|Last updated 10 May 2022|
|US FIRE BOMBER OPERATORS : Part 1: A|
A historical survey of US heavy air tanker companies to the year 2000, compiled by Geoff Goodall
|Aero Union Corp Lockheed Neptune N716AU tanker #16 makes a retardant drop on a wildfire in the Angeles National Forest|
near Wrightwood California in September 2002. Photo by Leo Jarzomb, staff photographer San Gabriel Valley News Group
This series attempts to list all US fire bomber/air tanker
operators and their aircraft fleets. Information on some
operators has been minimal, especially the smaller outfits
based on partnerships between pilots or family-run
operations. I have added to the bare listings
from conversations with career tanker men in US, also the
recollections of veteran tanker pilots deployed to Australia for our
bushfire seasons. |
Commercial aerial fire bombing began during the 1950s. By the 1990s the US Forest Service, primary contractor for the US air tanker fleet, began implementing a series of policy changes which resulted in many older piston-engined aircraft types being excluded from USFS air tanker contracts, with priority given to turbines (P-3s and C-130As). Long established operators lost their annual summer USFS contracts and were forced to shut down.
The 1990s also brought the lomg-running investigation into the USFS Air Tanker Scandal in which USAF surplus C-130As issued to civilian tanker operators under a USFS scheme to modernise the fleet were instead used for military support logistics contracts in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf Wars. Media investigation revealed that C-130As delivered to tanker companies specifically to be modified as fire bombers had in fact being on-sold or used for other purposes. The scandal dragged on for a decade, resulting in a USFS officer and tanker identity being convicted of fraud and jailed. The investigation also took a disapproving look at the established practice of trading retired fire bombers to the USAF and US Navy museums in exchange for retired military aircraft, which provided newer aircraft to be tanked or for commercial resale.
End of an era
Fox Field air tanker attack base at Lancaster California during the 2003 summer, the final season of the glory days of mixed aircraft fleets.
Photo taken from the USFS tanker base tower by Dave Kelly Jnr.
Veteran tanker pilot Larry Kraus wrote in 2022:
"The 2003 season was the Last Hurrah because for reasons that were claimed to be for “public safety” all of the Federal Tanker Contracts were cancelled in June of the following year. This was a few days before I was to report for duty at Moses Lake with Douglas DC-7 Tanker 62. Overnight, we tanker pilots went from being considered more or less heroes to reckless maniacs as far as the official press releases went because we had a “Can Do Attitude”, which apparently made us unsafe. The aircraft couldn’t be used as tankers unless the operators could provide a manufacturer’s airframe life limit. The only one that initially qualified was the P-3, although the paperwork was really for a P-3C rather than the P-3A. The rest of us were out of luck
I’d better not say any more. That was 18 years ago but the wounds are still fresh."
The face and feel of the original US air tanker industry had changed forever. For this reason I have made the year 2000 the cut-off for fire bomber operators included in this historical listing. I want to record the remarkable variety of fire bombing outfits, their people and their aircraft before they are forgotten.
I have included agricultural spraying operators which used heavy aircraft. Some of these may have been used for fire bombing, possibly for Bureau of Land Management, State agencies, or contracts with commercial timber businesses. These are marked *
I hope these listings generate additional or correcting information and more pictures. Please Email me via the CONTACT page.
|Abe's Aerial Service Inc, Safford Arizona|
Abraham (Abe) B. Sellards, Safford AZ operated an agricultural application business from Stafford AZ from at least 1958
1963 USFS fire bombing contractor list included Abe's Aerial Service B-17 N17W and B-25s N6193C, N9117Z
In early 1963 Abe Sellard merged with air tanker firm Aircraft Specialties Inc at Mesa-Falcon Field AZ, under a new parent company named Aviation Specialties Inc. Abe Sellards continued as proprietor until the company's closure in 1985.
|Grumman Wildcat N29B sprayer at Safford AZ in July 1958 with wingtip fuel tanks and underwing chemical tanks|
Photo by Brian R. Baker
B-17F N17W tanker #E84 at Bakersfield CA in July
Photo by William T. Larkins|
|Abe's Aerial Service B-25 N6123C at Safford AZ 1963 with belly tank rigged for spraying|
|George C. Abell, Topanga California |
Purchased the two Columbia Flying Service Grumman Avenger fire tankers and continued to operate them for several years.
Abell's TBM N9710Z #E79 retired at Grass Valley CA September
1969. Photo by Gordon Reid|
|Ace Aerial Service, Ukiah California|
Frank Prentice had flown biplane tankers from 1955 as an initial member of the Willows Air Tanker Squadron based at Willows CA flying seven N3Ns and Boeing Stearmans. In 1955-56 Prentice flew Willows Flying Service Stearman N75081 with the Californian tanker number #E1.
In 1960 Prentice established Ace Aerial Service at Ukiah Airport as a maintenance operation and the business with the same name is still there today. Frank Prentice retired from flying by 1971 to farm in the Willows/Chico area.
N3N N45288 at Ukiah CA 1960 having the retardant tank filled. Photo by Frank Prentice, via Aerialvisuals
|Aerial Applicators Inc, Salt Lake City, Utah|
|Fire bombing operation based at Salt Lake City Airport.|
Grumman TBM Avenger tanker fleet were painted orange and black.
Aerial Applicators Inc was a subsidiary of Trans West Air Service with John D. Streeter Managing Director of both companies.
Ceased operations during 1981 when remaining aircraft were sold to other tanker companies.
T-6 Texan N7296C, Bell 47s N1166W, N1332X, N73914, Beech Twin Bonanza N5688D
TBM Avengers N4172A and N7858C at Salt Lake City UT in August
1966. Photo by Neil Aird|
|TBM N8398H tanker #D20 at Salt Lake City in August 1966.
Photo by Neil Aird|
Applicators Inc DC-6 N80MA tanker #20 at Stockton CA in August
1976. Photo by Gordon Reid|
|The Aerial Applicators Inc DC-6s had the same witch nose art as the TBMs.
Photo by Geoff Goodall|
|Aerial Services Inc, Chino California
John Bowman trading as Aerial Services Inc, Anaheim CA.
An early single B-25 tanker operator, apparently unconnected with Les Bowman's B-25 business at Long Beach CA.
|B-25 N3446G tanker #66 at Chino in April 1960.
Photo by Milo Peltzer
Aero Ag Inc, Medford, Medford Municiple Airport Oregon
In early 1963 took over the fleet of Rogue Flying Service at Medford OR. Operated agricultural work as well as fire bombing.
