The Super Scooper Saves Forests And Lives
Manitoba Government Air Service CL-215s
In 1964, Gordon Watt left behind a comfortable life as a mechanic’s apprentice in Guelph, Ontario to pursue his dream of flying. He first moved to Sudbury, Ontario to work as a floatplane instructor. He later came to Manitoba to pursue a career as a bush pilot with Lamb Air in Thompson and The Pas. In 1977, Manitoba Government Air Service received their first Canadair CL-215 water bomber and in 1980 Gordon Watt was granted his request to fly this purpose-built firefighting aircraft. Gordon Watt retired from the Manitoba Government Air Service in 2008, although he has been called back into service to lend his expertise during dry summers, when the risk of fire is extreme. Gordon Watt currently lives in Winnipeg with his wife Charmaine. He sat down for an interview with the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada in March of 2014.
CL-215s Parked Outside Winnipeg Hangar
The Canadair CL-215, also known as the ‘Water Bomber’ or ‘Super Scooper’, was the first aircraft in the world designed specifically for fighting forest fires. During the 1960’s, it was becoming clear that Canada’s aging fleet of converted boat planes and bush planes equipped with water bombing floats used for fighting forest fires would soon need to be replaced. Canadair recognized this need and in 1967 the first CL-215 rolled off the assembly line in Saint-Laurent, Quebec. A number of contradictory design problems had to be overcome by the Canadair team, including: making the plane sturdy enough to scoop water from the surface of a lake, yet light enough to carry a substantial load; the plane would also have to be fast enough to reach fires in emergency situations, yet able to fly safely at low speeds and close to the ground.
The resulting aircraft was an unusual-looking, straight-winged amphibious airplane powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 piston engines. The CL-215 uses extendable probes to scoop water as it skims the surface of a lake, filling its two internal tanks with up to 5,400 litres of water in a matter of seconds. As of 2014, the Manitoba Government Air Service was operating two CL-215’s and has bolstered their fleet with four upgraded Bombardier 415’s, which are equipped with twin turboprop engines, better avionics and improved aerodynamics. Canadian water bombers are currently operated in 12 countries around the world.
In the photo above is a Canadair CL-215 (left) and Bombardier 415 (in foreground). The photos below are of the newer Bombardier 415.