Water Loving Feline

Putting out fires all over the place, Andrew Miles gets his paws wet. 

PANTHER number 1000 at its Stansted airport home. (c) Rosenbauer.com

Returning to our fire fighting friends, the equipment size notches up somewhat along with a combination of countries, companies once we add highly flammable flying machines into the equation.

First up, Boughton Engineering of Wolverhampton. Founded in Amersham 1897, their core products revolved around the agricultural and forestry industries, later incorporating larger transport solutions, which included the military. Boughton’s prowess grew as did the chassis required for such operations.

By the 1970s, the arrival of the jumbo jet and easier international travel led to concerns as large as the aircraft themselves had become. Sadly, this was also a time when aeroplanes had an unfortunate tendency to crash and explode, warranting desperately needed vehicles to combat such explosive blazes – the ARFF – Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting. Reynold Boughton (as was) designed and built the robust chassis which came centre steered and rear engined. The next part played was by a thoughtful Austrian company.

Rosenbauer International AG, Leonding surveyed the necessary people and places an ARFF could make that all important difference. Airports around the globe received a lengthy questionnaire concerning airport fires along with vehicle design, ergonomics and operation. The SIMBA prototype required Boughton’s chassis, a Mercedes-Benz engine along with the third part of the puzzle to complete the outfit – a designer.

Kristian Fenzl was still studying Art at Linz college when he received an unusual assignment. His diploma in spectacles and optical engineering complete, friend and superior Helmut Gsollpantor introduced Fenzl to a company named Voest who made road rollers. Understanding that such technical and functional vehicles garnered little design input other than that of the engineers, he became involved in beautifying such industrial products. Fenzl’s road roller cover led to even larger projects.

Rosenbauer’s newly installed CEO, Julian Wagner wished for a new benchmark product, irrespective of cost. SIMBA began to take form in the spring of 1979 with Fenzl interpreting the accrued information into an operating prototype – bright yellow body, swing doors, large glazed areas and perhaps most of all, presence. The bodywork was almost entirely fibreglass.

The SIMBA 6×6 arrived in 1980 whereupon the lion grew a larger 8×8 sibling chassis along with a change of chassis suppler; German engineers, Titan usurping their British counterpart. Such is the way of innovative companies, Rosenbauer soon improved upon SIMBA, upon being awarded in 1983 an Austrian award for Innovation. The final SIMBA left the Leonding factory in 1996 as the latest, more rounded advocate of safety took to the world’s runways – PANTHER.

Procuring the sketching services of Fenzl once more, PANTHER was developed in 1991. Using glass reinforced plastic, the sharp, seventies wedge of SIMBA was gone. PANTHER became a smoother, homogeneous beast. Courtesy of a new chassis from MAN, PANTHER debuted on the Austrian firms 125th anniversary. 

Fenzl’s PANTHER sketch. (c) Rosenbauer.com

Packing 1,000bhp, the 0-80 Kmh dash took 24 seconds with a v-max of 135 Kmh; impressive for truck weighing around forty tons when laden with 10-14,000 litres of water, up to 2,000 litres of foam and 500kg of dry powder.

Such a company looks to maintain that innovation; 1999 witnessed the use of aluminium frame (keeping grp bodywork), partnerships with MAN for their X31 8×8 chassis and exports to almost every airport large enough to accommodate such beasts. A pre-existing tie-up with Daimler utilised a Freightliner chassis, Daimler axles and a Detroit Diesel engine; building Rosenbauers in Minnesota, no prizes for guessing the US military was (and remains) a sizeable customer.

2006 saw PANTHER grow yet more. The 8×8 chassis could now handle 52 tons. Sadly, Fenzl was no longer available to design this third iteration, an “industrial design specialist” being the only mention for the look of the new ARFF. Another mighty change to the vehicle came in the flexible form of the STINGER HRET, High Reach Extendable Turret. This apparatus allowed the truck to fight the fire from a distance – up to 85m away, all safely controlled from inside the cab by joystick and/or predetermined positioning.

Newer versions also accommodate a piercing section. Unsurprisingly, this multi-directional lance can pierce the fuselage and pump in the required extinguishing media directly to source. Thermal imaging cameras assist the operation. PANTHER Mk3 won many design awards, from Germany, the Red Dot and i.f. 