Ceased operations by 1971 when remaining aircraft sold
Boeing Stearman N5158N, N1055N,
Callair A9B N7948V
Cessna 182G N3402S, Cessna 188 N9734V
|Aero Ag's fire tanker B-17 N5233V #71 at home base Medford OR in December 1968. Photo by Ron Olsen|
in April 1969 with different
Photo by Jim Sullivan|
|Aero Atlas Inc, Red Bluff, California |
By 1957 established as an agricultural operator.
At that time military surplus Beech AT-11 Kansans were in widespread use across USA as agricultural sprayers and dusters, with hoppers installed in their bomb bays. Aero Atlas converted Beech AT-11s to fire tankers, installing two 1500 lbs max weight liquid retardant tanks inside the cabin with belly drop chute.
In 1959 carried out the first fire tanker conversion of a Douglas A-26 N5457V.
Ceased operations by 1963. Probably taken over by P&B Aviation, Red Bluff
|The first Douglas A-26 tanker N5457V at Red Bluff in June 1961, with two Aero Atlas AT-11s behind.|
Photo by Milo Peltzer
|Yellow A-26 N7719C #26 with "Aero Atlas Inc"on the rear fuselage, at Medford OR in December 1961.|
Photo by Ron Olsen
fine colour study of Aero Atlas A-26 N7719C at Medford OR in April
Photo by Ron Olsen|
|Aero Crop Service, Tolleson Arizona|
|Aero Crop Service Inc, Tolleson AZ|
Operated at least one Grumman Avenger fire tanker.
N9547Z #E80 looking freshly painted at Chino CA in March
Photo by Barney Deatrick|
|Aero Enterprises Inc, Troutdale Oregon, later Fresno California|
Established at Troutdale OR in 1946 by Robert M. Sturges trading as Columbia Airmotive Inc
During WWII Bob Sturges had been a Boeing technical rep in Britain on B-17s and after the war set up Columbia Airmotive as an aircraft and parts dealership. He acquired the majority of Boeing's B-17 spare parts after the B-17 production lines were closed at the end of the war, making Columbia Airmotive the main source of B-17 support for civil and military customers.
In 1954 Sturges purchased the B-17 parts inventory of Kindred Aviation, Burbank CA which had broken up the final twenty B-17s of the vast numbers of war surplus aircraft at Kingman AZ.
Bob Sturges was a businessman and aviation entrepreneur, later being elected mayor of Troutdale. Sturges was among the first to design liquid tanks for larger aircraft initally for agricultural spraying but with the potential to drop retardant on fires.
Columbia Airmotive continues to this day as a Sturges family business at Troutdale Airport, specialising in antique aircraft parts.
During the 1950s Sturges formed two tanker businesses at Troutdale: Aero Flight Inc and Aero Enterprises Inc.
Among his many surplus military aircraft purchases, Sturges had acquired a derelict B-17F instructional airframe at Clarkston WA. He made it airworthy during 1953 and ferried it to Troutdale in February 1954 as N1340N. It was stored until converted to tanker #A34 at Klamath Falls OR in 7.61. Ownership transferred to Aero Enterprises Inc, Fresno in July 1964.
Aero Enterprises Inc moved base from Oregon to Fresno CA in 1964 when the company was taken over by Willis "King"Baker, an established tanker operator with bases at Willows CA and Fresno. King Baker had earlier been with CISCO Aircraft, Lancaster CA.
The purchase of the Northrop Reporter N9768Z from Mexico was a bold move by Baker to introduce a larger tanker, with a 1600 US gallon tank installed under its belly.
Aero Enterprises Inc at Fresno purchased North American T-28A Trojan N499KB circa 1967, using King Baker's initials. Sold by 1970.
The Fresno-based operation also used the name Farmers Aero Ag, Fresno CA.
Ceased operations in 1968 after selling both B-17s and leasing the Northrop Reporter to other Californian tanker operators
Aero Enterprises Inc/ Columbia Airmotive Inc, Troutdale OR:
|Aero Enterprises Inc/ King Baker Inc, Fresno CA & Willows CA:|
|B-17F N1340N at Long Beach CA in 1964 as tanker E34 and "Aero Enterprises" visible behind the engines.|
Photo by Eddie Coates
in a later paint scheme with Aero
Scott A. Thompson collection|
|The one and only Northrop F-15 Reporter fire bomber, N9768Z #E35 at Fresno 1964. At this time it was painted |
yellow and white, with "AEI Aero Enterprises Inc, Fresno Calif" on the nose and name "Pregnant Widow"
view of the Northrop F-15 tanker at Fresno
Photo by William T. Larkins|
|Aero Flight Inc, Troutdale, Oregon|
Air tanker business founded by Robert M. Sturges, later elected mayor of Troutdale, Oregon and proprietor of Columbia Airmotive Inc at Troutdale Airport. See preceding listing for Aero Enterprises Inc.
Liquid tanks were designed for various ex miltary aircraft, initially for agricultural spraying work, but Sturges was among the very early fire bombing experimentation. Robert's son Ray Sturges was also involved with Aero Flight.
Aero Flight's Chief Engineer E.H. Fletcher maintained the A-24 sprayers and A-26 tankers
Aero Flight Inc operated Douglas Dauntless N9142H and N4488N for many years on a mosquito spraying contract for the City of Portland.
Through his business Columbia Airmotive, Bob Sturges acquired a variety of aircraft. Some of the more interesting:
- B-25K Mitchell N7674 purchased 1.69, flown in camouflage "Dirty Gertie from Bizerti", sold 6.78
- B-17G 44-83842 USAAF registered NL1212N to Columbia Airmotive in 1947. Sold 1948, ferried to Israel but impounded by Portugal
- B-17/PB-1G Bu77253 US Coast Guard ran off runway into lake NAS Sand Point WA 26.8.53. Wreck acquired by Sturges for parts.
