Pilot gets certification to help fight forest fires

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He’s the first person to use a patch of light green grass at the Belen Alexander Municipal Airport to see if he qualifies for a national certification to aid in fighting forest fires.

Submitted photo: Pilot Larry Bishop drops 800 gallons of water from his agricultural airplane while testing to receive a national certification to aid in fighting fires around the country. Belen Alexander Municipal Airport Manager Robert Uecker said this is the first time this test has been conducted at the local airport.

Pilot Larry Bishop with Aerotech, Inc., a company specializing in hydromulch, conducted an oral exam about his Air Tractor AT-802 agricultural aircraft’s manual, as well as flight procedures for fires. Then he dropped 800 gallons of water from his aircraft onto the square patch of grass on April 30.

Two U.S. Department of Interior supervisors checked to see if Bishop, an agricultural pilot for 25 years, could drop water on an exact location to see if he could do so while fighting fires around the country.

Airport manager Robert Uecker said this is the first time someone’s been tested for such a certification at the airport. Not that many receive the certification nationally, he said.

In the past year, the 48-year-old switched from tree and crop fertilizing to fighting forest fires in his spare time.

Upon receiving the certification, the Hebrews Springs, Ark., resident would be dispatched through orders detailing the fire coordinates. A seat manager would meet with Bishop to discuss air space and hazards before he goes out on the mission. Once at the fire, he would radio back its size and other details including if ground support is needed, before dropping foam or fire retardant to prevent the fire from spreading.

Although Bishop was nervous, he said he couldn’t wait to begin this new adventure.

Uecker said this national certification demonstrates the airport’s capabilities.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.