I was standing beside the runway at Fox River Airport in Rochester, Wis., home airport to American Champion Aircraft (www.amerchampionaircraft.com), to see the company’s stalwart 8GCBC Scout do its Elvis impersonation—as in Elvis the famous firefighting S-64 Aircrane water bomber. A call on a handheld confirmed we were in position. From the north, Jerry Mehlhaff Sr., the company’s owner and president, came boring in on the centerline in N125WB, the prototype Scout “Water Bomber,” dropping to about 150 feet. Just past the threshold, he released 100 gallons of water from its belly. The 800 pounds of liquid hit the runway with a loud slap, soaking an area about the size of a football field.
Can 100 gallons make a splash in aerial firefighting, where blazes can cover tens of thousands of acres? One is tempted to tell the trusty Scout, “Don’t quit your day job; no shame in simply being one of the world’s premier bush planes.” Despite the existence of such big bombers as Elvis and Evergreen International’s 747-200 Supertanker, back on the ground, Jerry Sr. made a case for using light aircraft as first responders “so they can get the fire when it starts, when it’s five acres or 10, not 5,000 acres or to the point when you need a 747 to try to slow it down.”