- B-17G 43-38978 USAAF donated to Oregon State University at Corvallis: acquired by Sturges in 1955, broken up for parts
- Beech C-45F 44-87376 purchased from USAF disposals 2.60 for $6,339, CofA 10.61, sold 1.62 as N6778C
- P-40E N1223N ex RCAF 1038: acquired 1949, swapped with Leo "Ace" Demers at Salem Oregon for an Aeronca Chief
- P-40M N1233N ex RCAF 840: acquired 1954, advertising sign at Troutdale Airport then stored, sold 7.79, restored as warbird N1009N
- P-40K 42-9733: wartime USAAF wreck Amchitka Island, Aleutians: salvaged in 1969 by Sturges. Sold 1971. restored as warbird N4363
- In 1973 Sturges was negotiating with RAF Museum to supply the Stranraer CF-BXO and his Kittyhawk N1233N
Other aircraft regustered to Columbia Airmotive:
- Beech AT-11 N56263 purchased 2.9.63 ex Aero Service Corp (ex magnetometer survey), sold 8.1.73
- T-6 Texan N7975C, Stinson L-5 N63085, Vultee BT-13 N73731
|Douglas A-26 N86469 tanker #56
at Troutdale, Oregon circa August
Ron Olsen collection|
performs a demonstration drop at an airshow at Troutdale in August
1969. Photo by
|Aero Flite Inc, Cody, Wyoming, later Kingman Arizona |
Founded in 1963 as a fire bombing business by brothers John W. and J. Ray Eglin, at Cody WY where they operated Elgin Flying Service which was a Cessna dealership. Ray Elgin was Aero Flite President and both brothers flew the tankers.
Turbo B-17 N1340N: The Elgin brothers were determined to improve B-17 performance by re-engining at least two B-17s with four RR Dart turboprop power plants from retired Viscount airliners. Aero Fite Inc planned to market the re-engining STC to other B-17 operators and made a signicant financial investment in the redesign and engineering modifications necessary. Aero Ventures Inc, an experienced tanker maintenance company at Twin Falls Idaho was tasked to carry out the work. At the end of the 1969 fire season, the first aircraft N1340N was delivered to Twin Falls. Two ex United Airlines Viscount 745Ds were acquired, N7451 ferried to Twin Falls and N7452 to Cody where it was stored pending the planned conversion of a second B-17.
N1340N made its first flight as a Turbo B-17 at Twin Falls on 5.5.70 flown by Ray Elgin. The four RR Dart 510 installation weighed 3,000 lbs less than the Wright Cyclones and gave 30% increased power. After test flying, the FAA approved its commercial use as a tanker with a 400 gallons increase in retardant payload up to 2400 gallons. The increased engine power allowed return flights to base after retardant drops to be flown with the two inboard Darts shut down and props feathered, as a fuel saving measure. The Elgin brothers were enthusiastic about the Turbo B-17, but tragedy struck. On 18.8.70 the Dart B-17 crashed during a fire bombing mission near Dubois, Wyoming. Ray Eglin and copilot John Bastian were killed when the left wing struck trees during the pull up after a retardant drop. The investigation established the Density Altitude at the drop as 13,000 feet, air temperature 90F with strong up and down wind draughts.
The FAA Supplemental Type Certificate for the Turbo B-17 was never completed and no others were converted. The Cody Viscount was sold to dealer Westairnair, Albuquerque NM and the stripped Twin Falls Viscount was still there in 1973.
After the Turbo B-17 accident, John Elgin took over as company President.
Other aircraft registered to Aero Flite Inc at Cody include: Cessna 188 N9891V, Aeronca 7AC N1281E and single-engined Cessnas.
By the late 1970s operations had moved from Cody to Kingman, Arizona
In 1986 the company was taken over by Matt J. Ziomeck and operations boosted with additional fire tanker C-54s. John Elgin remained in management and as a tanker captain. Fire tanker operations included Alaska.
FBO operation Kingman Aero Services was an associated business.
After 2000 Aero Flite Inc refinanced and became a significant tanker operator in the new corporate environment, using Canadair CL-215s, turboprop CL-415s and a fleet of BAe146/RJ-85 jet tankers in association with Canadian operator Conair.
The corporate name morphed into "Aero-Flite Inc" but the logo is "Aeroflite Aerial Firefighting".
Corporate office moved from Kingman to Spokane Washington effective 21 Novemner 2014.
| Aero-Flite's remarkable "Turbo B-17"
N1340N #A34 after being re-engined with four RR Dart
Photo by Milo Peltzer
| The sadly short-lived Turbo 17 N1340N at then home base Cody Wyoming|
|A fine study of C-54 N96358 tanker #160 at Aero Flite's new base Kingman AZ in November 1995.|
Photo by Gordon Reid
|Aero Insect Control Inc, Cape May County Airport, Rio Grande, New Jersey |
Pest control spraying with Boeing Stearmans by 1951. Principal by 1959 was Maurice C. Young.
Three B-25s purchased 1959-60, at least one tanked for fire bombing. Grumman TBM Avenger tanker test aircraft purchased from USFS.
Boeing Stearmans: N1343V, N2535R, N49714, N50139, N5818N, N60723, N9030H, N9052H, N9080H, N9299H, N9301H, N9309H
|Aero Retardant Inc, Fairbanks Alaska|
A tanker company based at Fairbanks in the early 1960s
By 1968 the company was owned by Don G. Gilbertson and James E. Anderson.
Gilbertson also operated the freight and charter airline Pacific Alaska Airlines, Fairbanks using DC-3s and DC-6s
N77DG was the first DC-6 type to be certified as a fire bomber. The
conversion commenced at Tucson in early 1971, ferried to Long Beach CA
in May 1971 for modifications by Aircraft Associates. Then
ferried to Greybull WY with belly openings covered over, for Hawkins
& Powers Aviation to install their design retardant tank doors. It
began its first USFS contract in 1972 summer based at Chico CA. |
- Five DC-3s and nine additional DC-6/C-118s of Pacific Alaska Airlines were registered to Aero Retardant Inc for varying periods.
Although some Pacific Alaska DC-6s had cabin tanks installed to carry fuel and oil to remote Alaskan localities, only the three listed below are believed to have been operated as fire tankers by Aero Retardant Inc.
- Also listed are two DC-6As leased by Pacific Alaska Airlines to Conair Ltd, Abbotsford BC for the 1976 budworm infestation forest spraying season in Quebec. They had liquid chemical tanks in the cabin and wing spraybars.
- Lockheed L18 Lodestar N8008 was purchased 17.1.68 by D.G.Gilbertson & J.E.Anderson dba Aero Retardant Inc, Fairbanks AK. Ownership changed 15.7.69 to D.G.Gilbertson dba Aircraft Marketing Inc. Sold 1971.
The DC-6 tankers were operated under the names of Pacific Alaska Airlines and Aero Retardant
|Pacific Alaska/Aero Retardant DC-6B N66DG tanker #52 at the La Grande Oregon USFS attack base September 1975.
