MIGRATING WATERBOMBERS

Michael Prophet & Ron Mak


During a dull and dreary Monday morning at the office, the telephone rang and the person on the other end told me some exiting news. He had received a fax from Captain Klaus Reinarz (a Canso pilot) confirming an upcoming Ferry-Flight: it read Dear Ron your letter arrived today, off course you and your friend are invited for the flight from Salamanca to Palma del Rio the October 1st Departure is approx 0930 hours local. Muchos Saludos Klaus.

Well what do you think Michael should we go, Ron ask, I did not hesitate and agreed to come along, it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. That same day air tickets where arranged to Madrid Spain. A couple off days later, Ron and I where southwards bound on a Iberia A320 high technology jet, I had decided to travel light and packed a couple of Bermuda shorts due to the high temperatures (30 degrees) a week before, but when we landed at Madrid-Barajas airport, it was a cool 13 degrees, my shorts never left my travel bag. Due to our late arrival in Madrid, we decided to stay overnight. The next day, we booked two seats on the Salamanca Express bus, departing at 1430.After a scenic three hour bus ride which took us true the Sierra Guadarrama Mountains we arrived at the picturesque city of Salamanca.

During the 1991 fire Fighting season, ICONA leased three Aeroservicio Parrague (ASPAR) Canso water-bombers to combat the forest fires in Spain, this was ASPAR third season, and recently the two on site aircraft where joined by a third PBY-6A Canso CC-CNP/35 which was stationed at Gerona, about 100 km north off Barcelona, while PBY-6A(CC-CCS/34) and PBY-5A (CC-CDT/32)both shared the ramp at Salamanca-Matacan airport, Spain second fire fighting company SAESA (Servicios Aereos Espanoles SA) had its two Catalina’s stationed at Badajoz and at Santa Cruz on the Island of Tenerife. The following day we grabbed a taxi to Matacan airport, we where greeted by the Chilean crew, both Cansos where basking under the cool Spanish sun, and despite their heavy fire-fighting season, they still looked in very good condition. It was their last day of the contract and they where still officially on "stand-by", it had been raining very heavily the previous days, so nobody was expecting a call-out. The crew was busy loading their belongings on board, and the mechanics where performing some last minute checks, Ron introduced me to Captain Klaus Reinarz and his fellow crew members. Preparations where in full swing for tomorrows ferry flight, Captain Reinarz mentioned, the only thing that could be a problem would be the weather. It has been a very busy season for the PBY water-bombers.





Originally the contract stated 150 flying hours for the complete season from the 1st of July until September 30th. This year however the three Aspar water-bombers had exceeded the 150 hours mark. A grand total of 390 hours were recorded. This meant lots of extra pay for the crews. Around lunch Ron and I were invited to join the crew for a light meal at the airport local canteen. During lunch I got better acquainted with the other crew members. Co-pilot Francisco Herros Lopez of Canso 34 was very enthusiastic and he told us he had done many water bombing missions this year. There were times they had to drop below the tree tops to scoop up the water, with lots of high grounds in the near. With a capacity of almost 3600 litres the Canso can pick fill up her tanks within 30 seconds.

In the Salamanca area the Cansos picked up water from as many as 20 different lakes. To the south the main lakes were Gabriel Y Galan, de Alcantara, de Orellana and de Cijara. To the north the lakes de Almendra, de Villalcampo and de Ricobayo were used. The Cansos Pratt & Whitney R1830 engines had performed superbly, no major breakdown had occurred. The captain of Canso 34, Particio Miranda had to take his first ever water-bombing rating at the start of the season. A licensed PBY instructor arrived from Canada to give instructions and the examination.



Captain Reinarz is a veteran piston-engine pilot and flew many hours on the DC-3 and DC-6. He was looking a bit tired and was happy to return home for the winter. The fire fighting business can be very demanding on the crew’s. Capt. Reinarz started with Aspar back in 1982. All was ready for the ferry flight tomorrow, he mentioned. Just report in; at 10 in the morning. The following day a taxi dropped us of at Matacan Airport and we awaited the arrival of the crew’s. Ron joined Canso 32 with Captain Renarz and co-pilot Miguel Angel Bellot while I boarded the Canso 32 with Captain Miranda and his co-pilot Franscisco Lopez. Fransico showed were I could sit during the flight, which was the F/E station. There I could slide down the windows for better pictures. Feel free to come up to the cockpit anytime he mentioned. Within minutes both engines were fired up and we were awaiting our take-off clearance. We followed Canso 32 to the engine run-up area. All 4 Pratt & Whitney engines were running smoothly today. So soon after, we were racing down the runway for our takeoff. Canso 32 was already airborne in front of us. Both engines running at max power and we sailed into the air. I watched as we got airborne and saw the main road from Avila to Salamanca disappear under our wing.





