Beach users, bathers and holidaymakers, those few, for now, on Gran Canaria’s favourite Maspalomas beach, were treated to an unusual surprise on Monday. Delighted sun seekers unexpectedly witnessed some of the preparatory exercises currently being carried out by the Spanish Air Force heroes who fly the big yellow seaplane of the UME 43 group. These guys became instantly famous, most recently, on the island back in summer 2019, and briefly during February 2020, when they were deployed to help decisively deal with the forest fires we suffered up at the summits of the island. Their training exercises, to make ready for the summer ahead, are flying out of Gando air base, right beside the main commercial airport, until May 20 every morning and afternoon this week.


The exercises themselves are training crews, known as the “corsairs of 43 Group” to better recognise various areas most likely to be endangered by forest fires, as well as the location of resources in the area, as the temperatures start to climb towards our annual summertime highs. For this the crews need to be carry out various tasks including filling the water tanks from the nearest water sources, and understanding the local sea conditions that would allow them to land when necessary. According to the Spanish Air Force, this practice depends very much of the state of the sea, as it can present a lot of added difficulties when compared with reservoirs, lakes and rivers.  As Gran Canaria has relatively few choices for being able to quickly scoop water at speed, these exercises provide vital knowledge and confidence for live deployment situations.


This Canadair CL-215T from the 43rd Air Force Group is currently based at Gando, preparing for the summer campaign ahead. Essential in the fight against mountain forest fires, every year they intensify their preparations as we head into the main season for vigilance.

Between October 1 and June 15, two of these planes, with their crews, are kept active and ready for immediate takeoff from the Torrejón air base, near Madrid in central mainland Spain, where the unit’s main base of operations is located. However, in the so-called summer campaign, between June 15 and September 30, the unit tries to focus their best efforts on maintaining a minimum of 70% of the available aircraft, with their crews, ready to act in any of risk areas of the peninsula and the islands.

The Spanish Air Force #43Group celebrated 50 years since the arrival of the very first CL215s in Spain last February. The first two Canadair landed at Getafe air base on February 8, 1971, having flown from Montreal, on a flight that took 23 hours and 20 minutes in total. Over this aircraft’s 50 years of service to Spain, they have performed almost 185,000 flight hours, of which more than 86,000 correspond to real missions, mainly extinguishing forest fires in Spain and abroad, in support of other nations including Portugal, France, Morocco, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Israel among others.

These iconic airplanes used by this specialist unit could not have carried out such an important range of missions were it not for all the personnel, aircrews and maintenance and support, who have left their mark over this half century trying to ensure that the dangers of the heat and the natural environment do not rage out of control or endanger the population. Heroes every one they are responsible for what is now 43 Group. While the celebrations were marked earlier this year some time was also taken to remember the 15 members of the Spanish Air Force who have given their lives in that time fulfilling this mission. The greatest respect and admiration is due to these rockstars of the skies.

With luck this year will pass without serious incident or the need to call on these majestic seaplanes, who have come to our aid many times over the years on Gran Canaria most notably playing a defining role in putting to an end the devastating fire of August 2019 that destroyed more than 10,000 hectares of wild virgin pine forest and led to almost 10,000 evacuees having to be moved at short notice off the mountains of Gran Canaria.