Innovation has become the new industry "it" word, and we have a proven track record that has made us a leader in developing new and safer technologies and processes into the Australian helicopter and aerial firefighting industries.
We have an extensive history of leading the way with innovation and technological advancements to fight fires with increased safety and efficiency from the air. Having evolved from the early days of operating single-turbine helicopters with water buckets, to our current fleet with their advanced tank delivery systems, we continue to adapt and continuously improve our service delivery to ensure that fire agencies, and firefighters on the front lines, have the right tool for the task at hand.
Kestrel’s Bell Medium fleet are fitted with arguably the best tank delivery system on the market, the Conair 85-KE belly tank, which provides us with the advantage of operating at speeds of twenty percent (20%) faster than other medium operators, with operational speeds of up to 120 knots.
Whilst the original 85 tank was developed by Conair, Kestrel have modified and continuously improved the system to incorporate an electric over hydraulic pressure system that is energised by the aircraft’s electrical system, which drives a fully sealed hydraulic activating system. Significant benefits have evolved from the modifications, including increased safety, functionality, reduced maintenance requirements, operational establishment timing, as well as reduced system weight maximising the payload capacity.
With the use of the Kawak brushless electric motor and snorkel system, the 1,500-litre tank is capable of being filled in less than twenty (20) seconds. When combined with a near one hundred percent (100%) continuous serviceability record, this robustness continues to reliably deliver an ideal, compact drop pattern, increased target accuracy, and increased canopy penetration.
In order to offer greater flexibility to fire agencies, Kestrel developed the Gel Injection System, which provided and increased choice for agencies of project delivery across the 85-KE fitted fleet, including water, water and foam, water and injected gel, or other retardants.
In 2020, Kestrel purchased the Supplementary Type Certificate (STC) for the Conair 85 and 92 tank systems, as well as all remaining tanks, making it the only operator able to offer this class leading tank.
Responding to requests from NAFC and the Victorian Government, in late 2016 Kestrel commenced development of a night firebombing capability, which resulted in approval and live fire trials conducted in March 2018. In January of 2019, Kestrel, in conjunction with Emergency Management Victoria (EMV), and other industry contributors, created Australian history when the night helicopter firebombing capability was used by the Victorian Government for operational fire suppression.
Kestrel was the first Australian owned company to gain approval to conduct night aerial firefighting, which includes the ability to conduct hover fill operations from natural or man-made water sources with the assistance of the Aviation Night Eyes NVIS goggle system. Hover fill is considered an essential capability given the unique operational landscape within Australia and its successful application is considered an international first.
Kestrel’s phased development program and safety management plan garnered the confidence of the domestic aviation regulator, paving the way for the continued successful operational testing and implementation of capability, culminating in the first approval in Australia to conduct ‘initial’ or ‘first’ attack in December 2019 (i.e., the ability to undertake night fire suppression without a day-time reconnaissance). This approval resulted in substantial operational test and evaluation activities from EMV, with Kestrel’s designed risk mitigation controls currently prescribed within DELWP Interagency Aviation Operation Procedures.
Kestrel has been recognised, both domestically and internationally, with several awards for the development of this now critical operational capability.