide technological spearhead, and home of entrepreneurship, is 80 miles from the epicenter of the worst wildland fires in decades. The technological gap between offer and demand is also present in the rest of the world.

 

AIRCRAFT BASED ON PRIMITIVE DESIGNS

We continue to fly the same aircraft we did 50-60 years ago.

I have seen the process firsthand:

My father spent the 70s jumping from a Piper Pawnee Brave to a Thrush Commander. He fought wildland fires around “Alto Ampurdán” in the Spanish Northeast territories, near Barcelona, and throughout Spain. As of then, the flagship of the fixed-wing fleet was already the Canadair CL-215, belonging to the 404 Military Squadron.

Thrush Commander – Piper Pawnee Brave – Juan José Navacerrada 1970’s

As a result of my father’s aeronautical legacy, I fly a wonderful aircraft called AT802, which is based on Leland Snow’s design and vision. Though the nose is more prominent and the shoes bigger!

AT802 Fireboss. Currently, one of the most effective solutions to fight wildland fires

AT802 Fireboss. As of now, one of the most effective solutions to fight wildfires

A Fireboss is the result of a worthy creative process. Bob Wiplinger was the major “driver” behind the Fire Boss system design. From the drawing board to a fully certified product, he worked closely with the Wipaire and Air Tractor engineering teams.  This system has been a game-changer in certain aspects, combining an agile initial attack with a massive water delivery rate. But the foundation, same as the Thrush family, is once again underpinned by Leland Snow’s 1950s agricultural design.

You can put lipstick on a pig, and on a monkey – it´s still a pig, and a monkey

In spite of nice corporatist designs and powerful digital marketing campaigns, we think we have NASA technology to fight fires every time a C-130 Hercules or CH-47 Chinook is deployed. Even so, the same designs have remained unchanged since 1954 and 1960, respectively.

Do I see double? Source Wikipedia

While the CL-515 is marketed as top-of-the-line technology by its new investors, to me and others,  it is actually just an improved version of the CL-215, 60 years after its first flight.

The CL-215, now called the CL-415 and soon to be the CL-515, still represents the fixed-wing sector like Kleenex to tissues.

The Thrush 710P is a real workhorse and great flyer but in essence, an improvement on Leland Snow’s 1956 original design.

Ayres – Snow – Thrush – different names throughout history for the same concept

Even if Arnold – the Austrian Oak – puts himself in the hands of the best plastic surgeons, he will not be able to portray Conan the Barbarian or Terminator once again. Neither win a Mister Olympia again as he did in the splendor of his career.

Time flies, for humans, machines, and even for Terminator.

So what changes have occurred since the 1970s?

 

Not many…

“Nothing changes if nothing changes.” 

If nothing changes, we stay the same. 

We don’t grow. 

We don’t evolve. 

We don’t get better. 

And that’s not going to work—not for you, and not for the world. 

We need positive change. 

We need new ideas. 

We need progress.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is thinking that what you did yesterday will be enough for tomorrow”. –William Pollard.

 

Might it be time for a profound change?

THE YELENA ISINBAYEVA EFFECT

In the context I just described, we are fed R&D via a dropper. Progress is imposed in a highly hierarchical way, without allowing or promoting horizontal inputs from operational frontliners nor from customer needs. This leads to Customer manipulation when in other words, existing assets are exploited to obtain the largest market share and the highest profits for corporations.

My title for this phenomenon is “the Yelena Isinbayeva effect.”

The retired Russian athlete is a world, Olympic, and European champion in pole vault. Throughout her career, she broke the world record 28 times, 15 outdoors and 13 indoors. She holds world records in the outdoor pole (5.06m), the Olympic pole (5.05m), and the World Championship pole (5.01m).

 

Isinbayeva and her records. Wikipedia

Certainly, she could have achieved her best marks faster by skills, but that was not what she wanted:

Instead, she went slowly. She raised significant sums of money each time she broke her previous record, including sponsorships and prizes.

