ACA Fights Financial Fires With Aqua-Bama

By Scott Spangler on November 3rd, 2008

Airframe manufacturers are dealing with the financial fires spawned by the global economic meltdown in many ways, including reorganization, furloughs, and layoffs.

JetWhine_ACA_Aqua-Bama-4 American Champion Aircraft is pursuing a different tact, introducing a new airplane. It’s a single-seat aerial fire fighter based on the 180-hp 8GCBC Scout. They call it the Aqua-Bama. Operating in the restricted category, it will deliver 100 gallons of water or Class A foam in 3.5 seconds.

Ideally, ACA says firefighting agencies could station fire-fighting squadrons around the state, Mehlhaff says: “four Aqua-Bamas, and a two-seat High Country Explorer for training and as a spotter.” For a company that makes less than 100 airplanes a year, an order for just one squadron would cool the heat of the current economic conflagration.

The prototype is flying on its way toward certification, and it’s already put out one real fire. ACA is situated just west of Rochester, Wisconsin, a village of 1,200 people 23 miles west of Racine.

“We were burning some pallets in our burn pit over by the gravel pit and we dumped some water on it,” says says Jerry Mehlhaff Jr., the company’s lead engineer. Depending on its altitude, Aqua-Bama has a trapezoidal dump pattern that’s about 90 to 100 feet wide tapering to around 50ish, and about 300 to 350 feet long. It quenched the pallets, Mehlhaff said, “and the guy working the fire said, Okay, I have to light that again.”

JetWhine_ACA_Aqua-Bama-3 ACA is not starting from scratch. It’s building on the ag version of the Scout certificated in the 1970s. It’s moved the tank from the belly to the back seat. Because of weight, the tank will carry nothing other than H2O or Class A foam, which weighs roughly 8 pounds a gallon, Mehlhaff says. Other fire fighting slurries have a lot of clay and other ingredients, he says, that pushes their per gallon weight up to 14 pounds or more.

JetWhine_ACA_Aqua-Bama-2 “We wanted it as a package deal,” Mehlhaff says. By sticking with water or foam, “you don’t have to worry about, I weigh this much, so I can only put in this much fuel and fire fighting fluid. You fill it up and go, bomb, come back, do it again, try to hit the fire several times an hour.”

Aqua-Bama is a few flight tests away from certification, including those that will create the chart of dump patterns from different altitudes. ACA has not advertised the project, but it’s received a fair amount of word of mouth, especially in aerial firefighting circles.

Agencies in several states have expressed interest in the single-seat fire bomber, Mehlhaff says. Naturally, you’re not going to use it for wildfires, but it competes well with helicopters when dealing with spot fires and burning wheat fields. Economics is what makes Aqua-Bama attractive, because its operating costs are a fraction of those for rotary wings. — Scott Spangler

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One Response to “ACA Fights Financial Fires With Aqua-Bama”

  1. Firefighter Says:

    Very cool post. I wonder why they selected that name for this firefighter plane. Is it Aqua-bama because the company is out of Alabama? or is it related to the new president? lol I hope its the former and not the latter. This thing looks like it can do some serious damage against a field fire. I didnt see where in the article that the plane gathers the water. Does it have to land between fill ups or can it fly over water and suck up/scoop up water to refill the tanks? I love this aerial firefighter planes they are really cool. My uncle was worked fire rescue and flew a helicopter. Ever since I did a ride along with him I have been totally interested in this stuff. Great post.

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