The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)

Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircrafts have arrived in Abbotsford and Conair Group Inc. will soon begin the conversion into airtankers engineered specifically for aerial firefighting.

The craft will eventually transform into the Q400AT, which is considered to be the most advanced airtanker in the world today.

RELATED: Abbotsford’s Conair expanding fleet of firefighting airtankers

The aircraft will be modified from Conair’s hangars in Abbotsford by their team of aerospace specialists. The modification process will begin this quarter and is scheduled to be completed in time for North America’s wildfire season, taking approximately 75 calendar days to convert.

“The first step in the conversion process is an interior de-mod, or stripping down the cabin to the bare frame in order to reduce the aircraft’s weight.” stated Dustin Littler, Aircraft Conversion Manager at Conair. “The cockpit is then opened up to allow for access to install specialized avionics.”

The flight deck is equipped with a Conair developed and Transport Canada certified Flight Envelope Awareness System, which provide pilots with enhanced safety awareness information such as instantaneous G-Loading, slow speed awareness, and angle of attack information.

The airtanker will be outfitted with an external tank, enabling the interior of the fuselage to remain pressurized and climate controlled, creating a safer environment for pilots by reducing fatigue.

“It takes a solid eight weeks to install the tank, fairings and perform avionics modifications, plus another two weeks to reassemble the cockpit, and perform operational tests, ground runs and test flights.” Littler added. “The tank is manufactured, tested and calibrated prior to the install on the Dash 8.”

The Q400AT is then painted in Conair’s signature white, red and black colours to complete the process.

Conair has been modifying the Q400 into airtankers since 2005, operating the first Q400AT in Australia this past bushfire season and providing a multi-role variant, the Q400MR, to France for the past 15 years.

“This is the most versatile airtanker of its size available for aerial firefighting.” stated Jeff Berry, Director of Business Development at Conair. “The converted aircraft has the capacity to drop 10,000 litres of water, retardant or gel/foam over diverse geography, operable on most 5,000 ft runways. This means the large airtanker can respond to a multitude of fires,including those in more remote settings not located near large airports or tanker bases. It offers greater flexibility, response and support for our wildfire agency customers.”

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