As she had no rivals at her level to compete with, a centimeter-by-centimeter progress kept her among the top for a decade, allowing her to maximize earnings.

As an incumbent operator, it is quite similar to what you do once you choose a brand, take on commercial commitments, and take on an entire fleet. Whatever they have must be profitable, no matter how outdated, inefficient, or technologically overstepped it might be. This leads to never-ending exploiting cycles and little innovation

Unless there is a significant fresh wave of R & D activity that pushes for significant changes in the status quo, small improvements become good enough to create a false image of innovation for the non-specialized public, allowing corporations to comfortably remain at the top of the food chain.

BOB BEAMON, THE ANTITHESIS OF ISINBAYEVA – DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION

Known for his world record in the long jump, termed “the jump of the century”, achieved at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968, he improved by 55 centimeters from his previous record.

Just brutal. Today, it remains the current Olympic long jump record and exceeds 50 years of validity

Former Olympic champion Lynn Davies told Beamon “You have destroyed this event,” and in sports jargon, a new adjective – Beamonesque – came into use to describe spectacular feats. 

Prior to the record, he had jumped 8.33 m. Afterward, he did not exceed 8.22 m. During the monster jump, he reacted with perplexity, and judges were shocked. The new long jump record on the manual scoreboard took a long time to appear as they had to improvise the mechanism to measure it.

World record improvements since 1901 have averaged 0.06 m, with the largest being 0.15 m. At that time, the feeling was that it would be a record to break in the next century, a 21st-century record.

 

How about the Beamonesque way, please?

As I combine both examples of two great athletes, Isinbayeva and Beamon, and apply them to the aerial firefighting scenarios, I conclude that the severity and impact of mega-fires do not require speculative strategies:

They require Beamonesque actions driven by heart and purpose: exploration cycles, disruptive innovation, and an overtaken-to-its-time maneuver that elevates us above the rest, just as Beamon did.

If you do something, don’t do it halfway or half-heartedly. It might seem foolish or not the best financial strategy to Isinbayeva. If we ask Steve Jobs, making foolish, risky, heartfelt decisions was perhaps one of the keys to his success and great financial return, as he famously stated:

Stay hungry, stay foolish – Steve Jobs

Beamonesque was the Titanic in the early 20th century, the Apollo program in the 60s, the Concorde in the 70s, or the General Motors EV1 in the mid-90s, 25 years before electric cars and Tesla were ordinary (it probably failed for the same reasons the firefighting fleet is struggling to innovate; interests of established corporations and the influence of lobbies).

Beamonesque actions require a clear philosophy of life, a genuine, sincere, and valuable purpose. In order to effectively serve society, we need heart, intuition, commitment, and values beyond the short-term financial gains. Paraphrasing Jobs once again:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

CREATIVE MINDS DON’T FOLLOW RULES; THEY FOLLOW THE ECHO OF THEIR INNER VOICE

Behind the major successes, you almost always see the same pattern. Before defining what we do or how we do it, we must be clear about why we do things.

Why goes first.

Simon Sinek well explains this concept in his book “the golden circle”, and in this Ted Talk which sums it up in four minutes.

 

The “Why”, always first.

 

The first question is: Why do we do it? For what purpose?

The goal is to challenge the status quo, since current processes and assets can be improved.

Our objective is to leave behind a positive legacy that will help people and the world in general.

Second question. But how?

By providing innovative services. In order to reach the desired end-user service, we carefully merge the latest available technologies and implement new ideas wherever necessary.

Third. What do we do?

We offer innovative, modern, and daring solutions for environmental problems around the world.

 

 

 

When the purpose is money

1-What is the purpose? Why do we do it?

Financial return is the purpose. We are in a favorable position to do so.

2 – How do we proceed?

Regardless of the needs of our clients and society, we profit from the assets we have under the establishment.

