A Queensland company could hold the key to vastly improving aerial firefighting capabilities around the globe.
The Noosa-based manufacturer has been officially awarded support from the Palaszczuk Government for a firefighting tank it has designed to fit onto the bottom of military helicopters – allowing them to fight fires.
Innovation Minister Kate Jones announced Helitak Fire Fighting Equipment Pty Ltd would receive a grant in the latest round of Ignite Ideas funding to commercialise their innovative firefighting water tank.
“This Queensland company has already got significant interest overseas. They’ve demonstrated their ability to scale up and create jobs locally as well as their potential to addresss a serious challenge here in Queensland,” she said.
Helitak has designed an underbelly-style water tank to suit the Black Hawk helicopter’s unique capabilities and is looking to market their FT4500 tank to firefighting authorities and private Black Hawk operators worldwide.
Black Hawk helicopters have mechanisms and functionality that are ideal for firefighting, including the ability to fly in most conditions and operate at night.
The market for Helitak’s fire tank FT4500 will grow significantly as a number of earlier model Black Hawk helicopters, which have reached the end of their military service, are divested to the public market.
“As severe fire danger grips parts of Queensland, it’s a timely reminder of the important work companies like Helitak are doing to defend communities and wildlife. That’s why we have a strong interest in supporting this project,” she said.
Helitak CEO Jason Schellaars – who is the chief designer and engineer and an experienced firefighting pilot – said the underbelly expandable tank could fill in less than 50 seconds and drop in under five seconds.
“It is capable of dumping 4,500 litres of water in one drop or being dialled back so that not all of the water or retardant is dropped at once, which is very useful for controlling spot fires,” Mr Schellaars said.
“By harnessing the release force of the Black Hawk bomb doors, we can drop water quicker and penetrate deeper into forest canopy.”
Helitak Operations Manager, Paul Blundell said the Helitak fire tank FT4500 was superior to its competitors and was cheaper because it does not require undercarriage modifications.
“This Ignite Ideas grant will allow us to scale up production, create more jobs and manufacture new product lines in future. We will create five new jobs initially, and with our forecast expansion, we will need up to 50 staff within three years,” he said.
“Helitak sources over 85 per cent of the components of the retractable underbelly tank from southeast Queensland businesses. This means we keep most of our manufacturing spend in Queensland too.
“Raising capital for the next big step is not an easy undertaking and with grant programs like Ignite Ideas it makes it a bit easier for small companies like ours to make real progress.”
Helitak has been operating since 2006 and it exported its first tank for aircraft to the United States in 2007. Companies from the USA, New Zealand and the Royal Brunei Airforce have already expressed interest in the FT4500.