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RJ and Hercules ready to go

17 January 2017

Victoria's two Large Air Tankers (LATs) RJ and Hercules will take to the skies as needed as part of the 56 aircraft supporting firefighters and community today.  

The LATs, based at Avalon, are some of the biggest firefighting aircraft in the world, holding between 12,000 and 15,000 litres of water, retardant foam or gel at a time.

They can be called for a range of firefighting requirements from light coverage suitable for grass fires to heavy forest canopies and thick coverage.

Since arriving in Victoria in mid-December they have already been called to the front line, with both Hercules and RJ attending at least five fires since starting their contracts

Each year the LAT’s arrive in Victoria on the back of the US fire season. They fly to Australia over four days, with Hercules making stops in Hawaii, American Samoa and Norfolk Island.

During the 2016 US fire season, Hercules accumulated 350 hours of flight time and dropped around 6.7 million litres over US wildfires.

Hercules’ Pilot Joe Anderson is returning to fight fires in Victoria for his second season.

"I really like the environment that we fly in. It feels great to go out and help the community,” he said.  “In the US we have huge fires and you can immediately see results from the work we’re doing.”

In 2014/15 Victoria was the first state in Australia to include the two LATs in its firefighting arsenal.   Hercules and RJ are part of Victoria’s fleet of 48 firefighting aircraft that has response, air attack, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering capability.

The fleet normally runs at 48 aircraft and includes the LATs but Victoria can call on up to another 100 fixed wing planes and helicopters on an availability roster according to conditions and need across the State.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said Victoria was running 56 aircraft across the State today.    Of the 56 aircraft, 37 are firebombers including the six major bombers in the two LATs, two Sikorsky S61 helicopters and Aircrane Ichabod which are all operating and have a large firebombing capacity.

Mr Lapsley said Victoria's second orange Aircrane Malcolm was grounded at the start of the year with a gearbox failure, requiring parts from America.   The Aircrane will require thorough testing prior to being recommissioned but it could be operational  again as early as the end of the week.  

If required and available, Victoria can also call on interstate partners to borrow one of the four other Aircranes in Australia under a national partnership agreement.

The LATs are based at Avalon, a Sikorsky S61 each at Mansfield and Colac, and currently Aircrane Ichabod is based at Essendon.    Aircraft are otherwise positioned right across the State