|Role||Firefighting amphibious aircraft|
|First flight||23 October 1967|
|Number built||125|
The Canadair CL-215 (Scooper) is the first model in a series of flying boat amphibious aircraft designed and built by Canadian aircraft manufacturer Canadair, and later produced by Bombardier. It is one of only a handful of large amphibious aircraft to have been produced in large numbers during the post-war era, and the first to be developed from the onset as a water bomber.
The CL-215 is a twin-engine, high-wing aircraft, that was designed during the 1960s. From an early stage, it was developed to perform aerial firefighting operations as a water bomber; to operate well in such a capacity, it can be flown at relatively low speeds and in high gust-loading environments, as are typically found over forest fires. It can also be used for other missions types, including passenger services, freight transport, and air-sea search and rescue operations. On 23 October 1967, the first prototype performed its maiden flight, and the first production aircraft was handed over during June 1969.
While production of the CL-215 was terminated during 1990, this was due to the imminent introduction of an improved variant of the aircraft, which was designated as the CL-415, the manufacture of which commenced during 1993. Furthermore, numerous conversion and improvement programmes have been developed for existing aircraft, such as the CL-215T, a turbine-powered model of the original aircraft which replaces the original Pratt & Whitney R-2800-83AM radial engines with a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW123AF turbine engines instead. Other common changes includes the addition of new avionics and various structural improvements.
The origins of the CL-215 can be traced back to two earlier project studies conducted by Candian aircraft manufacturer Canadair, the CL-43 and CL-204. The CL-43 was conceived as a logistics aircraft and was based on the design of the Canadian Vickers-built 369 Canso (which was itself a variant of the Consolidated PBY Catalina). Arising from an earlier 1960s research study at the company, the original concept was for a twin-engined floatplane transport, that was altered into a "firefighter" as a result of a request by forestry officials in the Quebec Service Aérien (Quebec Government Air Service) for a more effective way of delivering water to forest fires. The 1962 preliminary design, designated as the CL-204, was a purpose-designed water bomber that evolved into an amphibian flying boat configuration, powered by two shoulder-mounted 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-2800 piston engines. Reportedly, in excess of 1,700 hours of wind tunnel and water tank testing was used to help define the aircraft's basic configuration. This design was shaped by a desire for it to be well-suited for performing a range of roles, including air-sea search and rescue, cargo haulage and commercial passenger-carrying, beyond the water bomber mission.
The definitive design, which was designated as the CL-215, was publicly revealed at the 1965 Paris Air Show. Aviation publication Flight International observed that the CL-215 was "one of the very few entirely new large marine aircraft to be put in hand for some 20 years", and that it was the first aircraft to be designed to perform water bombing missions as a primary role. Developing a newer aircraft meant that, unlike its older competitors, the latest techniques to stave off corrosion could be applied, as well as a fail-safe structure, to give the aircraft a lengthy lifespan. Canadair's market research indicated that there were many aging seaplanes for which operators required a modern replacement.
On 1 February 1966, the programme was authorised to proceed. On 23 October 1967, the first prototype performed its maiden flight. By November 1968, Canadair had decided to commit to an initial production batch of 30 aircraft. During June 1969, the first CL-215 was delivered to the French civil protection agency (Sécurité Civile, then known as Protection Civile). The aircraft, which was one of a batch of ten, had been purchased under a £4 million arrangement; by July 1970, the order had been completed, along with a third of a 15 aircraft order from the government of Quebec. Quebec had ordered the type as a replacement for their aging fleet of Canso water bombers; in comparison to the Canso, the CL-215 required a shorter landing distance and was capable of travelling twice as fast.
Prior to the delivery of the first aircraft, plans had already been mooted for the production of multiple models of the type. While the CL-215A served as the standard water bomber configuration, another model, designated as the CL-215C, had been envisioned to dispense with the design compromises as to better perform the water bomber mission, allowing it be furnished with larger doors on the sides of the fuselage and a revised underfloor hull structure.
Production of the CL-215 progressed through five series. Perhaps the most significant development of the type occurred during the 1980s in the form of the CL-215T, an initiative to replace the original Pratt & Whitney R-2800-83AM radial engines with a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW123AF turbine engines. Speaking during the new model's development, company officials recognised that market demand for the CL-215T was marginal, and thus not enough to justify developing an all-new aircraft.
Canadian transport conglomerate Bombardier Aerospace (who had acquired Canadair during the 1980s) decided to terminate production of the type during the late 1980s. Although manufacturing did come to an end in 1990, a further improved model, designated as the CL-415, entered production during 1993. Additionally, multiple conversion and refit programmes have been launched over the following decades to renovate and improve existing aircraft, typically focused on improving aspects such as the engines, avionics and structure.
