In order to protect the Adriatic coastline and the islands from natural as well as man-made fires during the summer season, the HRZ (Croatian AF) operates a squadron of firefighters. Based at Zadar-Zemunik (93. ZB), the Protupožarna eskadrila (PPE, firefighting squadron) maintains a mix of six Air Tractor AT-802s in different configurations and six Bombardier CL-415s.
The main role of the AT-802 aircraft is patrol and initial surveillance over the site of the fire. In case of a larger fire the ‘Canadairs’, as the CL-415s are called in Croatia, will be called in.
The firefighting squadron has a long tradition along the Dalmatian coast. Back in Yugoslav times a squadron of Canadair CL-215s operated out of Zadar in the same role. In the days of the JNA the unit was designated as the 676th Protivpožarna Aviacijska Eskadrila (PPAE, firefighting aviation squadron). As a result of the Homeland War, these aircraft were withdrawn from Croatia in 1991 and found their way to Greece in 1997.
After the war, Croatia restarted the tradition and first leased and later bought second-hand CL-215s. An AirTractor followed soon after. Initially, all these aircraft flew in civil markings (in the 9A-CAx series) and were ordered as well as commanded by the Ministry of Interior (MUP), while the HRZ provided the crews. In 2001 the HRZ took over responsibility for firefighting activities.The old piston-engined CL-215s were sold and eventually replaced by a full fleet of turboprop CL-415s.
In 2007 Croatia ordered several new aircraft to increase its existing firefighting fleet. In total, five Air Tractors and two more CL-415s were acquired. The last CL-415 was delivered in February 2010.
It is one of the HRZ’s major goals to train sufficient pilots to provide all the firefighters with enough crews in the near future. Normally, after graduation from the ‘Rudolf Perisin’ Air Force Academy in Zadar, and following a flight instructor course, pilots might join the firefighting squadron and start their training on the AT-802 Air Tractor. They will then spend several years and many seasons in the huge AT-802 cockpit before being selected to progress as co-pilot on the CL-415. A minimum of 1,500 flight hours is required. Due to the complex system and the nature of firefighting it will take another couple of years before the pilot graduates as a CL-415 captain.
In 2002 Croatia hosted the NATO-sponsored civil-military ‘Taming the Dragon’ exercise, where several international forces trained together to tackle a major blaze. This became a reality in 2007 when fires raged out of control in Greece. The HRZ was one of 24 supporting nations, sending two CL-415s. Another major operation beside the seasonal fires along the coast was the successful cooling-down of the burning Greek vessel UND Adryatik some five miles outside Pula harbor in February 2008.
Officially, the fire season starts in mid-May and lasts until the end of September. During that time the squadron is on full alert between sunrise and sunset. A committee based at Split handles co-ordination between the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of the Interior, civilian firefighters and other organizations.
Normally, the PPE is supported by a number of Mi-8 helicopters pre-positioned at strategic locations and equipped for firefighting with 2,200-liter buckets, while a PC-9M is on stand-by for fire site control duties.
source: combat aircraft monthly