3-What do we do?

We fight wildland fires with the assets we have.

 

Exceptions always exist

It is good to know that some organizations, such as CONAIR in Canada, operate with a laudable purpose, radiating success and leadership, all based on a deeply rooted philosophy.

Like Isinbayeva or Bubka in the pole vault, their philosophy consists of “continually raising the bar.”. A very inspiring corporate video describes it all.

Isinbayeva or Beamon? Sustainable or disruptive? Exploitation or exploration?

You decide.

After all the experience gained while operating and redesigning, I would have liked to see how CONAIR tackles a specific clean-sheet design rather than repurposing existing designs.

Either way, they have been an industry leader and a benchmark for aerial firefighting for many countries and organizations for more than 50 years.

Respect.

AERIAL FIREFIGHTING CONTRACTS: BETTER SHORT OR LONG?

Like politics: short, dynamic, and plural? or long, static, and one-sided? This is another hot topic that needs to be addressed.

To promote technological advances and improve existing processes, certain sectors of the firefighting industry require longer contracts. Congress has discussed the topic, and a modality of 10 years contract has been proposed.

There is no doubt certain companies founded on a sincere purpose and guided by the vision of dedicated leaders, such as Dauntless Air  in the US or CONAIR in Canada (or perhaps others that I don’t know about), will benefit from this policy.

However, the proposal does not appeal to everyone, and it has an unmistakable whiff of clinging to power. Many organizations which specialize in converting “Blue Oceans” into “Red Oceans” use these policies to reinforce the status quo, forgetting about process improvement, and limiting themselves to beating the competition in order to retain power.

We are starting to see a fresh new trend in Spain, aiming at short contracts organized by batch to prevent illicit associations from forming, and companies managing contracts through mafia-style practices, fixing prices and dividing the territory by fire cartels.

Chile has been the latest case involving Spanish operators being forced to pay millions of dollars.

blue-ocean-strategy-digital-marketing

 

Without purpose, there is no innovation. Without innovation, there is no possibility of “Blue Ocean”

There are lots of low-cost aerial firefighting offers in the Spanish and Latin American markets, for example.

This is due to the current lack of purpose-specific companies. When we look at our roots, we see generational replacements that turn an original idea into a heavy inherited load, without the motivation, brilliance, and specialization that comes with being the father of a project 50 years ago. When something is made with sweat, you care more.

Sharing blood doesn’t always mean sharing genes or abilities. Those with limited vision tend to be surrounded by blind people.  And when a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a hole.

In the hole, fundamental innovation is conspicuous by its absence. As the authorities are hot on their heels, and without the possibility of a settlement on prices or distributing territories as if it were the 5 Italian families in New York of the past century, the only option is to lower prices. The prices inevitably get as deep as they can get, and when you start paying peanuts, you start getting monkeys: a downhill road with no brakes.

In this context, fire agencies get trained in the art of bargaining as if it were the Djemaa el Fna market in Marrakesh. Regardless of other important factors like fleet state, crew experience, and company safety culture, they take the cheapest bidder just because it’s cheap. Those who go to the other extreme often look for desperate solutions: large assets, even if their cost is prohibitive and their use is far less convenient for society.

Pursuit of excellence becomes a utopia, and safety, which should be paramount, becomes a pantomime – a Red Ocean comes into view.

 

THE INNOVATION DILEMMA; SUSTAINABLE VS DISRUPTIVE

Disruptive innovation emerges in the garage, not in flashy facilities

Where it all started

Contrary to widespread belief, most disruptive innovations come from agile environments and individuals with more purpose than money: startups and small companies, which in many cases are absorbed by large corporations that lack the knowledge or lack the time to innovate.

Most innovators work from their own setup, whether it is a garage at home, a home office, a coworking space, or a small rented facility in an industrial state. Innovation can start pretty much anywhere, but we can’t control when the muses appear, right? It’s probably the reason creative people are not possessive or like to be possessed, by having strict fixed working hours and scheduled tasks that could take them away from the innovation path!

