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It's Raining Water Balloons

Fill firefighting planes with water balloons.
  [vote for,

One of the current approaches to putting out forest fires is landing an airplane in a lake, filling it with water, then flying over a fire and dropping the load. One problem with this technique is the water lost through evaporation by the time the water lands on the fire. To reduce this pilots fly low (even dangerously so), but this does not remove the problem.

I propose a floating water balloon filler/loader. This device will be small enough to be flown in to a lake near the fire. It consists of a raised tank, a pump, a generator, and a whole lot of large biodegradable water balloons. The filler/loader will work to fill water balloons and place them in the raised tank.

The airplane will have a hole or door in the top. The plane will land on the lake and position itself under the raised tank, which will empty itself into the airplane. The airplane will then fly off and drop it's load of water balloons on the fire, while the filler/loader fills it's raised tank.

Worldgineer, Feb 05 2004

KC-135 Water Tanker http://www.halfbake...35_20Water_20Tanker
Basic concept stolen from a comment made by [SystemAdmin].
There are also many good comments about evaporation. [Worldgineer, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Some Bugger has gone and realized my annotation http://environment....inst-bushfires.html
A US timber company, is developing 1.2-metre-wide PVC bags - each of which can hold 900 kilograms of water and fire retardant. [Gordon Comstock, Jan 09 2008]


       is there an issue with burning whatever substance the baloon is made of?
theircompetitor, Feb 05 2004

       Even if it was made of gasoline soaked paper, the added heat would be small compared with the heat removed. That being said, I suggest using a material with a low heating value.
Worldgineer, Feb 05 2004

       I think with something like biodegradable trash bags, we might have something here. Thin material, storable on large rolls. If there were problems of breakage, the "bomb bay" could have some water in it so the bags don't have to support their own weight. The challenge is getting the bags filled.
DonBirnam, Feb 05 2004

       [edited out criticism based on my mistaken impression that every lake needed one of these devices]   

       aside: The lake we visit every summer in Eastern Washington is sometimes used for dipping by the local fire plane (a PBY, I think it's called, originally for dropping depth charges on submarines).   

       Pretty damn cool the way he drops down on the lake, cuts the throttle as he skims the surface with his scoop open, and then guns it at the last freakin minute, barely climbing out above the trees.
oxen crossing, Feb 05 2004

       You must have missed my sentence: //This device will be small enough to be flown in to a lake near the fire.// The plane carries this device to the lake they are going to use. They can grab a load of normal water, and by the time they come back a load of balloons is ready.   

       You could also conceivably parachute these into many lakes in the area, then run by and pick them up after the fire.
Worldgineer, Feb 05 2004

       I actually read that sentence, but I misunderstood it: I thought you were refering to the ability of the aircraft to fly into the device.
oxen crossing, Feb 05 2004

       Worldgineer -- I was talking about a polution concern if you're burning plastic, let's say. Granted it maybe minor compared to a forest fire
theircompetitor, Feb 05 2004

       You're right - burning plastic may be a concern if firefighters are on the ground. If we can't come up with a material that isn't too toxic when burned than this may have to be limited to fires where there aren't firefighters on the ground. Then again, this might not be significant compared to all of the wood smoke. I'll have to leave the issue for the R&D stage.
Worldgineer, Feb 05 2004

       I don't think the size of the bags is terribly important. I actually think [DB]'s idea would work well.
Worldgineer, Feb 05 2004

       UnaBubba's comment made me think... how about an additive that increases the surface tension of the water. A LOT. Then you just open the smooth bay door and DRRRRRROOOOOP one big waterdrop. I think the area below needs to be clear of folks, acutally I'm sure the area below needs to be clear.
DadManWalking, Feb 06 2004

       How about a big penny slot machine on the plane that pays out every time. The "copper" winnings would smother and heat-starve the blaze.
FarmerJohn, Feb 07 2004

       Alternately, you could have an air-dropped automatic magnetic railcannon water balloon launcher that could slowly accelerate and then fling the balloons up to a mile away from the lake proper, thus requiring the plane only for the initial drop of the equipment. Afterwards, it could be pointed at the DMV.
eyeguy, Feb 07 2004

       [eyeguy] I like it. Though you shouldn't abbreviate things like Department of Motor Vehicles (which is what I assume you would like to hurl water balloons at), as other countries and even other states have different names for their slow burocrats with bad attitudes.
Worldgineer, Feb 10 2004

       Thelma and Louise?   

       There will be trouble when these enormungous balloons snag a nail inside the heli/plane.
k_sra, Feb 10 2004

       Not really. Then it's just water, like the way they do it now.
Worldgineer, Feb 10 2004

       I had a similar idea to this – probably not worth a new hb idea. However instead of using balloons, how about large origami water bombs that you used to make as a kid? If you made them out of very tough, possibly waxed paper with reinforcement at the edges and other strategic places, you could have water cubes. You probably wouldn’t want them folded exactly like origami ones – but a paper cube nevertheless. If you made these bombs say a meter cubed each one would weigh a tonne. These would stand on tough cardboard palettes. Using a makeshift runway (bit of straight road somewhere suitably free of telegraph poles) you could fly in completely unmodified C130 Herculeses (Herules’s?, anyway more than one Hercules) which could then be loaded by forklift truck. The latest 130J could take about 16 of these palettes - earlier models somewhat less.   

       Now the Hercules just flies bombing runs over the fire, dropping palettes as necessary as described with the balloons. Inside the aircraft it is already fitted with rollers on the cargo floor to slide airdrop palettes out the back. A further refinement would be to have a wire (with a suitable weak link) attached at one end to the static line and at the other somewhere inside the bomb such that at a certain height the bomb is ruptured to produce a more even soaking.   

       The advantages of this system is that no specialized aircraft are necessary so there must be loads of aircraft that could be called upon. Although not as fast as scooping, it would be fairly quick to reload as the ground crew would be constantly filling up more bombs. A quick google shows the Bombardier 415 state-of-the art fire bomber can scoop up a maximum of about 6 Tonnes. This system would be at least double that.
Gordon Comstock, Mar 02 2004

       I like your idea, but it does remove the possibility of fighting fires that are far from runways or roads wide enough for planes. Many fires happen in deep forests, where the only roads for miles are very narrow. This being said, I can see it working in some places.
Worldgineer, Mar 02 2004

       [Worldgineer], I volunteer the Halfbakery scuba team to bob about in the lakes and fill water balloons while waiting for the plane to return.   

       The Halfbakery scuba team is now soliciting members. The ability to remain calm in deep water with large aircraft flying close by is a prerequisite.
normzone, Mar 02 2004

       <off topic>I'm deleting a link to "It's Raining Iceballs", that I had linked to saying "Inspired by me, and therefore also by [SysAdmin], and therefore also by [ty6]." I don't remember this idea, but it sounds interesting. I'm sad it's gone now.</off topic>
Worldgineer, Jun 26 2004

       [GC] Great find. PVC? Nothing like adding chloride gas to the stuff that firefighters breathe.
Worldgineer, Jan 09 2008

       //how about an additive that increases the surface tension of the water.// I'm not sure it's possible to increase the surface tension of water much - though it's easy to lower it with surfactants.   

       BUT - how about gelling the water? A primitive solution would be to add acrylamide momomer at, say 0.5% w/v and catalyse it while the plane returned to the fire. Then you'd be dropping a sort of very weak gel instead of water.   

       Acrylamide is a bad idea for lots of reasons, but there are other much more potent and less toxic gelling agents, several of which I can't think of just at this moment.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 09 2008


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