They have the soul of good pirates and some shinbones and skulls with helmets on their chests. They are known as the corsairs of the air because, like those pirates who acted with a letter of marque from the authorities, the amphibious planes of the 43rd Air Force Group can break some rules in their fight against forest fires. The urgency of their missions allows them to improvise flight plans, fly over populated areas, or get too close to the ground. In the fire that broke out last Thursday in the north of Tenerife they have left their mark and yesterday they worked hard, with flights to the limit, to tackle the flames on the rugged slope of Tigaiga, in the municipality of Los Realejos.
Its official motto is “turn off and let’s go”; the unofficial, “where I lay my eye, mojo.” Both define the peculiar mission carried out by these Canadian-made amphibious aircraft, also known as jugs or fire extinguishers, whose payload capacity is between 5,500 and 6,000 liters. With a wingspan of 28.6 meters from wingtip to wingtip, its yellow and red silhouette is unmistakable. And these days it has become a common image – without ceasing to surprise – in the sky, Las Teresitas beach and the port of Santa Cruz, the island’s capital.
Its continuous flights near rooftops and towers, with a periodicity of about 25 minutes, force the chicharreros to look up, that every time they see them return they are surprised by the skill of their pilots. Capable of refilling their cargo of six tons of salt water in the port, a few meters from the ships of Naviera Armas and Fred Olsen, who simply see these corsairs come and go from the air in landings and takeoffs on the water that last between 10 and 12 seconds.
They appear between the buildings at a height at which only they can fly and, in the blink of an eye, they leave loaded with salt water that yesterday they dumped relentlessly on the sources that were reactivated on the slope of Tigaiga. This is the most active front of the Great Northern Wildfire.
Their hoarse sound, and their low flight, at between 140 and 187 kilometers per hour, have caught everyone’s attention in the metropolitan area, but also in the regions of Acentejo and Valle de La Orotava, where they have been seen passing dozens of times in the days in which they have worked almost tirelessly to finish off a fire that is perimeter, but remains active, especially on the Tigaiga front.
The pilots of the two Bombardier CL-415s that are operating in Tenerife have given authentic flight lessons in a very difficult, dangerous and steep environment. yeshis spectacular releases of water a short distance from the vegetation have shrunk the hearts of many witnesses to his expertise. It is hypnotic to see them practically skim the hillside as they discharge thousands of liters of water, tilt their wings and change course to return to port.
The sea conditions on the north coast of Tenerife have not allowed them to recharge in the waters closest to the Valle de La Orotava and, after taking a few shots at Las Teresitas beach, they have finally chosen to use the calm waters of the port of the capital as a base of operations. His passing frequency has been reduced from about 35 minutes the first day to just 25 yesterday. Its autonomy is around four and a half hours in extinction missions.
The so-called Foca are located during the summer campaign in the bases of Pollensa (Mallorca), Malaga, Salamanca, Zaragoza, Santiago de Compostela and at its permanent headquarters: the Torrejón de Ardoz Air Base. Each aircraft has a crew of three, two pilots and a flight mechanic. The 43rd Air Force Group currently has 18 amphibious aircraft (14 Canadair CL-215-T and 4 Bombardier CL-415) and 150 soldiers, of whom 49 are pilots and 25 flight mechanics. It is an Air Force unit that depends organically on the General Air Command, operationally on the Military Emergency Unit (UME) and functionally on the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Fight against Climate Change.
Together with the air raiders, the ten aerial means of extinction mobilized by the Government of the Canary Islands have also fought, such as the Air Tractor 802F, a small cargo plane on land with a capacity for 3,100 liters of water, which yesterday also left impressive flights in Tigaga. And, without a doubt, the keys, the helicopters, which have not stopped loading in ponds very close to Tigaiga so as not to give a respite to the flames. Like the Bell 412, medium-sized and ideal for transporting brigades and supporting them through water discharges; the PZL W3A Sokol, multifunctional and versatile, intended both for the rescue and rescue of people and for firefighting, or the Eurocopter AS350 Ecureuil B3, ideal for transporting brigades and supporting them through water discharges. Three models capable of throwing between 1,200 and 1,500 liters of water on the flames. Or the imposing Kamov, with the capacity to launch up to 4,500 liters in each pass. A twin-rotor aircraft highly valued in firefighting for its unloading capacity, maneuverability and power. Russian-made, they are currently suffering collateral damage from the invasion of Ukraine, as this conflict makes it difficult to access the necessary spare parts. The Civil Guard helicopter, in air coordination tasks, also plays a key role in this battle against fire from the air, since it marks drop zones, entry zones, flight levels, departures and arrivals, or places of water load.
The two amphibious planes of the 43rd Air Force Group that operate in the North fire have an unmistakable stamp, yellow and red, which have flown near the rooftops and towers of Santa Cruz, and also of the wild slope of Tigaiga, in the municipality of Los Realejos.