As Australia prepares for a forest fire season, a new crew of pilots is ready to bring a new weapon to the national arsenal of firefighting.
Coulson Aviation is training four Australians to fly new NSW Rural Fire Service bird cages, and this season will be the first time home-grown pilots have boarded a ship.
Bird dog jet aircraft with vertical wings that connect the activities of helicopters and water bombs and inspect safe areas to fly.
Michael Hayes and Tony Franc are two Australian pilots trained in this role.
Mr Hayes, a 31-year-old father of three, was a commercial pilot with Virgin for nine years before being hit by COVID-19.
“Since about February this year (I was suspended) I have been standing on the unknown future,” Mr Hayes told 9News.
“I was very depressed, yes.”
Mr Franc, a 40-year-old father of two, lost his job at Tiger Air in April and had to work at a call center.
“It is very sad to be locked up in a house answering telco calls, and to go through the thought of‘ will I return to the industry I have been since I left school ’,” Mr Franc said.
It’s a real life-changing job.”
Mr Franc and Mr Hayes spent two and a half months away from their families to train for their new jobs in the US during the epidemic.
This summer will be the first time in Australia to be on the ship for refugees and experienced international workers.
But the work is not dangerous – in a recent forest fire season, three American firefighters were killed when their tank crashed near Cooma, south of Canberra.
“There is no place for mistakes,” Mr. Hayes said.
Coulson Aviation Australia chief executive Chris Smallhorn said the job required skill and courage.
NSW RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said that during the COVID-19 epidemic, it was good to have older pilots at home able to respond to threats.