Careful with that lance, Eugene. (c) Rosenbauer.com

The very first PANTHER was delivered to Newcastle airport in the North East of England . The 999th 8×8 chassis looks after the runway at Düsseldorf, with the millennial version, a 6×6 lives and works at London Stansted airport. The home for Chassis 1001, another 8×8 being New Doha, Qatar, all three delivered and operating in 2012.

The Mk4 emerged in 2015, remaining the most up-to-date PANTHER. Dublin International airport has the honour of housing the latest 2020 updates, commissioning two 8x8s alongside a brace of 6×6 chassis, with more to follow. This makes them the first 8×8 chassis in these Islands.

The beef got beefier. Still totalling 52 tons, the diesel power comes from two Volvo D16 euro 5 engines which develop a combined 1,400bhp, situated to PANTHER’s rear. Those tyres are run-flats, the brakes, discs all round. 0-80Kmh takes 24 seconds. The PANTHER’s top speed remains 135Kmh. Transmission consists of an eight-speed automatic linked to Allison axles. The crash tested cabin has space for three; driver and two operatives. Training is partly done on a simulator, the real thing being fitted with RSC, Roll Stability Control. Water capacity can be from 12-19,000 litres. Off road capability is exceptional.

You will need a hanger to store one, mind. At 12.3 metres long, three meters wide and four metres tall, the HRET can reach a maximum 16.5 metres. When used in the stowed position, on the PANTHER’s roof, it can discharge water at 6,000 litres per minute – mere seconds to empty with a 90m range. When raised, a not insubstantial 3,800 lpm can be spread about 80m. Underbelly sprays can dissuade burning liquids approaching the ARFF. 

Dublin Airport’s new line-up. (c) Rosenbauer

You’ll also require deep pockets to procure and upkeep any version of the PANTHER, but safety and performance of the highest levels never came cheap. Alternatively, one could opt for the immensely popular scale models from wiking.de or this four minute video

This Panther can’t climb trees but does like water. Pray you don’t need it, be glad when you see one on its way.

Data source: http://www.rosenbauer.com

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

6 thoughts on “Water Loving Feline”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. What a machine. No wonder some kids want to be firemen. About 25 years ago I had a guided tour at a small airport and we got to see the impressive firetruck as well. Indeed something I hope I won’t ever need, but I would be immensely grateful incase I did. Wishing everyone a great sunday

  2. I must keep an eye out for the Panther Mk4 in Dublin if I ever get to fly again. Maybe next year or the year after.
    A few years ago there was an airport fire engine (I don’t know what model) lined up in the yard of a business disposals auction place near my home. Fortunately there’s no place I could possibly have accommodated such a monster, so I wasn’t tempted to act on my fantasies. A pity, really, it can only have sold for scrap, as a time expired fire engine can’t really be anything other than a money sink…

  3. Good morning Andrew. I know it’s a serious vehicle for a serious business, but the Panther just brings out the small boy in me. It reminds me of the model vehicles that featured in ‘Thunderbirds’, the animated children’s programme that was my favourite as a small child. Thanks for the memories!

  4. Good morning Andrew. What beasts they are indeed! Having spent a part of my working life based at Heathrow Airport, whilst working on the construction of Terminal 5, I often passed an area where a retired plane was stored for fire drill practice. I saw similar types of machine nearby but certainly didn’t appreciate who designed and made them. Thank you for enlightening me.

  5. There’s an official requirement that any part of an airport can be reached by fire fightaers in a given (short) time. To meet this requirement you either have lots of fire stations distributed over the airport or you have fast fire engines. Most airports choose the faster vehicles.
    I once had the opportunity to participate in a test drive of a SIMBA at FRA and this thing was incredible. It’s surreal that a thing that large and heavy can go that fast.

  6. Cool! Some years ago I worked as a release and digital mockup engineer for FPT Industrial, the heavy engine division of the Fiat empire (Iveco, CNH, etc.). They supply engines to the Iveco-Magirus airport vehicles, among others. One time I checked the Magirus website to see where “my work” was applied and was amazed to discover that, just like the Panther described here, the biggest vehicles use two engines. That’s a combined 26 litres of displacement!

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