Skip to main content

Scooping Device for Aerial Forest Fire Suppressant

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SCODEV (Scooping Device for Aerial Forest Fire Suppressant)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2019-11-30

Although forest and wild fires are part of the natural process in several areas of the world, they are an increasing threat to nature and society. In the past decades climate change and global warming are contributing to the number, the intensity, to larger areas and longer duration of forest fires. Southern Europe, Polar Circle (Alaska, Greenland and Siberia), the Amazone, Australia , California are clear examples in 2019 on how forest fires directly lead to human casualties, severe air pollution, damage of property, loss of wildlife and nature areas on a much larger scale than ever before. Additionally, forest fires are responsible for 8,0 billion metric tons of CO2 yearly, to be added to all global CO2 emissions (24,5 billion metric ton) from industry, traffic and households and for longer term health hazards due to smoke inhalation. Reducing the impact of fires therefore has huge societal impact.
More forest- or wildfirefighting capacity is required, including aerial firefighting capacity. Large forests have no infrastructure and extinguishing by air is the only option.
Two categories of fire-fighting aircraft exist: amphibious scoopers (like the Canadair CL415) and non-amphibious aircraft who need to refill with water or retardant on airports. The CL415 was taken out of production by Bombardier and the existing fleet is aging. Non-amphibious aircraft are less effective as scoopers since they have to return to an airport to refill after each drop and on average they achieve only one dropping per hour
The objective of the SCODEV project is to bring to the market an innovation (scooping device) to turn non-amphibious air tankers into scoopers, which would allow them to make on average 5 drops per hour. This is a huge increase in aerial firefighting capacity, at a fraction of the costs of actually buying more aircraft to reach the same capacity. This is a unique and game-changing innovation with no current competitors in the market for fixed wing aircraft. Solutions exist for helicopters (scooping at low speed and low volume). Aircraft and helicopters each have their strengths and weaknesses, and both assets are complementary and both needed to combat the increasing forest fire threats.
The available market for SCODEV is about 1200 non-amphibious air tankers, about 750 smaller single engine air tankers (AT-802) and about 500 military aircraft. The last category could be targeted with a pallet based ‘roll on roll off’ concept of a water tank and SCODEV to enable a roll swap between transport and firefighting in a few hours.
In the FTI SCODEV project, the consortium started by defining a system architecture to allow safe scooping. The main components of the SCODEV were defined. For the C-130 aircraft, a scooping design process was defined that is scalable and can be re-used to define the SCODEV for other aircraft types. The aircraft’s performance capabilities are taken as starting point, such that the SCODEV is scaled for safe operations for each aircraft type.
For each of the components, a design was made. Initially the design was tailored to the C-130 Hercules, as this was the intended aircraft early in the project. The main components comprise: a scooping device, a hose to forward the water into the aircraft, a reel to store and deploy the hose, a capture and release system to guide the scooping device safely out and back into the aircraft, and passive and pilot-activated safety systems. When the intended test aircraft was changed to the Leonardo C-27J aircraft, the component designs were adapted to the new aircraft. The design challenge for the scoop is at the edge of physics to deal with the flow characteristics (cavitation, low drag design) and the high loads.
For testing on component level and for helicopter testing, several scooping device and hose prototypes were produced. An iterative design, manufacturing and testing approach was used to reach satisfactory aerodynamic and hydrodynamic properties. Successful aerodynamic tests (stability) and low-speed hydrodynamic tests were performed with helicopters of various sizes (medium to very large). This demonstrated that water can be transported upwards into the tank with only the dynamic pressure (no pumps) of forward speed.
A patent was filed and granted in 48 countries. A second patent is pending. Also a concept was defined for a single engine air tanker type. So three market variants (SEAT, Medium air tanker and large air tanker versions) were defined during the project. Also stakeholders meetings were held with private and government entities in forest fire prone countries: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Israel, USA, Indonesia. All confirmed the game changing potential of SCODEV, clearly demonstrating the expected market demand.
Currently, only amphibious air tankers are able to scoop water. Low speed scooping solutions for helicopters also exist. However helicopters and fixed wing aircraft have different operational benefits and drawbacks, and in general more aerial fire fighting capacity is needed globally. The SCODEV FTI project has taken key steps to demonstrate an unrivaled and game changing scooping solution for the worlds fleet of 1.200 large and 750 small non-amphibious air tankers. In combination with a ‘roll on roll off’ tank, this solution can expand aerial fire fighting tasks to role-swapping military transport aircraft.
The potential impact of the SCODEV FTI is that the water drop per hour capacity of aircraft can be increased fivefold, at a fraction of the costs of actually increasing the fleet size with a factor of five. In view of climate change and the increasing occurrence and intensity of wildfires, increasing the (areal) firefighting capacity is not a luxury but a necessity. This increased dropping capacity will also prevent commencing forest fires of spreading out to an uncontrollable size. This should be combined with early fire detection methods. Then, the potential impact would be to significantly decrease the hazards forest fires pose for society in terms of direct health and safety, damage to nature and property and especially reduce the immense CO2 emissions of wildfires.
For SCODEV as a company, the product is at the core of the company strategy and the project has boosted the innovation towards market introduction and company scale up. SCODEV aims to market the concept globally and become a world market leader in innovative aerial firefighting technology solutions.
The prototype was tested successfully aerodynamically at high speeds, and hydrodynamically at low speeds. Next steps, shortly after the project, will be high-speed hydrodynamics tests with a heavy helicopter and then fixed wing flight tests with a Leonardo C-27J Spartan aircraft.
Non-amphibious airtanker
Hercules C-130J with scooping device and holding tank
Project logo
Air Tractor AT-802
SEAT version