The 2017 summer firefighting season saw many disastrous wildfires raging across the Mediterranean and on the Balkan Peninsula where Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia have been the most affected. The dry weather with weeks of extremely high temperatures caused intensive wildfires that stretched and exhausted regional civil protection systems, forcing some Balkan nations to dispatch a call for international aid in specialized aircraft for fighting wildfires.
Having successfully used its three 2009-procured Air Tractor AT-802A Fire Boss single-seat aircraft, Macedonia’s Protection and Rescue Directorate (DZS) was quite successful in fighting Macedonian summer wildfires, a battle in which it also employed a pair of Macedonian Air Force Mi-17 transport helicopters, each equipped with a 2,000-liter Bambi Bucket system. However, with over 25 huge wildfires active across the nation in the last days of July, the Macedonian government recognized its national civil protection system needed assistance and asked friendly nations for aid in firefighting aircraft to support efforts of Macedonia’s existing aerial firefighting assets.
The first nation to dispatch assistance was neighboring Bulgaria on the early morning of August 2nd. A Mi-18 transport helicopter from the Bulgarian Air Force deployed to Petrovec Air Force base near Macedonia’s capital Skopje. The aircraft and its 12 personnel operated with the Bambi Bucket system from executing 81 water drops on different wildfires in the vicinity of Skopje. However, with limited resources and facing a scheduled 100-hour inspection, the Bulgarian aircraft was forced to return home in the morning of August 6th.
Another country that promptly responded was Turkey. Ankara’s assistance came in the form of one Kazakhstan-registered Burundaiavia Airline Mi-8MTV-1 transport helicopter already operating under a firefighting contract in Turkey. The aircraft with Turkish inscription “ORMAN” (forest), and red identification number “22”, arrived at Petrovec on August 3rd and remained in Macedonia until August 7th, accumulating 19.5 firefighting flight hours during which 82 water drops were made with the Bambi Bucket system.
The last nation that provided support to Macedonia was Israel. Their deployment started with the arrival at Macedonia with a coordination team that landed at Petrovec the afternoon of August 7th aboard a Raytheon B200T Zufit 4 twin-turboprop aircraft of the 135th “The Kings of the Air” squadron of the Israeli Air Force (IAF). This was followed on August 8th by the arrival of a logistical team aboard a Lockheed C-130E Hercules transporter of IAF’s 131st “The Yellow Bird” squadron. That same day, after a 6.25-hour ferry flight, a pair of Israeli Police Air Tractor AT-802 dual cockpit SEATs landed at Petrovec completing the aid composed of four different aircraft and 27 personnel.
Supported by Chim-Nir and Elbit Systems of Israel with flying and ground-support personnel and in coordination with Macedonia’s DZS, the Israeli AT-802s were actively executing firefighting operations accumulating a total of 15 flight hours during which 34 firefighting missions were completed that resulted with delivery of over 85,000 liters of foam-enriched drops. The Israeli deployment ended on when Macedonia was again able to continue fighting wildfires on its own.
With continuous 100% operational readiness and relying on only three pilots during 2017 summer season, Macedonia’s three AT-802 Fire Boss fleet accumulated 164 firefighting flight hours between May 3rd and August 10th. During this period, 365 drops were made delivering over 1.1 million liters of water over Macedonian wildfires. Executing their missions, the Fire Boss’s mostly used DZS’s water-filling installation at Skopje airport, although water scooping was also done over Mantovo, Ohrid, Mavrovo and Tikves lakes.
Avialsa graduates Macedonia student
Macedonian AT-802A Fire Boss pilot graduates from training in Avialsa’s AT-802 simulator in Valencia Spain on 2 August 2017.
Israeli Police Air Tractor AT-802 drops 3,100 liters of water on Macedonian wildfire (photo IP-PRD via Igor Bozinovski)
Israeli Police Air Tractor AT-802 in flight over Macedonia (photo IP-PRD via Igor Bozinovski)
Israeli Police Air Tractor AT-802 releasing 3,100 liters water bomb in Macedonia (photo IP-PRD via Igor Bozinovski)
Israeli Police Air Tractor AT-802 in action in Macedonia (photo IP-PRD via Igor Bozinovski)
Israeli Police Air Tractor AT-802s in flight over Macedonia (photo IP-PRD via Igor Bozinovski)