Photo by Paul Veenboer
|Former Aero Retardant Douglas DC-6B N66DG tanker #D2, retired at Chino CA in September 1981|
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Aero Spray Inc, Vancouver, Washington|
Richardson's Airway, Yakima WA (agricultural)
Richardson Aviation, Yakima WA (FBO and flight school)
Agricultural spraying operation for the fruit orchards of the Yakima Valley. An associated business to Richardson Airway, Yakima WA which was formed in 1950 by Ralph Ray Richardson, a wartime USAAF pilot, as an ag spraying operation. In 1951 Ralph Richardson formed Richardson Aviation as a FBO and flight school. He had modified his black T-6 Texan to carry 3 passengers.
Richardson Airway had Boeing Stearman biplanes, then purchased Navy disposals Grumman TBMs which were converted to heavy sprayers which operated in USA and Canada. Some flew to Greece to spray olive tree plantations. Ralph Richardson flew agricultural work until aged 70.
to Two TB-25N Mitchells were purchased from USAF disposals and fitted with 1,000 gallon liquid tanks for fire bombing. The first completed was N9866C in May 1959 and operated for the 1959 fire season by Richardson's Airway. The company's entry into fire bombing seems to have ended in 1960 when both B-25 tankers were sold.
|Ralph R. Richardson with his wife Jinny and child with one of the B-25s
|Undated picture of Ralph Richardson with his Grumman TBM N7032C - but which one?|
|Aero Union Corp, Chico, California|
The largest US fire bomber operator, Aero Union was a leader in introducing new aircraft types and improved retardant tank and delivery system designs. The company also bid for US Forest Service contracts for support work such as transporting fire fighters and equipment.
Founded in 1959 by Richard E. Foy and Dale P. Newton under the original name Western Air Industries, Anderson California.
Their first season used a B-25 tanker based at nearby Redding Airport CA. In 1961 the name was changed to Aero Union Corporation and the first two B-17 Fortress tankers were purchased.
During 1962 Aero Union moved its base to Chico Municipal Airport where it built up a major maintenance and engineering facility in the former air force hangars. Dale Newton was President, Dick Foy was Vice President and during the 1970-80s another experienced tanker man Roy D Reagan held a management position. Dick Foy left AU in 1989 to continue as Captain and Operations Manager of AU's Mini Guppy N422AU when it was sold to Jack Erickson as a freighter.
AU made a bold move in the late 1960s with the bulk purchase of ten Fairchild C-119C Flying Boxcars from USAF disposals at Davis Monthan AFB AZ to be its next generation heavy tankers. Included in the deal was a large stock of engines and spare parts stored in a hangar at Coolidge AZ. Five C-119Cs were ferried to Chico to be modified to tankers and five left in storage at Tucson to be stripped for parts as required. In 1974, with Douglas C-54s becoming available from military disposals, AU sold its C-119C tankers to Hemet Valley Flying Service, the sale including all spares inventory which included the five spare aircraft in Tucson.
AU retired its Grumman Avengers and Guardians at the end of the 1973 season when USFS dropped contracts for single-engined aircraft due to high accident rates. The introduction of Douglas C-54s and DC-6s as fire bombers allowed AU to find freight work outside the summer fire season. They were used for general cargo work as well as contracts to support fire operations. Aero Union's engineering experience on large prop transports resulted in AU-designed tanks being fitted to other operator's aircraft: during 1971-72 AU installed tanks in three Hawkins & Powers Aviation C-119Gs at Chico and in 1974 tanked two C-119Cs for Hemet Valley Flying Service. AU also carried out civil conversions and modifications at Chico on a variety of heavy aircraft. A number of additional C-54s were acquired either to be stripped for parts or resale.
Aero Union Corp unexpectedly ceased operations in May 2011. The year began with an operational fleet of eight P-3 Orion Aerostars, but an FAA audit determined that AU was not in compliance with a mandatory structural fatigue inspection program. USFS cancelled Aero Union's current $30M contract for 6 P-3 tankers. Desperate negotiations to keep the P-3s in service failed and Aero Union filed for bankrupcy and over 200 employees lost their jobs.
The company had recently been taken over by new management following lengthy legal disputes and Federal court actions over ownership of ex-military P-3s and C-130s acquired under a USFS aircraft exchange scheme. This involved other tanker companies and became known as the USFS Air Tanker Scandal, resulting in Roy D. Reagan and a senior USFS official being jailed. The Government, through USFS, resumed ownership of a number of involved P-3s and C-130s from tanker companies, including Aero Union.
Between 1979-1982 AU acquired nine former US Navy Douglas C-117D transports from military surplus sales at Davis Monthan AFB Arizona. This was reported to have been an exchange program with the USAF Museum in return for retired AU aircraft which were restored for static display in original military markings and delivered to USAF base museums around the country. Most C-117Ds were ferried to Chico for civil conversion and resale as freighters, although the last three were left in storage in civil contractor's yards at Davis Monthan, stripped of engines and parts. The civilianised C-117Ds may have been used by AU on USFS support work prior to their resale.
C-117Ds: N1037A, N5597T, N5597V, N5598B, N5584N, Bu17160, Bu17287. Also civil Super DC-3S N567M.
The freight business was expanded to handle outsize cargo with the purchase of an ATL-98 Carvair and Aero Spacelines Mini Guppy:
- Air Traders ATL-98 Carvair N55243 (c/n 17 ex Sfair F-BVEF) purchased 26.11.79, ferried from France to Chico. Leased 4.81 to Kodiak Western Airlines for fish hauling. Returned to Chico by 10.81. Flown by AU on cargo charters, seen at Montreal Quebec 11.6.82 and Burbank CA 17.7.82 carrrying cars to Mexico. Sold 5.8.83 to Pacific Air Express, Honolulu.
