• Tony Bosworth

Wings across the water – our RFS water bomber Marie Bashir makes friends in the US - exclusive pics

Updated: Oct 5

Richmond-based RFS water bomber the Marie Bashir returned back home last week to RAAF Richmond after a long stint overseas, helping the folks in Montana and further field cope with their fire season and operating over more than 40 fires.

We’ve been talking to Missoula, Montana resident Keely Flatow who has kindly let us share some of the photos she took while the water bomber was stationed at her local airbase stateside.

Ms Flatow is an aviation photographer and plane enthusiast who takes stunning pictures of all types of flying machines.

“The fire season felt like it started earlier than normal this year but escalated quickly and I saw more aerial fire-fighting aircraft flying in and out of our airport as more fires started and others worsened,” she told the Post.

The Marie Bashir on the tarmac at Missoula, Montana, USA - pic Keely Flatow

“Earlier in the fire season, I saw the news that Australia was sending a Coulson Aviation NSWRFS Boeing 737 Fireliner called Marie Bashir, to help fight fires alongside our American aircraft.

“I hoped I might get the opportunity to get some photos of her while she was in the States. She was in Boise, Idaho for a time and I thought maybe I wouldn’t get to see her in Montana, but one evening I noticed on my flight app she was going to fly into Missoula. I rushed over to the airport and got some shots of her flying in during sunset. It was such a thrill to see her soaring over our city!

The RFS Marie Bashir soars over Missoula, Montana - pic Keely Flatow

“Over the next few weeks, I took every opportunity I could to get photos of her flying in and out of our airport responding to fire calls. I knew this might be a once in a lifetime chance to see a fire-fighting plane from Australia here in Montana."

The Boeing 737 Marie Bashir, flying as Bomber 210, spent more than 57 days operating in the USA, working more than 40 fires at the request of the United States Forest Service.

The NSW aircraft and Coulson Aviation team members flew on fires in Idaho, Minnesota and Montana, protecting communities and supporting US fire agencies during a tough season.

Before returning to Australia, the 737 had a maintenance check in San Bernardino to be ready for service back in Australia.

“One of her crew members saw the photos I posted of the aircraft in a Facebook group I belong to and invited me to the base for a tour of the plane up close," Ms Flatow said.

"It was such an honour to get to meet the air tanker crews and see the planes that helped keep so many people and their property safe.”

Ms Flatow is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and she’s been taking photos professionally for two years.

“I love everything about aviation. I'm not a pilot but I want to share the beauty of aircraft design and try to capture the ‘spirit’ and personality of each aircraft I shoot, “ she says.

Another of Ms Flatow's brilliant pictures, this one of restored C-47 airplane Miss Montana being refuelled at Missoula - the way they used to do it. She was originally a smokejumping plane, dropping firefighters, and flew to Normandy as part of the D-Day Squadron in 2019 to honour Montana Veterans for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. She's part of the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula, Montana

“I especially love taking photos of vintage aircraft like the C-47 and other warbirds. They just have something very special about them that's hard to describe in words, so I try to do it in photographs.”

Ms Flatow says when it was time for our firebird to go home she followed its journey back to base.

Firetanker Marie Bashir in the big Montana skies and on the ground at Missoula - pics Keely Flatow

“I felt sad seeing Tanker 210 fly out of Missoula for the final time this season. I followed her trip home on social media and saw she made it safe and sound! It was such a privilege to document her service here in Montana and to see her up close.”

Aviation photographer Keely Flatow

And as our own fire season officially starts it’s a timely reminder we all need to work together to keep safe and if the need arises our friends from the US and other countries will come and help us just as we help them each year.

Big thanks to Keely Flatow for letting us share her story and showcase her amazing photography.

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