McDermott Aviation’s new Guardian 1 chopper with the expanding water tank slung underneath. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
McDermott Aviation’s new Guardian 1 chopper with the expanding water tank slung underneath. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

New firefighting weapon comes on line

THE township of Cooroy is by most accounts a sleepy corner of Noosa Shire.

So it might come as a surprise to know it's also home to what's been described as the largest helicopter and fixed-wing operation in the Southern Hemisphere.

And now, McDermott Aviation Group is now preparing its 45th helicopter, a new Bell Guardian 1, for firefighting service.

It's the largest multipurpose helicopter to ever hit the Australian firefighting scene, and it features a Noosa-manufactured tank slung under its belly, which expands as it fills with water.

"The tank actually folds out once it's filling up with water, and carries 3500 litres, while others carry just under 3000L," company co-owner Simon McDermott said of the next generation chopper.

"It's the first of its kind in our fleet first and carries 14 firefighters."

Simon, left and father John McDermott at the controls of the enw Guardian 1 helicopter at McDermott Aviation in Cooroy.
Simon, left and father John McDermott at the controls of the enw Guardian 1 helicopter at McDermott Aviation in Cooroy.

McDermott's has been flat out with firefighting contracts since August due to the big dry locally, and overseas, and there's no let-up in sight.

Simon's dad John said normally choppers finishing the fire season around now would transfer south to Tasmania, "but the Queensland Government has contracted us until Christmas".

"And Tasmania will start next weekend," he said.

One chopper of five has just arrived back from fighting fires in Indonesia for the last four months, while there are McDermott helicopters stationed everywhere.

"We booked 27,000 flights last year, in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, the USA, Canada, Indonesia and New Caledonia," John said.

"Logistics is a big part," he said, for the 160 staff who work at the Cooroy base to reschedule commercial operations when emergency aerial firefighting is called for.

And some of the fleet have been active in the last few days over Teewah and Cooroibah/Ringtail Creek Forest.

Friday week's weather was daunting, with an on-ground temperature of 37 degrees C about noon, with winds picking up.

"Today's our big day. Who knows (what will happen)?" Simons said.