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French wildfires: Airbus tests way to adapt plane into water bomber

Trials show that the A400M military cargo transporter plane can be easily transformed and can drop 20 tonnes of water in just 10 seconds

An A400M plane flies over the Farnborough Air Show

The A400M is a military cargo and transport plane that Airbus says can be transformed into a water bomber to help put out wildfires Pic: Ryan Fletcher / Shutterstock

French aerospace giant Airbus has tested a way to transform its A400M military cargo plane into a water bomber to help put out wildfires as it has a 20-tonne-plus water capacity compared to a Canadair’s six.

Airbus has confirmed that it had successfully tested the system, which uses a kit to transform the plane into a water bomber, in Spain.

The A400M is a military cargo and transport plane. However, with the new prototype kits, it can be transformed into a water bomber that could be used to help put out wildfires with more effectiveness.

In the tests, one plane was able to drop 20 tonnes of water in just 10 seconds, flying at a low altitude (45 metres or 150 feet), at a slow speed (230km/h or 125 knots). This enabled it to work with precision and drop the water where needed.

In comparison, Canadair jets can drop a maximum of six tonnes per flight.

The A400M can also land on a short runway not designed for planes such as on a sandy beach and can be refilled with water in 5-10 minutes.

In a statement, Airbus said: “The A400M can play a major role in combating the growing threat of forest fires and preserving environmental ecosystems.”

The kit being tested does not require the plane to be modified and instead uses the existing plane structure to transform it into a water bomber. This means that an A400M can be deployed in minimal time. 

So far, the tests showed it could carry 20 tonnes of water but this capacity could be increased, Airbus said.

Airbus is now set to test the system in darkness, having only used it during daylight hours so far. This would help the planes to be as useful as possible during firefighter missions, and further tests will work to improve their capacity and efficiency.

France currently has 19 A400Ms, with almost 50 in total having been ordered.

Airbus said that using its water bomber system would enable the country to “easily and cost-effectively increase its water bomber fleet”. 

It comes as France has struggled with severe forest fires this summer so far, due to drought conditions and heatwave temperatures, including a major blaze in Gironde that destroyed more than 20,000 hectares.

Canadair planes are regularly used to help firefighters quell flames but their capacity is limited.

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