If you put a creative mind in the wrong environment, you will end up killing his innovative drive.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has – Margaret Mead

On the other end are large corporations, which sometimes stifle innovation, and their back rooms reveal a real mess hidden behind ostentatious shop fronts.

As a result of excessive bureaucracy, aviation postholders are nowadays focused on the immediate. Critical players at management levels and controlling shareholders are often disengaged from the operational reality, leading to an extreme focus on financial capital and short-term returns, instead of caring for human capital, and long-term performance.
Talented individuals and creative minds are frequently sucked into the black hole of monotony and routine.

“Routine ruins life, variety vitalizes life.”

Sustainable vs. disruptive

While it is true that incumbent organizations – (larger corporations established in the industry) – outperform entrepreneurs and business daredevils in a context of long-term sustainable innovation (Yelena Isinbayeva, raising the bar cm by cm or CONAIR with hundreds of supplemental type certificates), they have nothing to do when it comes to competition for disruptive innovation (Bob Beamon and his jump of the century). This is due to several factors based on the insight of this Harvard Bussiness School Research:

  • First, researchers realized that a company’s propensity for strategic change is profoundly affected by customers’ interests who provide the resources the firm needs to survive. In other words, incumbents listen to their long-time customers and, as a result, focus on keeping innovations in their line of interest.
  • Researchers then arrived at a second insight: Incumbents’ focus on their existing customers becomes institutionalized in internal processes that make it difficult for even senior managers to shift investment to disruptive innovations.

The customer, who is the one who sets the course for innovation ends up doing so from its own biases and the deep resistance to change provided by established paradigms (our brain refuses to let go of the known). A continuous self-sustained loop is thus generated, in which neither operator nor customer can see the entire forest for the trees just in front. Continuous 2-way communication can lead to exciting outcomes. Or not! (See this AI experiment using 2 robots chatting to each other)

 

The never-ending 2-way loop

Science advances one funeral at a time. Or more precisely: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Max Planck

 

EXISTING TECHNOLOGIES AND AVAILABLE IDEAS

Whatever the case, a sole trader disruptive innovator or a large corporation part of the establishment,  we should consider certified and proven technologies that are already leading other aviation segments and continue to advance in other disruptive innovation ideas that are yet to materialize.

1-First things first: let’s put the focus on prevention and not so much on suppression

First and foremost, and although this may go against the interests of the whole suppressing industry, especially the “large and very large tankers”, a progress noticeable for the society is more on the path of prevention and not so much on suppression. Let’s not forget that the ultimate interest is to protect Society minimizing fire damage to humans and properties, above corporatist interests.

As I have heard Juan Carlos Gómez Verdugo (a long-term master aerial firefighter and a mentor of many) saying: “the most effective asset is a bucket of water by the first spark”, for which we need large doses of prevention and planning.

 

And it’s not just Juan Carlos or me saying it. The European Commission, which is the one assessing budgets and setting up the foundations for a European global approach to wildland fires, clearly goes down the prevention path as well through its latest publication:

Evolving Risk of Wildfires in Europe “Shifting from suppression to prevention – U.N. office for disaster risk reduction. “

If we lead our innovation efforts to what society demands and to re-educate fire agencies in the importance of new technologies, then we will be able to position at a good start point. From then, it should be downhill or relatively flat in the race to achieving optimum results for the society, and also, as a side effect,  great for the organizations’ profitability.

This German startup proposes a good system for Ultra-Early detection. It will work, or it won’t. But I think it is an excellent example of an attitude showing that in many cases innovation is born from small volatile environments that need creativity to survive.

And like this one, other ideas that are shown below are also directly transferable to aerial firefighting:

 

2-Improvement of structural efficiency: use of Composite Materials, lighter, more resistant, allowing higher payload

While we continue with the longtime tubular metal construction, interacting with water, salty environments, and suffering the consequences of corrosion, the posh aviation industry has successfully developed a state of the art design, entirely made of composite materials.