The Canadair CL-215 is a twin-engine, high-wing general-purpose amphibious aircraft. It features an atypically spacious fuselage for an amphibian, which is designed to accommodate for the operational needs of various roles that the aircraft was developed to perform. The CL-215 can be used as an airborne firefighting platform, in which capacity it is used as a water bomber; it has been claimed to be the first aircraft designed to withstand the severe aerodynamic and hydrodynamic loads imposed by such usage. Beyond the water bomber role, the CL-215 was designed for use in other capacities, such as a search and rescue platform, passenger transport, and freighter; for this purpose, the cabin can be configured in various different ways, including a flexible combi configuration. Under typical operations, these applications would harness the aircraft's ability to land and takeoff from the water, the hull having been designed to enable its use upon the open seas.
The CL-215 was designed to perform well in the aerial firefighter role. The apparatus is designed around previously-proven concepts and careful design. The aircraft's belly houses a pair of 300 gallon water tanks of which large downward-facing doors forms their bottoms, these open to rapidly discharge water over a target area. These doors are normally hydraulically actuated and electrically-controlled, but a manual release is present for emergency use only; the tanks can be emptied simultaneously, individually, or in sequence at the pilot's selection. Both tanks are positioned directly upon the aircraft's centre of gravity so that filling or emptying the tanks has minimal impact upon the aircraft's flying characteristics. Water can be rapidly drawn into these water tanks while the aircraft is moving across a body of water's surface via purpose-built rotatable aluminium scoops; if a collision occurred these scoops have been designed to break away from the aircraft without damaging the fuselage. To prevent the tanks from becoming overly-filled, overflow ducts are present at the top of the tanks, which discharge excess water via the sides of the fuselage.
The CL-215 is said to handle well in both the skies and upon the water; significant attention was paid in its design to attaining a high level of manoeuvrability while at low speeds. The hull was laid out with considerable forethought, using the full length of the fuselage as a hull to give the aircraft good handling across many sea states. This hull incorporating a high deadrise angle to reduce impact loads exerted during landings, along with a high step to improve breakaway. Sufficient buoyancy is acquired via multiple watertight bulkheads and a sealed floor attaching directly to the hull frames, two of which serve as attachment points for the wings. Spray compresses are present along the hull's chine, directing spray away from the propellers, engines, and tail unit, while a purpose-built plate diverts spray from the pilot's windshield. The CL-215 is relatively conventional in terms of its aerodynamics, all of the flying controls use traditional surfaces and are manually actuated via mechanical linkages. It is furnished with a high-mounted low-aspect ratio wing, which is equipped with single-slotted flaps. To simplify pilot workload, a constant 15-degree flaps position is used for both low speed and low altitude flight, while the need to adjust the aircraft's trim has been minimised during operations such as water uptake and dropping.
Both the structure and systems on board the aircraft were reportedly designed to ease manufacture and maintenance. The primary structure is compliant with fail-safe design principles, as well as with attention paid to minimising built-in residual stresses and maximising protection against corrosion; as such, conventional alloys are used throughout, while numerous materials, including magnesium, are excluded to reduce reactivity. For this purpose, Canadair paid heed to requirements previously defined by the United States Navy under MIL-F-7179, having judged these criteria to be optimal for their purposes. All aluminium components that made direct contact with water were sulphurically anodised and sealed used sodium dichromate; other aluminium elements received a chomate coating before the exterior paint was applied while steel was plated with a cadmium-titanium alloy. Contact between dissimilar metals was avoided wherever reasonable to do so, or otherwise insulated from another by four coats of primer. The exterior paint layer consists of wash primer, followed by a coat of epoxy-polyamide primer, and then a final top coat; some areas may received a special synthetic rubber-based sealant coating to prevent moisture ingress.
The CL-215 is powered by a pair of 2,200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-83AM radial engines, which was reliably regarded as a proven and reliable power unit. Flight International describes this choice as being unusual as these engines were no longer in production, a decision that was somewhat justified by the large numbers of reconditioned units that were available during the 1960s; it was believed that a piston engine would be more durable in a maritime environment. In a standard configuration, fuel is housed across 12 tanks within the wing, although additional tanks can be installed within the outer wing. Deicing measures protect the engine's carburettors, which involves drawing heated air from the engine cylinders over them instead of ambient air; the propellers can also be fitted with electrical heating mats, while these are provisioned for, they were not fitted as standard. Each engine drives a pump for the hydraulic system, which is used to actuate the flaps, the wheel brakes, water drop doors and pick-up probes, as well as for undercarriage retraction; each engine also drives a 28V DC generator which powers the aircraft's electrical systems.
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Over a period of 21 years beginning in 1969, 125 of these aircraft were built and sold to customers in 11 countries. In 2018, there were reportedly around 165 in-service CL-215 and CL-415s in service across 11 countries.
- Initial version, with Pratt & Whitney R-2800-83AM 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines. Features an internal structure compatible with provisioning water bombing apparatus, which includes an pair of underfloor tanks, belly-mounted doors, and rotating scoops. It was targeted at the water bomber and utility freight market sectors.
- Near-identical to the CL-215A, this model featured minor adaptations made to suit the needs of the search and rescue and commercial freight industry customers.
- Largely identical to the CL-215A, but lacks any provision for the water bomber mission. As such, it features a revised underfloor structure, larger side-mounted doors and more windows in the main cabin area. A maximum of 36 passenger can be accommodated, without making any provision for baggage.
