An Avro RJ85 airtanker operated by Canada’s Conair Group Inc. successfully completed a three-month firefighting deployment to Australia, returning back to Canada in late March. The aircraft is one of three RJ85s owned by Conair, which has heavily modified the regional passenger jetliner and fitted it with a large external tank enveloping the mid-underbelly fuselage. This tank can hold over 11,500 l (3,000 gallons) of fire retardant or water, released through a computer-controlled system.
Contracted by the State of Victoria to strengthen its armoury against wildfires during the Australian summer season, the RJ85 (painted as Tanker 162) was used to support ground-based firefighters by flying low over scrubland and forest wildfires and delivering the retardant in seconds to help suppress the flames. Ray Horton of Conair, a veteran airtanker pilot for over 30 years who has flown thousands of sorties and was involved in many of the Australian missions, said the RJ85 adapted to its new role extremely well.
Only a week after its trans-Pacific ferry flight from Canada in December 2014, Tanker 162 was in action in Victoria fighting its first fire. Further firefighting followed through December and early January. It was then called to action in neighbouring South Australia, where over a two-day period it dropped some 200,000 l (53,000 gallons) of retardant on the fire fronts raging in the state. By 8 January, the aircraft had completed 14 drops across the two states. Later, it was despatched across Australia to Perth, Western Australia, to aid firefighting efforts there. The RJ85 finished its contract in early March with an airtanker mission in the State of Tasmania.