- Aero Spacelines Boeing 377MG Mini Guppy N422AU: purchased 5.81 ex N422AJ. Rereg N422AU 11.81.
seen at Paris-Le Bourget 15.6.81 carrying Super Guppy sections; departed Aberdeen Scotland 18.12.84 carrying Chinook helicopter;
seen Toronto Ontario 8.3.85 carrying CP Air DC-10 damaged wing sections; seen Cincinatti OH 3.85;
sold 5.89 to Erickson Air Crane OR
- Douglas DC-3 N19930 (1964-1965)
- Lockheed PV-1 Howard Super Ventura N183PL (purchased 2.74, retired Chico by 78, sold 2001
- T-6 Texan N373N (1968-1975)
- Piasecki H-21C Workhorse: traded to USAF Museum, moved by road 20.12.89 from Chico to McClellan AFB CA
- Boeing 727-23 N1997 purchased 28.4.94 ex American Airlines, broken-up at Mojave CA in 1995
- Champion 7AC N1669E, PA-22 Tri-Pacer N2834P, PA-32 Cheroke Six N4122W, Cessna 206 N5175U, Cessna 182 N2822Y
- Dale P. Newton, Meford, Oregon was registered owner of Grumman FM-2 Wildcat N4845V from at least 1960 until sold in 1975. Possibly connected with Medford Air Service which operated Wildcat for agricultural spraying with underwing tanks
- Dale P. Newton, Chico CA purchased Navy N3N N45084 at the 1981 auction of Charlie T. Jenson's aircraft at the same time the TBM N3966A was purchased by Aero Union. The N3N was stored at Sacramento and had been tanker #11 with Jenson's company Nevadair.
Registered to Newton 10.6.81 until cancelled 29.11.12, by which time Newton's address had changed from Chico to Talent Oregon.
The N3N was stored in Aero Union hangar at Chico in 1990.
- Roy D. Reagan, Chico: Beech D17S N9459H restoration project, reg. 19.9.85 to Reagan, traded to US Navy Air Museum, displayed on hangar deck of aircraft carrier USS Yorktown by 1987, later displayed at the main museum at Pensacola FL.
- From 1981 operated as Reagan Enterprises Inc, Chico CA: acquired C-117Ds and C-118s from USAF disposals for commercial resale
|The beginning. Aero Union's very first tanker was TB-25N Mitchell N9865C, seen at Redding CA in 1962.|
Photo by Richard Stratton via Ron Olsen collection
N9324Z tanker #E18 at Ukiah CA August 1966.
Photo by Barney Deatrick|
B-17G N9323Z tanker #C17 at Redding CA September 1975. Photo by Paul Veenboer
|Aero Union B-17G wreck N9324Z tanker #E18 stored for parts in Allied Aviation yard Davis Monthan AFB April 1972.
Photo by Paul Vanboer
N5230V #19 at Porterville CA in September
1977 with fibreglass nose cone. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
TBM Avenger N9083Z #28 at Chico CA in September
Photo by Gordon Reid|
AF-2S Guardian #E21 at Chico in June 1973.
Photo by Gordon
A-26 Invader N4820E #C29 at Chico CA in March 1972.
Photo by Gordon Reid|
Union Fairchild C-119C #13 deployed to Boise ID in June
1973. Photo by
|Press picture of Aero Union C-119C tanker #12 in action|
Aero Union Douglas DC-6B N37574 tanker #16 at Boise Idaho during September 1975. Photo by Paul Veenboer
|Aero Union DC-7C N90802 tanker #15 at Chico CA during September 1975. Photo by Paul Veenboer
|Aero Union C-54 N62342 with AU belly tank at Fresno CA in September 1977. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
Aero Union C-54 N11712 tanker #02 at home base Chico CA during February 1981. Photo by Charles Stewart
|N62342 in 1980s Aero Union C-54 scheme, Lancaster-Fox Field CA August 1989. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
Union C-54 N62297 tanker #14 at Redding CA in August
Photo by Gordon Reid |
|C-54 N2752G tanker #15 parked between seasons at Chico CA November 1990. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
Intriguing picture of US Navy C-54P 50851 in the storage rows at Davis Monthan AFB Arizona in May 1973, a year before
it was listed as sold to Aero Union Corp in December 1974. Yet it has been fitted with an unusual belly tank, indicating
that AU must have been given access to install a trial tank design before C-54 purchases. It was later ferried to
Chico as N62295 but not used as a tanker and stored. Photo by Paul Veenboer
The same C-54P as the previous picture, at Chico in November 1990 in the Aero Union junk area. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Trade-A-Plane July 1986|
|Trade-A-Plane September 1983|
|Trade-A-Plane March 1984|
Former NASA C-54G N4958P was allocated tanker #17, but had not entered AU service before being sold
to Conifair as C-GXKN. Seen at Oklahoma City 22 May 1981 on its ferry flight north to Canada.
Photo by Charles E. Stewart
|ATL-98 Carvair N55243 at Anchorage in September 1981 while operated for Kodiak Western Airlines on the|
the annual fish air freight season. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|N718AU was an Aero Union "Firestar"tanker conversion of an ex US Navy Lockheed SP-2H Neptune.|
Seen at Aero Union Corp's home base Chico CA in October 1992. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Former US Navy Lockheed P-3A Orion N925AU was one of nine rebuilt by Aero Union as "Aerostar" tankers|
Seen at Chico in October 1992. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Aero Union P-3A N406TP was used on an Allison-GM contract to test the new T-406 turbine 1990-91|
before rebuilt as Aerostar N900AU tanker #00. Photo at Chico November 1990 by Geoff Goodall
|SP-2H N362RR in a line of P2s and P3s waiting for tanker conversions at Chico in November 1990.|
SP-2H N713AU stored at Chico November 1990 in US Navy markings was intended to become "Firestar"
tanker #13 as hand-painted on the nose, but was stripped for parts and scrapped. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Air Response Inc, Mesa Arizona
Commenced operations in 1986 with Douglas C-54 tankers acquired during the closing down of Globe Air Inc, which had operated heavy sprayers from Mesa-Falcon Field under previous name Aircraft Specialties back to 1960. Indications are that Air Response Inc took over the Globe Air company structure and FAA approvals but this has not been confirmed. Offered a range of pest spraying and oil slick dispersant application, mostly contracting to Government agencies.
Despite the similar company names both registered in Arizona, there appears to be no relationship between Air Response Inc and International Air Response Inc, Chandler AZ (Woody Gantham)
N438NA was operational as a sprayer at Mesa in October 1987, still in former NASA paintwork. Photo by Gordon Reid
at Mesa AZ in July 1986 soon after purchase from Globe Air.
retired at Mesa AZ February 1993 in faded Aircraft Specialties
paintwork. Photo by
|Air Tankers Inc, Seattle, Washington|
Air Tankers Inc, 6900 Airport Way, Seattle WA
|Air Tankers Inc, Newcastle Wyoming / Casper Wyoming / Maricopa Arizona / Buckeye Arizona|
Air Tankers Inc, P.O.Box 246 Newcastle WY (1963-1966 USCRs)
Air Tankers Inc, Hangar 1, Casper WY (1963-1969 USCRs)
Air Tankers Inc, Maricopa AZ (1977 USCR)
Air Tankers Inc, Buckeye AZ (1977 USCR)
Air Tankers Inc was originally founded by Warren G. Voss, a Newcastle WY oil man who established a number of other business ventures including Air Tankers Inc The operation was later taken over by a partnership between experienced tanker pilots George H. Stell and Sergio A. Tomassoni.
