French Turbo Firecats grounded
Sad news comes from the south of France; the Sécurité Civile has taken the decision to ground their entire Turbo Firecat fleet with immediate effect. Initially, these firebombers were to leave the fleet gradually over the years with an estimated last flight in 2022. But in September 2019, a fault on the landing gear was discovered at Béziers/Vias. This discovery has accelerated the withdrawal of the type.
The (Turbo) Firecat, developed by Conair (Canada), was the firefighting conversion of the well-known Grumman S-2 Tracker anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The Sécurité Civile organisation in France took delivery of fourteen Firecats over a period of five years commencing in May 1982. It has had its examples further converted into Turbo Firecats, in which the Wright R-1820 radial piston engines were replaced by Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67AF turboprops.
Aerial firefighting is a hazardous job: according to the Scramble Magazine database nine Sécurité Civile (Turbo) Firecats have been written off. The last of which, F-ZBAA, crashed on 2 August 2019, taking the life of one crew member. The remaining Turbo Firecats are stored at Nîmes/Garons.
With the grounding of the Turbo Firecats, the French aerial firefighting capacity is confined to the rest of the fixed-wing fleet, i.e. twelve CL-415 amphibians, two DHC-8-402Q(MR)s and two DHC-8-402MRs. The Dash 8 aircraft have been rebuilt by Cascade Aerospace of Abbotsford, British Columbia. It is expected that the Sécurité Civile will soon decide to buy more of the firefighting version of the Q400. It has a longer fuselage and wider wingspan when you compare it to the smaller Firecat. And so the Q400 will never be able to dive so deep into some narrow valleys as its predecessor. Its pilots will surely miss the Turbo Firecat’s agility!
Photo credits: Anthony Pecchi and Sécurité Civile