Canadair CL-415

Very few Croats, and even tourists who have visited Croatia, haven’t heard of the Canadair CL-415 firefighting aircraft, popularly known as the “Kanader”. But what kind of aircraft is it and what makes it unique and often referred to as “the most effective firefighting aircraft”?

The Canadair CL-415, as the Croatian MOD has today in its fleet intended for firefighting missions, is an amphibious aircraft built on the platform of its predecessor, the CL-215. The main difference between the two aircraft is the digitized cockpit and turboprop engines compared to the pistons of the CL-215. Interestingly, the Ministry of Defense once operated older CL-215 aircraft, leased initially and later purchased as used from Italy.

To date, 4 Canadian companies have worked on the program of fire-fighting aircraft, i.e. production and support for them. The original idea and production, which began in 1966, originates from the Canadian company Canadair (hence the nickname – Kanader). The program was later taken over by Bombardier Aerospace with the development of the CL-415 version (1993), from which the MOD acquired aircraft before the program was taken over by Vinikg Aircraft in 2016. Finally, in 2022, DeHavilland Canada will take over the program in cooperation with Viking Aircraft. Upon taking over the program, DeHavilland Canada made certain modifications to the aircraft and renamed it to DHC-515, restarting production of the aircraft which, due to low orders, had stopped in 2015. Production of the new series of DHC-515 aircraft was prompted by 22 letters of intent for the procurement of aircraft, mainly by European operators, among which is the intention of the Croatian Ministry of Defense to acquire 2 aircraft of this type.

The Croatian Ministry of Defense has a total of 6 CL-415 aircraft in its fleet, the first of which was purchased new in 1996, and the last two aircraft arrived in the fleet in 2009 and 2010. It is interesting that the Canadair CL-415 shares the same type of engine (with certain modifications), with the Dash 8-Q400 (today called DHC 8-400) which Croatia Airlines also has in its fleet. Given that at the time of the acquisition, Bombardier Aerospace was producing both Canadair CL-415 and Dash 8-Q400, it was often said in the public that this trade venture between Croatia and Canada led to the cancellation of visas for Croatian citizens to enter Canada.

In many ways, the CL-415 is a superior aircraft for the purpose it serves. According to the manufacturer’s specifications, the CL-415 can spend up to 50% more time in the air compared to competing aircraft, i.e. the aircraft can be in the air on average for a firefighting mission for up to 3 hours after which it needs to refuel. Considering the nature of fires in Croatia and the proximity to the coast, that time can be longer, as stated by the Ministry of Defense up to 4 hours. The CL-415 can discharge an average of more than 400 tons of water per day (maximum single capacity is 6137 liters), with a filling time on the water surface of 12 seconds. On an average day, the aircraft can launch 115 water bombs, thus throwing out a maximum of 690,000 liters of water.

In addition to all of the above, the aircraft can be filled with retardant or firefighting foam and ejected, depending on the type of fire and the nature of the firefighting mission. Additionally, the aircraft can be used for other purposes such as search and rescue, maritime reconnaissance, transportation of people and cargo, and aerial dusting.

From 1993 (that is, 1994 when production began) until 2015, when it was discontinued, 95 CL-415 aircraft were produced, and by 2019, a total of 164 CL-215 and CL-415 aircraft had been produced.

A total of 4 modifications of the original CL-415 version were produced (CL-415, CL-415MP, CL-415GR, CL-415EAF), while the last modification is the previously mentioned DHC-515, whose production should start in 2022.

Today, there are 10 national operators of Canadair aircraft (both types produced, CL-215 and CL-415) with the following number of active aircraft:

  • Canada – 64
  • Croatia – 6
  • France – 12
  • Greece – 18
  • Italy – 19
  • Malaysia – 2
  • Morocco – 5
  • Spain – 18
  • United States of America – 4

The newest operator will be Portugal, with 2 DHC-515 aircraft on order.

Firefighting aircraft are a great help, even a necessity in modern firefighting, without which the control of large forest fires is almost unthinkable today.