PCAD, a re-invented air tanker system, is tested

PCAD test air tanker drop
PCAD containers are dropped from a C-130 in a test at Yuma Proving Grounds. Photo by Mark Schauer

As we said on May 14, Caylym Technologies inexplicably continues to develop what they call a “precision container aerial delivery system” (PCAD) for suppressing wildfires. The system attempts to re-invent air tankers by dropping 200-gallon plywood/plastic containers of retardant or water, each weighing about 2,000 pounds, from a normally-configured C-130.

Here is a video of one of the early tests of the system conducted on September 25, 2007:

Now they are conducting additional tests of the system at the Yuma Proving Grounds, mapping the ground distribution of the four-foot-square plywood skid boards, the cardboard boxes, and the 200-gallon plastic containers after a drop. We assume they will eventually set up a grid of measuring cups to map the coverage level of retardant, if they ever advance to that stage.

PCAD test air tanker drop
Geodetic surveyor Jerry Wells uses a GPS to map the ridiculous amount of debris dumped onto the ground after a test of the PCAD at Yuma Proving Grounds. Photo by Mark Schauer.

The Yuma Sun describes the delivery system:

For this system, a large polyurethane container with a capacity of over 200 gallons is filled with water or fire retardant. The bulky, heavy and formless container is given shape with a tri-wall cardboard sleeve and lids, then strapped down with 1,000-pound nylon cord onto a common four foot by four foot plywood skid board used for typical cargo delivery bundles. This bundle and up to 15 others are loaded onto a C-130 cargo plane.

Once the plane reaches its target, the pilot pitches the nose up and the loadmaster cuts the restraint gate behind the payload closest to the cargo door, allowing gravity to extract them. As they tumble out of the cargo bay, the wind stream easily tears away the cardboard lids and the container rips open, forming a dense cloud of water that falls to the ground in a matter of seconds.

The problem of measuring the size and shape of the area doused by the rapidly-evaporating water is solved by dying the water with dark blue food coloring that turns the golden desert floor a vivid aquamarine color for several hours before fading.

After the aircraft drops the containers from an altitude of 500 feet, ground instrumentation tracks the first two payloads out of the aircraft as they descend, measuring the exact altitude at which water is released. Workers then take global positioning satellite measurements around the circumference of the impact area that will be used to make a grid map of the area the water impacted.

Though the litter from each drop is picked up by a recovery crew after each test, if fielded the items could be left where they land without negatively impacting the ground.

“The containers, we know them as blivets, are 100 percent biodegradable,” Allen said. “The system is meant to deploy and be consumed by nature.”

Did you know that you are paying for this? In September of 2008, Boeing, working with International Paper and Flexible Alternatives, received a $2.3 million grant from the U. S. Government to develop the system. (More information about Boeing’s involvement and this grant.)

This has to be one of the stupidest (or lame-ass) ideas ever conceived for suppressing wildland fires. The most obvious problem is the safety of firefighters on the ground who would have to be moved far away from the drop zone in order to avoid being hit by the four-foot-square plywood skid boards, the cardboard boxes, and the plastic containers — or a full 2,000-pound container that failed to disperse its load. Other issues include the debris left on the ground after a drop and the inability to vary coverage levels of retardant.

Even IF the system can accurately deliver fire retardant at a coverage level somewhere between 4 and 8, there are a lot of agency administrators that would not want all of that debris dumped on their land. Caylum claims the debris is biodegradable, but many of us have seen plywood that has been out in the elements for decades. The cardboard might disappear in a few years except in very dry areas, but who knows how long the 200-gallon polyurethane containers would litter the landscape.

Your tax dollars at work.

Did I mention that this is a stupid idea?

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “PCAD, a re-invented air tanker system, is tested”

  1. Cover story for some almost as lame military project?

    “We can deliver a slime that renders marijuana / coca / poppy fields unusable for five years…”

    Just speculating.

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  2. The “principles ” of Calylym it appears do not have a background in aerial fire fighting, what an understatment. I didn’t know we had a problem delivering the proper amount of water (chemicals) on the fireline at the identified target. This l.a.i. puts a new meaning to “in-coming”. Can’t wait to invest my life savings into this (?) I need the tax write- off. Calylym should revisit the crushed ice aerial delivery program that just quite didn’t make it.

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  3. In aviation operations we go to a lot of work not to allow items to fall from aircraft. It’s done to prevent injury to people and damage to property on the ground.

    Now someone has the idea to drop stuff on the fire line with people near the line. It’s a bad thing to get in the way of a standard slurry drop, now add wood, cardboard and plastic. Let’s hope this idea never goes beyond the test stage.

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