- In 1987, the CL-215T was announced, with improvements in handling brought about by design changes to the wings and empennage, and more powerful Pratt & Whitney turboprop engines. Originally the follow-up CL-215T was to be a simple turboprop-powered development of the CL-215, and Canadair converted two aircraft in 1989 to act as development aircraft. The first of these flew on 8 June 1989. Retrofit kits for CL-215s to the new standard are offered, but Canadair elected not to build new CL-215Ts and instead developed the CL-415. Cascade Aerospace, Canada, offers CL-215 to CL-215T engine retrofits using the Bombardier kit and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW123AF engines.
- Conversion program offered by Viking Air featuring Pratt & Whitney turboprop engines and EFIS avionics suite. The first of 11 used aircraft purchased to be modified should be delivered in the first quarter of 2020. They will be strengthened to raise its maximum takeoff weight and have new flight controls, hydraulic and fuel systems.
- A relaunched production version, furnished with the CL-415EAF configuration. Viking Aviation has announced plans to hire up to 150 employees to perform those conversions through its dedicated subsidiary, and in May 2018 applied for government support for restarting production of the type.
- Air Spray, Edmonton, Alberta: six total; two CL215 1A10 and four CL-215-6B11 (Series CL-415)
- Buffalo Airways, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories: three CL215 1A10
- Conair Group, Abbotsford, British Columbia: four CL-215-6B11 (Series CL-215T)
- Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador: five CL-215-6B11 (Series CL-415)
- Government of Quebec, Service aérien gouvernemental, Quebec: fourteen total; four CL215 1A10, two CL-215-6B11 (Series CL-215T) and eight CL-215-6B11 (Series CL-415)
- Longview Aviation Asset Management Corp., North Saanich, British Columbia: two CL215 1A10
- Longview Aviation Services Inc., Calgary, Alberta: nine CL215 1A10
- Province of Manitoba: five CL215 1A10
- Province of Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources: nine CL-215-6B11 (Series CL-415)
- Province of Saskatchewan, Ministry of Environment: seven total, five CL-215-6B11 (Series CL-215T), two CL215 1A10; according to the Ministry of Environment six CL-215P deployed to Airtanker Groups 3, 4 and 5
- Societa Ricerche Esperienze Meteorologiche (SoREM): five CL-215s leased abroad and operated on behalf of Protezione Civile
- Spanish Air Force, 43 Grupo – 14 as of December 2016.
- Ministry of Environment (INAER): five Ex-Spanish Air Force CL-215Ts
- Royal Thai Navy: one of the two CL-215s delivered in 1978 is used for search and rescue/patrol.
- Gokcen Aviation - Turkish Aeronautical Association: nine CL-215s and the current contractor for the Turkish Ministry of Forestry 
- 885th Firefighting Squadron of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence operated CL-215s from 1991 to 2003. They have been replaced by CL-415s.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – 2 CL-215 sold 2015 and now replaced with Air Tractor 802F Fireboss
- CVG Ferrominera Orinoco: two CL-215s, one crashed on 1989, the other one has been parked ever since
- Yugoslav Air Force: five CL-215s in service with the 676th Fire Fighting Squadron from 1981, until four sold to Greece in 1995.
Accidents and incidents
CL-215s have been involved in 30 accidents, 19 fatal.
Aircraft on display
- Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre CL-215 F-ZBBT, formerly of the French Sécurité Civile
- Musée de l'Air CL-215 F-ZBAY, formerly of the French Sécurité Civile
- Museo de Aeronáutica y Astronáutica CL-215 UD.13-01, formerly of the Spanish Ministry of Environment
- Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum CL-215 F-ZBBH, formerly of the French Sécurité Civile
- Technik Museum Speyer CL-215 F-ZBAR, formerly of the French Sécurité Civile
- Crew: 2
- Capacity: Up to 26 forward facing seats for passenger transport
- Length: 19.82 m (65 ft 0 in)
- Wingspan: 28.6 m (93 ft 10 in)
- Height: 8.92 m (29 ft 3 in)
- Wing area: 100.33 m2 (1,079.9 sq ft)
- Aspect ratio: 8.15
- Empty weight: 12,160 kg (26,808 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 19,731 kg (43,499 lb) on land, 17,100 kg (37,700 lb) on water
- Max capacity for water/retardant: 1,300 US gallons (4,900 L)
- Fuel capacity: 5,910 l (1,561.3 US gal; 1,300.0 imp gal) in two fuel tanks, of eight cells each, in the wings
- Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-83AM 18-cyl air-cooled radial piston engines, 1,566 kW (2,100 hp) each
- Propellers: 3-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed fully feathering propeller
- Cruise speed: 291 km/h (181 mph, 157 kn) at 18,595 kg (40,995 lb) and 3,050 m (10,010 ft)
- Stall speed: 123 km/h (76 mph, 66 kn) 25° flap power off at 15,603 kg (34,399 lb)
- Range: 2,094 km (1,301 mi, 1,131 nmi) with 1,587 kg (3,499 lb) payload at long-range cruise power
- Rate of climb: 5.0833 m/s (1,000.65 ft/min)
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
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