Thrush Aircraft, the manufacturer of the 800-shp 510G single-engine turboprop designed for cropdusting, has introduced a conversion that quickly transforms the agricultural airplane into an efficient firefighting airplane — the 510G Switchback. The conversion includes a gate box that allows for a quick and very precise full or partial fire retardant drop when in firefighting mode.
Equipped with the GE H80 turboprop engine, the 510G is capable of carrying about 500 gallons of liquid and, being designed to fly near the ground, it can get much closer to the fires than larger firefighting aircraft can, which means the pilots can more accurately hit their targets with the fire retardant. With the Switchback system installed, the load can be dropped in less than two seconds.
In addition to the firefighting conversion, Thrush commissioned Mark Bickham, who designed the single-engine air tanker (SEAT) course for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, to design a training program specifically targeted toward agricultural pilots. The four-day AG SEAT program is designed to train cropdusters in the art of aerial firefighting. Once launched, the program will be open to any cropdusters — not only those flying Thrush airplanes.
A proposal has been placed in front of the Department of Public Safety in the state of Colorado to provide the training free of charge and to use the trained AG SEAT pilots as contract firefighters. The program would bring the number of SEAT airplanes in the state from two to as many as 88, a representative for the program said. If all of those pilots were to sign up to be AG SEAT certified, at least one firefighting airplane would be located within one hour of any potential fire within Colorado, a much quicker response time than is currently available.
With its terrific short- and soft-field capabilities, the Thrush capable of landing at about 175 airstrips around the state to be refueled and resupplied with fire suppressant, allowing the firefighters to quickly reload and return to the fires.
Thrush hopes to introduce the concept in Colorado and eventually make the program available nationwide.
Certification for the 510G Switchback is expected by the end of the year. The cost for a new airplane, typically equipped, will be around $1,000,000. Aftermarket Switchback installations are expected to cost about $100,000.
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