Although this construction has been available for a long time and has pros and cons, it has obvious benefits directly transferable to the work we do.

  • Superior aerodynamics: increased operational speed, therefore, improved water delivery rate.
  • Better strength/weight ratio: increased payload, more capacity, more water delivery rate.
  • Lower resistance to wear, and no corrosion issues: increased tolerance to high load factor, less maintenance, less cost, enhanced safety.

Regarding floats for amphibious aircraft like the ones we fly, composite floats are already a tangible reality for some manufacturers.

In the nautical world, 95% of the 7 million pleasure boats are made of composite materials. “Composites are finding extensive use in the marine environment with applications including marine renewable energy systems, offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation (OGEE) structures, dock infrastructure, submarines and submersibles, lifeboats, naval vessels, fast ferries, power-boats, yachts, stern gear (propellers and rudders), rigging: (wing-)masts and sails, canoes, kayaks, surfing and fish farms.”

Another clear example is the latest generation aerobatic aircraft, designed to work under extreme forces of +/- 10G.

Industry-leading Zivko Edge and MX Aircraft made a strong bet on the benefits of composite materials based designs. Guess why?

 

Firefighting “scoopers” are half-ships/half-acrobats. When it comes to putting out fires, lightness and material strength are important; the lighter the design, the higher the payload. But it has to be strong: turbulence can create large structural stresses, same as water interaction while scooping

Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

 

“Innovating is seeing what every one has seen and thinking what no one has thought” – Albert Szent.

Industry resistance to composites lies not in material resistance but in resistance to change. A highly specialized workforce and investment in knowledge and human capital are required. It is unlikely to be assumed by incumbents as long as we keep swallowing it as end-users.

While the upper tiers efficiently travel at 330 Kts in a carbon fiber design with the aerodynamics of a Formula 1, and Redbull Air Race pilots pull G’s knowing that a vein in their heads may burst before the aircraft breaks. We, the Scoobydoos and Shaggys of the business are trapped in the 130-150Kts range, flying older designs with the aerodynamics of a washing machine.

 

The timing on that drop might need improving Shaggy! A touch earlier!

Having fought fires for 70 years and being in the 21st century, has it not earned us the right to use a modern specific clean-sheet design?

3- Two turbines on the same axis

Two turbines on the same axis is another technological solution for the single-engine vs. twin-engine debate, which is very present among operators specialized in aerial firefighting. The proposal uses a powerplant capable of merging both worlds’ best, redundancy without asymmetries. It combines two turbines on the same axis through a common gearbox.

This is not even new as it is the standard on twin-turbine helicopters and what Pratt & Whitney calls it Twin-Pac.

 

Ranging power 1800-2000 SHP. Please can we have it transferred to fixed-wing?

Why have we accepted that in the rotary-wing sector, using the same turbine manufacturer, we cannot continue to safely assume a single turbine operation, and when it comes to fixed-wing we dodge the issue? Most modern fire fighting contracts require twin-turbine helicopters.

In the fixed-wing world, if your engine quits while flying low over the hostile terrains we normally fly over, even if we can glide, the outcome is clear: controlled crash in the best scenario. Unless you are virtuous by genetic, in addition to being lucky, and you manage to make an emergency landing with minimal damage as my colleague and friend Javier masterfully did.

On the contrary, others did not have the same luck, as is the case of friend and colleague Ricardo García-Verde, who was killed in Chile in 2016. The pilots closest to the accident including myself, have data and testimonies that indicate a potential lack of power during takeoff as the trigger for the fatal accident. By the way – the official treatment of the accident was a real collective botch in terms of standards and the final report of the Chilean D.G.A.C was shameful, as well as insulting to the colleagues and friends that continue in the frontline.

