RFS Boeing-737 sent on more than 600 missions in Australia this bushfire seasonin Australia


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – One of the lasting images of this season’s firefighting effort in Australia unfortunately has been the crash this week of an American C-130 Hercules Air Tanker on Thursday January 23, killing all 3 crew members. These brave men were doing their job – battling the Australian bushfires for the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) in New South Wales. Another large American firefighting aircraft operating in Australia is the Boeing 737 Fireliner. Both firefighting aircraft are leased from Coulson Aviation USA and have flown over 600 missions for the RFS in Australia this bushfire season. One of the American pilots flying the 737 Fireliner is Captain Jonas Doherty. This is a story about brave men like Jonas, their firefighting aircraft, and the firefighting agency they work for in Australia – the NSW RFS.

The NSW RFS hasn’t only leased C-130s, but the agency has also leased large Boeing 737 Fireliners from American company Coulson Aviation USA to support the Australian firefighters on the ground during this long and intense bushfire season.

For the first time now, we hear from the pilots behind the controls. Like Jonas, B737 Fireliner pilot and a true firefighting hero. He explains to us what it’s like for him and his colleagues, to fight the many fierce bushfires, which have been raging throughout Australia the last 4 months, killing at least 28 people.

It’s a dangerous job to be a firefighter in the sky – operating at low level, flying under extreme turbulent conditions with extreme heat and a lot of smoke and ash, resulting in a very low visibility. This is what makes these brave men true firefighting heroes.

Jonas however, insists he’s no hero. In his eyes he and his fellow firefighting pilots are just supporting the firefighters on the ground. But for the people of Australia he really is a true hero, like the 3 firefighters who gave their lives on Thursday for the beautiful country Down Under.

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Watch how the Coulson Aviation B737 Fireliner battles the bushfires in Australia and see what it takes to keep them in the air. Video: 7NEWS Australia

Former Southwest Airlines aircraft

The Boeing 737 Fireliner #137 is one of 6, which Coulson Aviation has purchased from Southwest Airlines.

The Coulson Aviation B737-3H4(WL) Air Tanker with registration N138CG, is almost 25 years old and first flew for Southwest Airlines (registration N608SW) from 1995 till 2017, before Coulson Aviation became the new owner of the older Boeing 737 variant.

The Air Tanker served first as a passenger aircraft and now has a complete other role as Coulson Aviation #137, by supporting firefighters on the ground during the Australian bushfire season. However, the Air Tanker combines its new role with its old role – transporting people and battling bushfires.

All six 737 Fireliners have the capacity to bomb bushfires with retardant, but also to move 63 passengers.

“We would be able to load up 63 firefighters, fly to a fire, off load them while we’re filling our tanks and go work together and move around strike teams like that. We’ll be the only air tanker in the world that can do that,” Britt Coulson – Co-President of the Coulson Group – said to Albernivalley News in 2017.

Coulson Aviation Boeing 737-3H4(WL) at Albury Airport. Photo: Bidgee / Wikimedia Commons

NSW Rural Fire Service

The pilots from Coulson Aviation USA are flying for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) and supporting the NSW RFS firefighters on the ground, which makes them a great team, on the ground and in the air.

The NWS RFS is a volunteer-based firefighting agency and statutory body of the Government of New South Wales and it’s the world’s largest volunteer fire service.

The NSW RFS is responsible for fire protection in 95% of the land area of New South Wales and the Jervis Bay Territory, while urban areas are the responsibility of Fire and Rescue NSW. The NSW RFS is the primary agency for responding to bushfires in the state.

In addition, the NSW RFS members attend a range of incidents and activities: bush and grass fires, house and structure fires, storm damage, search and rescue, vehicle fires, motor vehicle accidents, community education, bush fire mitigation, and a wide range of other emergencies, as well as providing preventative advice to local communities.

True heroes

To all the firefighters around the world, who are risking their lives while battling these fierce wildfires from the sky, but also from the ground and from the water, and who are protecting us against and saving us from fire – all we can do is give nothing less than our most deepest respect to all these brave men and women, for these are true heroes!


(Head photo: Bidgee / Wikimedia Commons)

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