High above the smoke column emitted by the Casino Fire, a lone aircraft orbited tirelessly, twin turboprop engines droning a welcome tune. Firefighting aircraft swarmed in a well-planned ballet in the air beneath it.
Cal Fire’s OV-10A Bronco Air Attack 310 directed resources to battle the fire Monday, July 13. Air tankers and helitack forces were guided as they dropped Phos-Chek and water on the inferno.
Manufactured by North American Rockwell in Columbus, Ohio, the aircraft was originally built for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and served from 1968-1993. OV-10A aircraft were used as counterinsurgency aircraft and close air support for military ground forces.
In 1993, the aircrat were acquired from the Department of Defense and converted for use as air attack planes. These aircraft are replacing the Cessna O-2As that Cal Fire had been using as the air attack platform.
According to Cal Fire, the OV-10As are newer, larger and faster, providing a larger field of vision for the crew and are more maneuverable than the older Cessnas.
The OV-10As command and control all aircraft on wildland fires. The plane’s air crew consists of a pilot and an air tactical group supervisor. They provide tactical coordination with the ground-based incident commander, transmitting data and information on the movement and spread of the fire.
The crew directs air tanker and helicopter pilots on where to make their retardant and water drops to best fight the flames.
Each OV-10A weighs 10,500 pounds, has a maximum speed of 250 mph and a cruising speed of 230 mph. The plane has a range of 1,000 miles, powered by two Garrett T-76 turbines.
Painted in Cal Fire’s red and white color scheme, the plane often arrives at the fire before other resources, to report and direct. The unique sound of the powerful twin engines alerts civilians on the ground of the threat of wildfire.
Often seen flying in the smoky skies, Cal Fire’s OV-10A Bronco 310 continues to be used in the battle to squelch Southern California wildland blazes.
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.