They also operatedin Arizona as SS&T Aerial Contractors, Phoenix AZ.
Around 1965 Air Tankers Inc appears to have taken over the tanker business of Seeley Flying Service, Newcastle WY and Casper WY.
As well as fire bombing, the TBMs were used for seasonal forest spraying contracts in Canada.
In the early 1970s, the Wyoming-based business with its TBMs was sold to a new operation Firetankers Inc, Casper WY.
In 1976 Tomassoni merged with other tanker operators to form a new business T & G Inc (Tomassoni & Grantham) based at Chandler Memorial Airfield, Phoenix.
- Cessna 182 N8924X Air Tankers Inc, Casper WY
N51701 at Casa Grande AZ in May 1973 with belly
Photo by Paul Veenboer
|Airborne Fire Attack, Orange County Airport, California|
Formed in 1995 by five Californian fire fighters with President John Wells, as a division of Wells Aviation, Hood River, Oregon.
John Wells was an experienced fire fighter and amphibian pilot, previously operating as Catalina Flying Boats, Long Beach CA with two Grumman Gooses and DC-3s.
AFA was created to be a specialised water bombing operation to compete with the normal chemical retardant tankers. Canadair CL-215s were initially considered but at second-hand prices of around $4M each, retired Canadian water bombing Catalinas were a much more economical proposition. They were equipped to scoop up to 1400 gallons of water during low pick-up runs across lakes. The partners went to Parry Sound, Ontario to inspect two retired Avalon Aviation Catalina tankers being offered for sale. C-FGLX, a Canadian built OA-10A Catalina equivalent to PBY-5A) with 1,000 gallon water tank had recently completed an annual inspection and was fitted with low time engines with new propellers. It was purchased and ferried to Carson City NV for US certification by Dennis Buehn's American Warbirds, being registered N322FA on 7 June 1996. It went into action as tanker #115 in July 1996 based at Orange County and using the numerous lakes and reservoirs across Southern California.
N322FA was lost on 1 August 1997 when John Wells was making his third water scooping run on the surface of San Vincente Reservoir. A nosewheel door had become unlocked, causing an implosion which split open the hull. The Catalina sank and Wells and his copilot were injured.
Being high fire season, it was quickly replaced by a PBY-6A tanker C-FPIU from the same source at Parry Sound, Ontario. It became N324FA and entered AFA service with the same tanker number #115, painted in the same bright red scheme with the slogan California Water Bomber.
After working through the following summer, AFA received insufficient contractual hours from California Department of Forestry to continue. The PBY-6A was sold on the warbird market.
Note: A 1989 USFS list of allocated tanker numbers shows #116 allocated to a presumably unrelated operator named Airborne Fire Attack for a Grumman HU-16T Turbine Albatross. It remained as a reservation only.
The only contender was HU-16E N70263 (c/n G-309) which was being rebuilt in 1995-1996 at Mesa AZ by Marsh Aviation with Garrett turbines as as a turboprop water bomber for an undisclosed buyer. Not completed and the partially converted aircraft was abandoned in the open at Mesa.
|Catalina N322FA at the Ramona CA air tanker base in 1996.
Photo by Graham Robson|
Wells takes off from Lake Wohlford CA in October
Photo by Graham Robson|
|What might have been. The uncompleted Garrett turboprop Grumman HU-16E Albatross N70263 |
still stored at Marsh Aviation, Mesa AZ in 2012, showing the turbine engine mounts
|Aircraft Service Co, Boise, Idaho|
Owner and chief pilot Glen Higby modified a crop spraying Ford Trimotor N8407 as a fire bomber in 1955. Two 275 gallon tanks in tandem each with 9”x 20” bomb doors were installed, to carry a mixture of water and Sodium Calcite-borate, a maximum payload of 5500 lbs. Cables to the cockpit allowed the release of one or both tanks. Flight testing showed the Ford could lay a swath of retardant in a 70ft x 700ft area. In 1957, Higby made 74 drops on severe fires in the Payette and Boise National Forests in a Ford and is credited with bringing one of the fires under ciontrol.
The company had a second Ford N9612 which was also modified for fire bombing by 1957 with three 100 gallon tanks. It was flown by William Hadden on fires in Montana and Idaho. It was sold to Johnson Flying Service at Missoula MT who did trial water drops on 8 August 1957 before USFS dispatched it to eight fires that month.
Aircraft Service Co was still in business at Bradley Field, Boise by 1954.
|Ford Tri-Motor N9612 dropping retandant
|Aircraft Specialties Inc, Mesa Arizona|
Aircraft Specialties Inc, 4600 East McKillops Road, Mesa AZ, later 2410 Airline Way, Falcon Field, Mesa, Phoenix AZ
Founded c1960 by Richard E. (Gene) Packard as a tanker operator based at Mesa-Falcon Field, Phoenix AZ
An associated spraying company at Mesa in the early 1960s was Desert Aviation Service, 2410 Airline Way, Mesa: appears to have merged with Aircraft Specialties Inc circa 1965 and shared the same postal address.
1963 USFS list of fire bomber contractors: Aircraft Specialties Inc, Prescott AZ, Willcox AZ & Beckwourth CA.
Merged 1963 with A.B. Sellards trading as Abe's Aerial Service, Stafford AZ. A new parent company was formed with name
Aviation Specialties Inc under the joint management of Gene Packard and Abe Sellards. Spraying and firebombing operations continued
under the name Aircraft Specialties.
During 1976 Aircraft Specialities reported that spraying fleet was deployed that year on large-scale contracts for budworm forest spraying in Maine and Georgia.
By 1977 some sections of the business, including B-17 fire bombers, was conducted under the name of associated company Globe Air Inc. Effective April 1981 a business reorganisation resulted in all operations transferred to Globe Air Inc. Abe Sellards and Gene Packard continued to manage the operation until 1985 when the decision was taken to close down. An auction sale of aircraft and assets valued at over $4M commenced on 24 October 1985 at Mesa-Falcon Field.