The alternative to it in the fixed-wing sector is called Dual Pac by Soloy Solutions, and although it did not take off in our market, it took off for real, and it’s advertised as available technology. The potential demand exists (the case of Securité Civile in France comes to mind, where they are not fans at all of anything with less than two engines, discarding the S.E.A.T. concept and opting for larger, more expensive options). Still, to know if there is demand and continue developing the idea with more powerful turbines, we need to ask around, carry out studies, and have a sincere desire to improve. 

Whether using the Dual Pac concept or the Push-Pull concept, the goal remains the same; enhanced safety with redundant systems, without asymmetries, and keeping things relatively simple.

 

4-The electric engine

Other unstoppable realities include the electrical industry and the trend toward eco-sustainability. This trend is step by step, gaining a larger share of the automotive market.

In the aeronautical sector, it’s much more than a utopia. To implement the new self-sustained electrical next-generation aircraft, the Magnix team has already repurposed a variety of platforms with dimensions and weights similar to other aircraft we use in aerial firefighting.

The future goes around here, you know it, I know it

 

As we look at the purpose of our work, we find that a CO2-free platform to combat the devastation and emissions produced by uncontrollable wildfires makes a lot of sense

We should see the writing on the wall.

It is possible to fly electric amphibians. Whether or not it hits us is not the question. The question is: when will we see an electric airplane with 1500-2000 S.H.P. that can carry 500-1000 US Gal for a couple of hours?

No idea. Hopefully within a few years

 

5-A light and safe in-flight self-refill system that makes ground loading unnecessary, and exceeds amphibious aircraft capabilities

Those who are still trapped by the old denialism, thinking that the concept is a utopia and it won’t change the existing paradigm, please take a look at the following links:

Through the Horizon 2020 program, the European Commission has financed a project for the in-flight self-refilling to turn Air Tankers into water scoopers with € 2.7M. See details

The Firecatcher F-45, the world’s largest single-engine fire fighting aircraft, is a new design that includes a revolutionary in-flight water self-fueling system.

The key design goals of the F-45 are:

  1. Minimize operating costs
  2. Maximize effectiveness
  3. Maximize payload capacity
  4. Maximize reliability
  5. Minimize the complexity of the systems.

 

​Instead of trying to hold into long contracts the Firecatcher program, in addition to the technological innovations, proposes a disruptive approach on the contract model:

Exclusive Use / Pay-As-You-Go (E.U.P.A.Y.G.)

  • Provide fire-fighting aircraft for exclusive use, available to use 365 days a year.
  • Support the aircraft nose-to-tail, including engineering/spares, etc.
  • Pilots and fuel provided by the customer (they can be arranged too)
  • Fire-fighting or training; you only pay as you go! 

Source | Firecatcher www.firecatcher.aero

Utopía or the wave of the future? 

Hmmm…Think about it through the following questions:

  • Do you use traditional photo cameras since smartphones integrate quality cameras?
  • Do you still take a walk to the video club to rent a movie or go to the cinemas since Netflix and other digital platforms are available from the sofa?
  • Do you use and update your old Tom-Tom since we have Google Maps or Waze? 
  • Do you use regular cabs since UBER and CABIFY are also an option?

Some disruptive innovations succeed; some don’t.

We will see what the Firecatcher project is made of and if it takes off as a game-changer or fades away in a complex process..

Another interesting one is what European company Roadfour is proposing through the Seagle.

The Seagle

 

11.000L scooper, safety-minded and built under 21st-century technology for a fraction of the cost of its existing competitors. It does not sound bad at all!

 

6-Fighting fires at night and seeing through the smoke during the day. Another utopia?

Maybe not so much.

It seems that some organizations like Elbit Systems recently spotted the potential technology transfer from the military industry and C.A.T. to aerial fire suppression, and E.F.V.S. systems are becoming better known by operators after webinars like this one.

