Viking Air contemplates new CL-515 waterbomber variant

With British Columbia in a state of emergency, California battling the largest wildfire in recent memory, and more than a dozen European countries beating back forest fires, advanced firefighting equipment has never been more in demand.

A Viking CL-215 waterbomber rests on the tarmac. Viking is planning a new waterbomber variant called the CL-415EAF, and is contemplating an additional variant called the CL-515. Viking Air Photo
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But with adversity comes opportunity. And at the risk of spooking his board of directors, Dave Curtis, chairman of Longview Aviation Capital and chief executive of Viking Air, is considering the possibility of manufacturing a newer model of the CL-415 waterbomber.

“The worldwide fire situation is dire,” Curtis told the Abbotsford Aerospace, Defence and Security Expo in August. “With what is happening globally, [there is] significant interest for [firefighting capability].”

In 2016, Viking acquired from Bombardier the certificates for all variants of the Canadair-designed CL-215 piston-powered Scooper, including the CL-215T and the Bombardier-built 415 aircraft. In addition to assuming full responsibility for in-service support for a fleet of 170 amphibious aircraft in 11 countries, Viking also became the original equipment manufacturer, with all future design rights.

Curtis said the business case for producing a new variant, the CL-515, “is still being put together,” ergo his caveat that he did not want to get ahead of his board. But he suggested an announcement could be coming in the first quarter of 2019.

The case for a new version of the venerable CL-215, based on the turbine configuration, might not be hard to make. “You will not find a single resale of the 215,” said Curtis, noting that owners are still using the aircraft.

Bombardier stopped manufacturing the CL-415 in 2015. But in visits to customers since, Viking heard repeated interest in an upgraded aircraft.

“The demand is not only for aerial firefighting, but also maritime patrol. The aircraft has been certified for oil dispersant for oil spills, and there’s many more roles the aircraft can be deployed [for],” Curtis told Skies in 2017.

As a first step to meeting that customer need, Viking will convert older CL-215 aircraft to a CL-415 enhanced aerial firefighter (EAF) variant. On the eve of the Abbotsford airshow, Longview and its subsidiary, Viking, signed an agreement with Cascade Aerospace to provide training and resource support for the conversion program. Cascade previously converted nine CL-215 aircraft to the CL-215T for the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Cascade will train Viking staff on the first aircraft, slated to begin in September, at its facility in Abbotsford. The company will then support training at Viking’s facilities in Calgary for subsequent CL-415 EAF aircraft.

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The program is based on the CL-215T configuration and includes two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW 123AF turboprop engines, digital avionics, upgraded power-assist flight controls, a new power distribution system, complete re-wiring and several structural changes.

“This is a complex modification and their expertise will lend itself to the development of the broader conversion program as a whole,” said Curtis.

Viking expects to hire up to 150 technical and support staff in Calgary to make the conversions.

“We want to be a partner with significant OEMs, commercial and military customers, and this is a big step forward in achieving our vision as a corporation,” said Kevin Lemke, Cascade’s executive vice- president and chief operating officer.

Curtis said the market for a CL-515 variant might be around 100 aircraft. But after successfully resurrecting the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter production line, Viking has gained the experience to leverage the CL-215 and 415, if the case can be made.

11 thoughts on “Viking Air contemplates new CL-515 waterbomber variant

  1. There is definitely a need for a modern CL515 model. The old airframe needs significant upgrades to bring it into the 21st century. With a new model along with new systems and as long as costs can be controlled with a sell price of $30m or less I bet the market is 150-200 aircraft. Different configurations/options will also help sell the new aircraft.

  2. Excellent idea , the only problem is what is the profitability of just 100 est. sales of a larger model ? Indeed a larger variant is really necessary , I suggest a model that is capable of skimming on rougher water or lands and siphons the water on board with high speed pumps for land ops . Most popular method uses converted commercial planes or airforce retired models fill from landing strips and they drop a lot more retardant . Perhaps a better idea would be to build a wider/larger more useful Twin Otter , one with simple retractable/robust landing gear . It would give more usable speed and distance but still be a STOL aircraft ! What is the max size gain acceptable for float operations ?

    1. Hey Jim,

      I understand your point, for your information, the CL215 and CL415 aircraft can be fillled from ground as well. They have ground filling ports on either side of the aircraft that can be filled at the same time. This allows for rapid ground filling if skimming is not permissable.

    2. the type of aircraft you are describing here would be the Buffalo, which is an older airframe that i believe viking has already done a market study for. The Buffalo is not unlike a larger twin otter with retractable gear. The reason for the Twin otter’s legendary ruggedness is because the landing gear is fixed, but as soon as you make landing gear retractable, it looses alot of its durability. The twin otter already has a fire fighting configuration using floats however the success of this i am not sure of.

  3. I wouldn’t ticker to much with something that has been working well, but preparing the new model with multirole functions for SAR Maritime reconnaissance it can open doors for more sales.

    There so many things you can do with a little bodywork modifications and more powerful engines

  4. I thought the Search and Rescue configuration was quite interesting. We see Search and Rescue helicopters, like the EH101, where the rescue technicians lower a rescue basket, on a winch, and we see fixed wing SAR aircraft, which drop a raft, and beacon, relying on survivors crawling aboard the raft, themselves, and waiting for their actual rescue from surface craft. It would be tragic to be aboard that rescue craft, and find the corpses of survivors who were able to climb aboard the raft, only to die of exposure, or wounds, while waiting.

    A fixed wing SAR aircraft that can land, at sea, and rescue those lost at sea, would be a great improvement.

    But it raises some questions. I presume that, when it is windy, an amphibious aircraft has to head right into the wind? But if it is windy, there are probably dauntingly big waves, as well. High wind and high waves are the sea conditions most likely to make a rescue necessary. How big are the waves that would preclude trying to land an amphibious aircraft the size of a 515?

    How does the range of a big EH101 helicopter compare with a CL515? The CL415 can stay aloft for four hours? When it is performing in a SAR role can some of the cargo space contain extra fuel tanks, extending its range?

    The Beaver’s maximum cargo capacity was half a ton. The Otter’s maximum cargo capacity was a full ton. In a cargo role, would the CL515’s maximum cargo capacity be seven tons — the weight of the 7000 liters of water it can drop? How does that compare with a C130?

    1. Oh yeah, one more question, in weather were a CL515 can land, how long would it take to land, launch the rescue dinghy, and fetch a floating survivor? How does that compare with lowering a rescue basket, and winching it back up? How many survivors will the CL515’s rescue dinghy hold? If it can hold half a dozen survivors that would erode any disadvantage to it taking a long time to deploy.

      The CL215 and CL415 have little floats at the end of the wings. Would making it possible to equip the SAR version of the CL515 with honking big end of wing floats make it safer to land in high seas?

  5. There are two Problems in CL-415. First, it is low-efficiency except for wild firefighting. So nobody wants to use it after fire season. Second, as a firefight aircraft, people want bigger water load in each fight over.
    So, for the next generation. CL-X15, it should have a significant improvement in these two issues. Otherwise, it has no reasonable market.

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