Sikorsky S-55 Whirlwinds:
During the 1960s large stocks of military disposals Sikorsky S-55 helicopters were acquired and rebuilt at Mesa as civil conversions. The modifications and improvements are detailed in Janes All The World Aircraft editions of the period. Demonstrators N455V and N4555Z were painted with "Aviation Specialities"titles by 1969. By 1980 an associated company was Helitec Inc, Mesa AZ.
The following S-55s were registered in the names of Aircraft Specialities Inc or Aviation Specialties Inc:
N91AS (c/n 55-646), N92AS (ex Bu130177), N455V (55-561), N455Z (ex Bu138512), N1255T (ex Bu138522), N2738 (55-1273),
N67036 (55-716), N67157 (55-661), N67158 (55-1202), N68397 (55-579), N7858 (55-989)
A collection of ex-military disposals helicopters was stored in a fenced compound near the company hangars at Falcon Field. The following stripped helicopter airframes were identified: (updated thanks to John Chapman)
- Sikorsky UH-19B Chickasaw in USAF markings: 0-13902, 0-13903, 0-13908, 0-13913, 0-13914, 0-13916, 13918, 0-13932, 0-139033, 0-13934, 0-13939, 0-13942, 13944, 13945, 13946, 0-13954, 0-13962, 0-13964, 0-13968, 0-27487, 27519, 0-27541, 0-27542,
0-27549, 0-27561, 0-27567, 0-27574, 27575, 0-27579, 0-27581, 0-27586, 27610, 0-27616, 34420, 0-34421, 0-34438,
0-34440, 0-34441, 0-34447, 34450, 0-34452. 34453
- Sikorsky (SNCASE) UH-19B Chickasaw in USAF markings: 66673
- Sikorsky UH-19D Chickasaw in US Army markings: 41416 (to Confederate Air Force as N6735), 53176, 53178, 53187, 53206, 53226,
61524, 61551, 61555, 61557, 666734, 61551, 61557, 71624, 71634, 75948, 75974 94974
- Sikorsky CH-19E in US Navy markings: 129022, 129030, 129033, 130149, 130164, 130212, 130258, 130263, 130264, 142430, 144252
- Sikorsky UH-19F in US Navy markings: 138585
- Sikorsky HO4S-3 in US Navy markings: 138590
- Piasecki CH-21 Workhorses in US Army markings: 62138, 562148, 2155, 2095, 2133
- Piasecki YH-16 Transporter: 01269
During 1978 the compound was cleared and the stripped hulks of at least 32 of these helicopters were moved by road to Chandler Memorial airfield, near Phoenix where they were stored in a fenced off area. Several additional S-55 types appeared in the compound and over following years this collection of helicopter airframes, engines and parts was dispersed.
Following the Globe Air closing down auction in July 1985, an additional auction was held at Falcon Field on 1 August 1986 offering the following as "Final liquidation of the Globe Air Helicopter Division":
Sikorsky S-55 N1255T, N75215, N75216, N2738, N7858 (all Garrett 331 turbine engine conversions).
Sikorsky S-58 N95954
- Aircraft Specialties Inc owned the following Beech 18s under their name:
Beech C18S N44581: (7993) by 1965, sold 5.12.68
Beech D18S N73548: (A-548) purchased 18.9.72 ex US Army disposals Davis Monthan AFB. Tfd 2.81 to Globe Air, sold 11.83
- Aviation Specialties Inc registered the following US Navy disposals SNB-5s in 1965:
N90297 (Bu39863), N90298 (Bu51045), N90299 (Bu51141): no civil conversion, stripped airframes in helicopter storage compound Mesa
- Desert Aviation Service registered the following US Navy disposals SNB-5s in 1963: only one civil conversion:
N2212S (Bu28386) CofA issued 17.3.66, sold .66 to John W. Coote, New Jersey.
Remainder no civil conversions:
N2205S (Bu39941), N2206S (Bu67344), N2207S (Bu39246), N2208S (Bu67263), N2209S (Bu29620), N2210S (Bu44655),
N2211S (Bu39945), N2213S (Bu89488), N2214S (Bu39865), N90250 (Bu26942)
Stripped SNB-5 airframes in the Mesa helicopter storage compound by 1971 were: Bu26942 (N90250), Bu39799, Bu29644
Former USAF C-45G 51-11903 marked "APCS" was a stripped airframe in Aircraft Specialties parking area Mesa in September 1968
PV-2 Harpoons: tanked for spraying with underwing spray bars, no indication Aircraft Specialties PV-2s were any used for fire bombing
C-121 Constellations: forest bud worm sprayers
Harpoons and Constellations flew annual seasonal low-level formation spraying of Canadian forests. A May 1973 report from Montreal Quebec recorded Constellations N711AS, N6228C and Harpoons N6718C, N7273C, N72707, N7486C transitting to spraying bases in Quebec and New Brunswick.
Boeing Stearman: N56716
North American T-28A N8098H by 1963 ex Max Biegert, Phoenic AZ. Sold 1966 to Lou Koffman at Aircraft Specialties Inc's address
Lockheed 18 Lodestar N1940S Dallaero (2509) purchased 11.68, maintained airworthy, sold 24.10.85 at Globe Air closing down auction for $38K to Scoben Investments Inc.
Lockheed 18 Lodestar N34E(2082) acquired c1973 ex Biegert Bros, Mesa AZ in u/s condition. parked complete but faded paintwork at Aircraft Specialties storage ramp Mesa 1974-1985. N34E and N141C blown together by windstorm mid 1980s.
Lockheed 18 Lodestar N141C (2002) acquired c1976 in u/s condition titles "Vistas Unlimited Inc, parked at Aircraft Specialties storage ramp Mesa 1976-1985. Sold 24.10.85 at Globe Air closing down auction for $400
Cessna 180 N4994A
|TB-25K Mitchell N6123C at Mesa AZ in September 1968 with belly tank and spraybars on the wings.|
Photo by Neil Aird
Mitchell N9117Z #C35 at Mesa in June 1973 had been long retired.
Photo by Gordon Reid|
Avenger N9690Z #C25 was a sprayer at Mesa in November 1969.
Photo by Gordon Reid|
Avenger N9590Z tanker #25 in fire bomber configuration at Mesa AZ
during April 1972, fitted with a spare rudder.