 

WHAT DO FIRE AGENCIES, END-USERS, AND SOCIETY NEED?

What improvements can be made to current products and processes? What are we missing?

With all these advancements at my fingertips and not being more than a Tom, Dick, or Harry to the incumbents, I can ask myself, WHAT DO WE NEED?  And even drop some innovations that could help us get there.

First, what products are on the market and what are end-users demanding?

There is a lot of light aircraft on the market. 

Several companies operating larger tankers and heavy scoopers compete for the best contracts, but their prices are prohibitive for many end-users, and the cost/effect ratio is questionable by anyone who works in the industry. 

Between 4M$ and 40M$, there is a noticeable economic gap.

There is a market for an aircraft with an intermediate water capacity (4000-5000L/1000-1300 US Gallons), which can deliver as much water as amphibious scoopers and helicopters, with the simplicity of a modern, specific, clean-sheet design. Once the redundancies and complexities of obsolete assets and retrofitted systems are removed, it is possible to create an aircraft for less than 5 million euros.

Based on the obviousness of the existing gap, I don’t think this concept would join to take a small share of the market; rather, I believe it has the potential to take over, change the rules of the game, and revolutionize the industry.

Second, how can our current processes be improved? What established technology is available and what innovations should we develop to meet point 1?

Contrary to what is usually thought, revolutionary creations or designs that we consider groundbreaking, like the iPhone, are based on ideas that have already been around. It is due to the “Breaking, Bending, and Blending” creative process, well described in the book “The Runaway Species”, and in this 5 min fantastic video by its co-author David Eagleman.

Here a few ideas: 

This is still an individual, limited, and biased view of a “front liner”.

Imagine what a committee of specialists made up of first-class airmen, engineers, maintenance technicians, aeronautical managers, foresters, and financial specialists could accomplish under authentic leadership!

This article’s main idea is that my view doesn’t have to be correct. It probably has sharp edges, and I may be wrong in some ways.

It is the attitude of questioning regardless of economic interests, the vision of other 10 restless individuals, the debate, the synergy, the healthy competition that ultimately leads to progress.

Conversely, complacency, conformity, the silent dictatorship of the status quo, indoctrination, and clinging to long-term paradigms are all anti-progress and anti-innovation.

People at power levels should treat bold thoughts and disruptive contributions with respect. Our ideas represent our legacy. We want to be recognized, cared for, and supported. Ignoring ideas is the best way to convince front-line people that innovation is nothing more than a hollow mantra.

Let’s work together to improve society

For those of you who are visionaries, entrepreneurs, or incumbents committed to the sector. To those who dare to challenge the status quo, believe we can and must improve, love challenges, and wish to make any of the ideas I offer a reality, I encourage you push hard!.

Do not hesitate to reach out if you think I can help you get things done.

 

Author’s note:

My biases influence me, I admit. Hindsight bias is one of these biases; I might also be affected by affinity, framing, and self-serving biases.

As real as my biases (which we all fall into, with more or less awareness), is the fact that my modus operandi is guided by my values, life philosophy, and professional ethics.

I work globally as a consultant for the aerial firefighting industry, driven not by money, but by three fundamentals: the emotional imprint that my father, an aerial firefighter from the ’70s, left on me, the feeling of having a purpose while protecting people, and society, plus the self-imposed responsibility of leaving a legacy; a safer scenario to the future generations as well could be my son.

I am financially independent from flying. I certainly don’t need to endorse products or ideas that I don’t firmly believe in. I own my standards, and if I find a corporation aligned with my philosophy, bingo! We establish labor synergy in a WIN-WIN framework in which I provide my services.

I am the father of a family, a Spanish citizen, and an inhabitant of the world, so what is happening globally does not leave me indifferent. My opinion is morally entitled. In addition, if some of my statements turn out to be inaccurate or incorrect, I have the right to change my mind and apologize.

Thanks for reading! Thanks for caring!

 

 

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