The Thrush 510G Switchback single-engine air tanker with its 500 gallons of fire-retardant payload was certified by the FAA Oct. 26 and is expected to see service as both a firefighting aircraft and an agricultural spray machine.
The Albany, Georgia-based agricultural airplane manufacturer says the aircraft’s strength is its ability to switch from agricultural spray duties to firefighting capabilities “in a matter of minutes” for mission flexibility.
Fire suppressant is heavier than water, avgas, or Jet A fuel and typically weighs “around nine pounds,” but “it can vary a bit,” said Bill Gabbert of WildfireToday.com and FireAviation.com.
The rugged and powerful line of agricultural aircraft powered by 800-shaft-horsepower General Electric H80 turboprop engines is known for good visibility, light control response, and good maneuverability—traits that are equally at home in the nation’s breadbasket and on a fire line.
The needle-nosed agplane can work at speeds between 90 and 150 mph with a stall speed of 55 mph. Sea level climb performance when loaded to a typical 10,500 pounds is nearly 700 fpm and can be as high as 1,400 fpm when the aircraft is lightly loaded. The 510G typically lands in 550 feet but is capable of landing in as short a distance as 350 feet when the engine is put into reverse. In 2017, the 510G earned a gross weight increase over the 510P to its current load capacity.
An available dual-cockpit, dual-control version allows operators to deploy the Switchback as a trainer or as an observation aircraft.
The first two Switchbacks purchased didn’t stray too far from their Southwest Georgia Regional Airport home. The Georgia Forestry Commission planned to put them to work for fire detection, rapid response, and training, the manufacturer noted.