Captains Reinarz and Miranda where climbing up to a comfortable cruising altitude of 5000 feet, with a speed of 100 knots we lined up just on the starboard of Canso 32, and in a tight formation we headed south-ward, towards the Sierra de Gredos mountain range. Below me the Spanish heartland called "Extremadura" gradually past me by. "Extremadura", is an unspoilt part of Spain. The natural beauty is awesome, in this old, proud and noble part of Spain, hugging the Portuguese border, time has stood still. The flat prairie planes dotted with huge trees, soon made way for rugged mountain slopes, we changed our course slightly to the west and followed the valley corridor, between the Sierra de Gato and the Sierra de Gredos, and Canso 32 descended to about 2000 feet and followed the long string of lakes and rivers in the valley. After showing Ron how beautiful the Spanish heartland is, the red and white Canso climbed back up and formated with us again and we changed course due south and headed for the mighty Rio Guadalquivir River.

At this moment we started our air-to-air photo sortie. Ron was invited up in the cockpit, and Captain Reinarz asked him where he wanted the Canso to be for our air-to-air session. We had a good tailwind of 140 knots. After one hour into the flight we left the "Extremadura" and entered the "Andalucia" area, this part of Spain is more cultivated into farmland. I entered the cockpit and checked our flight status. Al was going well for the experienced pilots. 40 minutes later we started our descend to the Palma Del Rio strip. Both PBY’s were descending and I saw Canso 32 landing gear already in the down position. I looked forward to find the small 600 m strip but could not find it. Canso 32 landed first and we made a low pass!

We completed a 180 degrees circuit and made a smooth landing, with a gentle bump; Captain Miranda puts his old bird on the gravel airstrip, and immediately selected the props into reverse pitch. As I looked back, I saw a big cloud of dust behind me; the Canso turned around and back tracked to the hardened platform. It appeared that Canso 35 with Captain Niko Pascojevic on the controls had arrived a few minutes a head of us from Gerona. It took them 4 hours, our flight lasted l hour and 50 minutes.

As the engines where turned off, I noticed the buzzing sound inside my head, caused by the constant drone of the Pratt & Whitney R1830 engines. The Canso fleet where left at Palma del Rio for winter-storage. Southern Spain has the ideal winter climate to keep the Cansos in good condition, Palma del Rio airfield is owned by FAASA (Fumigacion Aerea Andaluza SA), who operate a number of Grumman Agcats to be used for crop dusting, and two Bell helicopters for fighting forest fires. FAASA is also involved in crop-dusting pilot training and in routine maintenance for the ASPAR Canso fleet, whilst ASPAR mechanics drop by to assist in 100-hours inspect ions.



Canso 32 and 35 came to Spain in July 1988, for the first year based at Zaragoza, and the following years at Salamanca, Canso 34 (CC-CCS) came to Spain during 1991 to reinforce the busy ASPAR fleet. She left Santiago Los Cerrillos airport on May 31 on her first leg to Cordoba in Argentina. The crew comprised off Captain Klaus Reinarz, Co-pilot Captain Patricio Miranda, navigator Roberto Parrague and flight engineer Jorge Pizarro. The route taken was Santiago-Cordoba(3.10 hours), Cordoba-Asuncion(Paraguay)4.25, Asuncion-Brasilia(Brazil)6.50 Brasilia-Recife 7.40, Recife-Dakar 17.45, Dakar-las Palmes 6.30, Las Palmes-Sevilla 6.10, Seville-Palma del Rio 0.20 arriving on the 7th June. Canso 34 left Los Cerrilos with two extra fuel tanks fitted under each wing, which held an additional 500 gallons of fuel. In case of an emergency they could be dropped by pressing a button in the cockpit. The tanks came from a former CAF Lockheed F80 fighter.

When they departed Recife, the Canso was topped 1780us gallons of fuel, and after a gruwling 17.45 minutes transatlantic flight, they arrived at Dakar with 390 gallons left over. The Chilean waterbomber left Recife during the late evening flying the first 6 hours in complete darkness, which was very rough for the crew. Both pilots are experienced IFR Captains, during their first marathon journey in 1988 from Chile to Spain, a stop off at the Brazilian island of Noronha was made. This time they flew onwards to Dakar. Noronha has relative high mountains very close to the runway; the take off at night was quit risky with strong rain showers, and an overloaded Canso. This gave pilots a very bad feeling in their stomach, so they just avoided Noronha this time; saw only Noronha passing by like a ghost during a strong rain shower. Flying between 1500 to 2000 feet, saw a strong rotating "light ", green and white on top of the highest mountain, this was the last point of return, next stop was Dakar airport. From Chile to Spain they experienced no major mechanical problems,

So it was a very successful journey for the ASPAR crews. It was bad year for the woods and wildlife. The whole Cansos fleet was flying together, sometimes assisted the SAESA Catalina C-FIZZ which was based at Badajoz. Captain Reinarz told me that it was really chocking to see one fire over 8.000 hectares in the province of Caceres and over 10.000 hectares near Salamanca on one day. Looking from my side window, I could see the Wildlife being encircled by the blazing fires, and than the many black scorched mountain sloops!

For the moment and maybe for ever its enough for me he only told me

We would like to thank, Capt. Klaus Reinarz, Gonzalo Parrague,