The Best Water Bomber
Canada builds the best water bomber in the world. It started it's life out as the Canadair CL215 "Scooper" which was built from 1969 to 1990 with a total build of 125 aircraft. When Bombardier purchased Canadair they continued to develop the design and called it the Bombardier 415 Super Scooper which is presently in production with 75 having been built.
When an aircraft is designed it is often based on some aspects of earlier designs and then the design is modified and expanded to meet or exceed the specifications required. From very early on the CL-215 was designed as a water bomber to fight forest fires. The other method of obtaining a water bomber is to take an aircraft that was designed for other purposes such as military, freight or passenger use and convert it to a water bomber. Often the aircraft is obsolete so replacement parts are a problem and because it was never designed as a water bomber is never works as well as an aircraft that was designed for this purpose. As an example a water bomber is subject to severe wing loading as a result of heat from forest fires and it must be designed to withstand these loads.
The CL-215 could carry 18 passengers in the utility version, or 5,346 Litres (1,176 Imperial gal) of water. In a day it could scoop up and dump between 75 and 100 loads of water on fires or up to 534,600 litres. The CL-215 was fitted with two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-83AM 18 cyl radial engines of 2100 hp each.
The Bombardier 415 was based on the CL-215 but had greater speed and weight. It's capacity was raised to 6140 litres and it could mix a fire suppressant chemical to the water. It is equipped with twin Pratt and Whitney PW1234A turbo props of 2380 HP each.
One of the main design assumptions here is that there will be sources of water in the area where the 415 can touch down to the surface and take on a load. In the case where the fire is far from the water source this aircraft would not be a good fit. In Canada we have vast sources of water widely distributed over the majority of the country.
When you compare the Bombardier 415 with the competition it is a clear winner and is the best water bomber in the world. There is no perfect aircraft that would fit all fire situations however the 415 with a source of scoopable water is a fantastic combination.
It is interesting to see how Canada and other countries around the world have reacted to the Bombardier 415. In some cases politics are involved in others an attempt to protect internal aircraft production or avoid expenses. In some cases countries have incorporated the aircraft into their air forces in others including Canada the individual provinces have established ownership of a small number of aircraft.
Another point here is that fighting fires is not the only thing that the super scooper can do! It can also act as a rescue aircraft, a sovereignty patrol aircraft and a residential and industrial fire fighting aircraft.
When a country finds itself in a position where it has the best aircraft in the world for a niche function we think there is a better way of managing and supporting it. We think that the Royal Canadian Air Force should equip several (5) squadrons with this water bomber and incorporate them into their operations. And before people have heart attacks about the cost remember that there are also benefits in the form of billions of dollars of saved assets and thousands of good paying jobs and increased production for the world market. And the big problem we have now is climate change and this means many more forest fires each year that have overwhelmed our existing resources.
There is a problem here. The Bombardier company is in horrible financial shape. It costs about 37 million dollars for just one CL-415 water bomber and the main reason the cost is so high is that the Bombardier Company is so deep in debt they seem to be unable to produce aircraft at a price that would allow them to generate a reasonable profit. The Government of Quebec has attempted to bail them out and the Government of Canada is also attempting to help but part of that problem is that the company wishes to keep control of the company in family hands. This is despite the fact that billions of taxpayer dollars have been invested into this company.
In the case of the CL-415 water bomber Bombardier was producing them at the rate of 3 per year in their North Bay, Ontario final assembly factory. Some parts were foreign made and some were made in Montreal.You simply cannot make aircraft at that slow production rate and hope to have a reasonable selling price for it. In the 1950's the Avro plant in Downsview Ontario was producing CF-100 fighter interceptors at the rate of 1 per day! The unit prices were quite reasonable and even converting for 2016 dollars they were under 5 million dollars each. 692 were built.
Simply reactivating the North Bay final assembly plant will not produce aircraft at a competitive unit cost and foreign countries are reluctant to pay that much.
This website suggests that five squadrons of Super Scoopers be established in the RCAF. At 15 aircraft per squadron that would be 75 aircraft and additional aircraft would be required to be held in reserve to replace aircraft which crash or require repair so lets say an additonal 25 aircraft would be required. That is a total of 100 aircraft and lets assume that orders started coming in from other countries based on the decision to establish the squadrons in the RCAF. That could result in a need for another 100 aircraft. If only 3 aircraft were built per year it would take 66 years to produce the aircraft required the first year. You can play with the numbers if you wish but clearly a production run of 3 per year is not feasible. I would suggest that an aircraft production run of one per every five days would be required. That means many more factory workers, a much bigger production line and a much lower unit cost. It should be possible to bring the unit cost down from 37 million to the 15 to 20 million dollar range.
The question is can Bombardier do this? They have huge debt loads. That adds significant costs to the unit price. They also seem to be losing money on every project they work on. Clearly there is a problem there.
UPDATE June 2016
So this is interesting! The previous question - "can Bombardier do this?" has just been answered and the answer is "no". So they sold the rights to the CL-415 water bomber to Viking Air Limited in Victoria BC.
When you look into the ownership of Viking Air you see that it is owned by another company Westerkirk Capital Limited which bought it in 2003 which again is owned by the richest woman in Canada Sherry Brydson who is a member of the Thomson Family one of the richest families in Canada. This is all good news because the Thomas family is now focused in on increasing revenues not simply buying and selling assets for profits which is what they did several years ago.
So now we are in a position where there are sufficient resources to produce and maintain this aircraft and market it to the world. It will be very interesting to watch the next developments as Viking Air gears up to manage the worlds best water bomber the CL-415.
As an example they now own all the rights to aircraft once produced by the British de Haviland Company located in Canada that went out of business. Their assets were sold to Boeing when they purchased the assets from the Canadian government. And as an example of what they did with these rights they started up the production of the Twin Otter after 22 years without any production and obtained firm orders from China and Russia. It is very likely that they will do the same thing with the CL415 Water Bomber and they will start selling them around the world again.
It is also very interesting to watch as the media fails to report the connection to the Thomson family and treats Viking Air as a "private BC company". And remember that the Thomson family owns sections of the Canadian media including sole ownership of the Globe and Mail one of Canada's largest newspapers.
In my opinion the news that the Thomson family has effectively taken over the production of the CL-415 is very good news is that they have the resources and the inclination to convert a potentially excellent aircraft into good financial profits. And that means good jobs for Canadian employees and a good export product for Canada and a good way of fighting forest fires in Canada and the world that destroy billions of dollars of potential lumber each year. They have proven designs which other companies developed at great cost and which despite their age are still very desirable aircraft especially when their engines are upgraded to more modern turbine engines like those used in the CL-415.
We should have a very interesting few years with the new owners and my idea of establishing the CL-415 into the RCAF remains a very powerful option against out of control Canadian forest fires. Perhaps there will be other options but the idea is to get several dozen more water bombers available in Canada to stop these fires before they grow into destructive events that cost us billions. We will still need firefighters on the ground to finish putting out the fires but a squadron of CL-415 aircraft could stop them before they got out of control.
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