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A lake is near where both helicopter and plane can access the water and fire.

Which aircraft (if you had access to only one) is more efficient in putting out wildfires? Which aircraft is preferred to fly for this? What cost less to operate and which aircraft can deliver the most water per load and on the average?

I have added this link below on how this airplane delivers water. Sorry it is longer than 4 minutes. In the video at 4:49 the plane can touch down and refill without stopping.

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    $\begingroup$ If one type was better, the other type wouldn't exist. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jun 30 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ Please, who makes that airplane and where was the video shot. They seem to be on to a very good design! (A smaller prop amphibian also is seen). $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Jun 30 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertDiGiovanni en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beriev_Be-200 $\endgroup$ – DeepSpace Jun 30 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Tim You're completely agreeing with me... $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jul 1 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby - it's the way you tell 'em! Bit like chalk and cheese. $\endgroup$ – Tim Jul 1 at 13:39
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Both have their respective uses. A fixed-wing carries far more water (3,200 gallons for the Be-200 tons vs 100-700 for helicopters), but takes more local infrastructure to operate, and is more difficult to discharge exactly where you want it. A helicopter is more precise, but carries less water. It's quicker to load up and discharge near the water, but a fixed-wing flies faster, so is better suited to delivering water a longer distance away.

You want both, not just one. You'd use helicopters to suppress smaller fires if possible before they get out of control, attack larger ones at specific spots, and fixed-wings to lay down longer lines of fire retardant against developed wildfires. Larger helicopters also support fixed-wings in this. Which is "better" if you could only have one kind... that's not so much an aviation question as a fire-fighting one.

As for cost, helicopters are normally less cost-effective, being far more expensive to operate per ton-mile. A large aircraft is more expensive in absolute terms. Being smaller and less demanding of the infrastructure, helicopters can be stationed in a more critical location and react more quickly.

It's not a worse/better question, it's tools for the job. Fixed-wing fire-fighting aircraft are more specialized, with their internal water storage, while fire helicopters can be as basic as a light utility heli carrying a water bucket.

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    $\begingroup$ During a local (San Jose, CA) fire in hilly terrain I observed the following division of labor: an airplane laid down strips of pink fire retardant. A chain of three or four helicopters ferried water from a nearby reservoir or lake, with only a few minutes spacing between helicopter arrivals at the fire. $\endgroup$ – njuffa Jun 30 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ Another example that I've seen: a helicopter was able to easily get water from a nearby small lake surrounded by hills that'd make it difficult to get a Piper Cub to it. And that helicopter could have been used for e.g. search & rescue just by unhooking the water bucket, unlike the special-purpose fixed-wing aircraft. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 30 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ question revised $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Jul 1 at 14:20
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It depends on what you are trying to do.

The planes aren't doing direct attacks. In other words, they don't usually drop on fires. They lay down lines of fire retardant or water as a fire break. The fire burns up to the line, slows or stops, and ground crews can go in and stamp out hot spots. The big Erickson helis can also carry retardant or water and perform a similar function. Since helis can be more precise, they can hit specific hot spots and cool off the fire.

Direct attacks can be used in some cases, but it's not really a great way to extinguish a fire. Actually putting a fire out isn't going to happen with a plane or a heli. They may succeed in cooling the blaze but they probably won't stop it.

Simple version: the fire goes out when it runs out of fuel. It runs out of fuel when there is nothing left to burn. A bomber doesn't carry enough slurry or water to snuff out a fire that is worthy of national news coverage. The strategy is to contain the blaze with retardant or water and allow it to burn up to lines and let crews and fuel exhaustion take care of it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I forgot which aircraft would be safer to fly therefor preferred by pilots? $\endgroup$ – Muze the good Troll. Jul 1 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ If you ask me, airplanes. They are cheaper to run and carry more slurry. They make longer lines which will help direct the fire and, depending on the plane, can get into pretty tight areas. I'd prefer a few single engine tankers to a few helis. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Jul 1 at 14:49

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