The ongoing bushfires in Australia have destroyed more than 11 million hectares of land.* This month, we caught up with Team Aquarius to discuss why their aerial firefighting solution, proposed in 2017, is more important than ever.
Aerospace technology can be applied in many ways to solve many kinds of problems. For Team Aquarius – Philipp, Kerry and Anil; students at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia – it seemed obvious to use their technical knowledge to help communities in Australia, where forest fires are an ever-increasing problem.
Philipp says, ‘We like thinking big and about the greater issues currently hemming our world. It brings us joy to try and navigate through these problems, thinking critically and then creatively to come up with potential solutions which would benefit people globally. Forest fires, in Australia, are just one of these predominantly imminent dangers, hence in conjunction with our mutual interest in aviation, it initiated this idea.’
The team came up with a system of aerial firefighting platforms that could be used for rapid wildfire suppression. It works by incorporating modular systems using fire retardant containers fixed to fast-loadable pallets for a network of Airbus A400M aircraft.
Two years after the team presented their aerial firefighting solution, the 2019-20 bushfire season gained international media coverage for its scale and intensity. Reflecting on the impact of the fires in her community, Kerry says, ‘It is something very personal to us as Australians, and especially Victorians (our state). One of the worst bush fires in terms of lives lost happened just outside where we all live, called ‘Black Saturday’. The fires impacted some of my friend’s families who had to flee their homes. It also affected my pilot training studies as the smog and smoke reduced visibility so much, even being so far away, that it no longer met minimum conditions for Visible Flying.’
In the context of these fires, their project remains more relevant than ever. Philipp says, ‘As predicted and discussed even in 2017, these fires have become bigger and more frequent around the world, not only in Australia. Last year, the Arctic experienced its worst fire season on record.’
Philipp now works as an English and German teacher in Ukraine, and Kerry has started pilot training with RMIT at the RAAF Base, following an internship at Airbus Defence and Space in Germany. They remain passionate about their project. Kerry says, ‘We hold hope that we will find the right interested partner that stays true to our values. The Australian public was asking for the government to look into alternative methods of fire suppression and prevention. Hopefully, this leads to enquirers about our project.’