In the pilot’s seat – a water bomber pilot shares
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/10/2021 (587 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Last month, you may recall, I wrote about visiting the water bombers as they readied their planes to fight the many forest and bush fires in Manitoba this summer.
During that visit, I had a chance to speak to Lyle Shabaga, a water bomber pilot with the government of Ontario.
I asked Lyle to tell me his story. Here’s what he had to say, in his words:
I’ve been flying for nearly 30 years, and the last 20 have been as a water bomber pilot for the government of Ontario. Prior to that I was a float plane pilot in northwestern Ontario and Saskatchewan, and did a brief stint with a small airline in northern Manitoba.
After becoming a water bomber pilot there was no going back. It is challenging and varied. You don’t know where or what you are being dispatched to.
Sometimes it is a new fire and we call these IA (initial attack) missions. The idea is to get there promptly and knock down the flames and intensity enough to put the ground crews onto the fire
The ground crews deserve all the credit because they are the folks that actually extinguish the fires.
They work in the heat, bugs and smoke all day, pulling water hoses and hauling gear.
The other type of flight is called support bombing, where we go to existing fires and cool the fire’s edge in order to protect values on the ground and help the crews below.
Typically, we fly around 100-120 hours in a season. I’ve flown as low as 35 to over 200 hours. If the situation is right, we can do 50 to 60 water drops. We have had crews drop over 100 loads in a single flight.
Every spring we do three days of training in a simulator as well as ground schools to prepare for the season. The more challenging aspects of a flight revolve around poor visibility due to smoke and strong gusty winds creating turbulence in and around the fire.
We rely on the experienced captains to mentor and train the first officers on the job in order to maintain a high level of safety and proficiency. There are two in the plane and we normally work with one more bomber and a birddog plane, which carries an air attack officer to manage the airspace and give direction on what portion of the fire we are going to attack.
We have at least one engineer on base to look after any mechanical problems that arise. These folks do the maintenance before and after our alerts, so they can put in some very long days.
My favourite part of a flight is usually the homebound leg, when hopefully the air is smooth and the radios are quiet.
Wanda Prychitko is a community correspondent for St. James-Assiniboia. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
St. James-Assiniboia community correspondent
Wanda Prychitko is a community correspondent for St. James-Assiniboia.