Photo by Paul Veenboer
|TBM N9927Z #39 at Mesa in October 1979 with belly tank and spraybars. The orange fire retardant stains on |
the fuselage indicate it had recently been used for fire bombing. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Aircraft Specialties' B-17 N9563Z tanker #C24 at Tucson AZ during May 1973. Photo by Paul Veenboer
|B-17G N93012 #99
at Mesa in November 1981
Photo by Geoff Goodall|
N17W #04 landing at Fox Field Air Tanker Base CA in September
1981. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
|The B-17F's tail gunner position was used to pump liquid retardant mixture into the aircraft's tank during fast |
turn-arounds at USFS attack bases. The flight crew are being signalled that loading is completed.
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Aircraft Specialties' Lockheed PV-2s were all initially operated in this paint scheme, as seen on N6852C at Mesa in
October 1978, before reverting to natural metal with different coloured noses. Photo by John Wegg
|Aircraft Specialies' PV-2
Harpoon N6718C insecticide sprayer at Mesa in October 1979. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
Lockheed PV-2 N6855C sprayer at Mesa in October 1979. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|PV-2 N7269C was not civilianised. It was in a junk heap of stripped military helicopters at Mesa October 1978.
US Navy blue with faded markings "37502 NAS Glenview, Grosse Ile, Los Alamitos". Photo by John Chapman
|Lockheed L1049H Super Constellation N6937C at Mesa in October 1977, with PV-2 Harpoons behind.|
Photo by Geoff Goodall
| C-121B Constellation N611AS at Mesa October 1979, showing the spray bars. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
|Douglas C-54 N99AS at Mesa AZ during May 1983.
Photo by Paul Veenboer
Aircraft Specialties C-54 N67024 with over-wing spraybars, at Mesa AZ October 1979. Photo by Geoff Goodall
Aircraft Specialties Douglas C-54 sprayer N67019 at Mesa in October 197
Although assigned USFS tanker #157, it was never used as a fire bomber. Photo by Geoff Goodall
N438NA at Mesa in November 1981 soon after it was acquired from NASA.
Photo by Geoff Goodall |
|Lockheed Lodestar N1940S upgraded with Dallaero exec mods was used as a fast crew transport for many years.
Seen outside the Globe Aero company office at Mesa in November 1981. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Airspray Inc, Orlando, Florida *|
|Operated in the 1950s in association with Sky Spray Inc, both subsidiaries of United Heckathorn Inc, Richmond CA which had operated sgricultural aircraft since 1948.|
Airspray and Skyspray operated heavy aircraft for insecticide spraying to combat medfly infestations in fruit orchards.
|C-82A N4829V at Long Beach CA March 1963, after its sale but "SkySpray" is still painted under the cockpit. |
It had just been modified to a Steward Davis Jet Packet 3400 with jetpak on roof. Photo by Eddie Coates
|Airway Inc, Yakima Washington|
Airway Inc, PO Box 451, Yakima WA. Also known as Richardson's Airway Inc.
An associated company of Richardson Aviation Inc, Yakima.
Ralph R. Richardson set up his own business at Yakima in 1950 after flying crop spraying for others. One of many aerial agricultural operators serving the fruit and field crops of the Yakima Valley in Washington State.
Airway Inc was the agricultural business while Richardson Aviation was a FBO, flight school and charter managed by his wife Gini.
Although the TBMs were used mostly for spraying, some fire bombing was conducted
Airway Inc gained annual contracts in Canada spraying forests for budworm and other pests.
In 1967-1968 Ralph Richardson flew his TBM N7032C on a spraying contract in Israel also olive tree plantations in Greece.
Ralph Richardson continued flying crop dusting until he was 70.
Boeing Stearman N1153N, N4762N, N4813V, N4814V, N63070
Stinson L-5 Sentinel N68840
Snow 600 N1763S
|Airways Inc Grumman Avenger N7031C tanker #111 in Canada during the 1968 forest insect spraying contract. |
|A.J. Air Tankers Inc, Van Nuys Airport, California|
|A.J. Air Tankers Inc, 15154 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles CA|
Established by Jack Folz
Circa 1963 took over the operations of Bellroy Air Tankers, Los Angeles. Bellroy had introduced the North American AJ-1 Savage as a heavy fire bomber in 1960 when they had two AJ-1s rebuilt at Long Beach Airport with a 2000 gallon retardant tank, auxiliary jets removed and re-engined with uprated P&W Double Wasp R2800-CB16s with water injection. Both were painted white and orange with blue cowlings.
1963 season US Forest Service air tanker allocation list shows A.J.
Air Tankers with both AJ-1s based at Van Nuys Airport CA.|
N9143Z crashed into a North Hollywood residential area after takeoff from Burbank in September 1966 loaded with retardant slurry. Pilot Jack Hennessey was killed but managed to miss housing and put the aircraft down through backyards and vacant lots. The repercussions of this accident caused the company to cease operations. The other Savage was left parked in the weather at Burbank until scrapped in 1972.
| Two views of North
American AJ-1 Savage N9143Z #E77 at the Van Nuys USFS tanker base in 1965
|Alcan Airways Inc, Kingman, Arizona|
|Ames Applicator Corp, Ames Iowa *|
An agricultural spraying operation which may have been involved in fire bombing
|Other aircraft: Cessna 310D N6969T (by 1969 sold c71)|
|Angels Aerial Service, Pico-Rivera California|
|Angel's Aerial Service B-25 Mitchell N3512G #D36 with large metal belly retardant tank.|
|AquaAir Inc, Alomogordo, New Mexico|
AquaAir Inc, 3500 Airport Road, Alomordo NM
Founded in 1996 as a new-start family-owned fire tanker operation by Charles H. and Mary Hainline.
Based at Alomogordo Airport, where a successful Neptune tanker business was operated by Arnold Kolb's Black Hills Aviation.
Charlie Hainline advertised that AquAir's 5 employees had between them over a 100 years of aviation experience.
Modification of their first Neptune was completed in 2000, fitted with a constant-flow retardant tank.
- Grumman HU-16C Albatross N70252 (ex Bu142362): purchased 3.04 as a stripped airframe in a contractors yard at Davis Monthan AFB,
made ferriable and delivered to Alomorgordo NM where seen paeprked in faded US Navy markings by 2007. Restored and sold by 2012.
- Grumman HU-16B Albatross N85303 (ex USAF 51-5303): purchased 6.04 airworthy, sold 11.04
Air's Neptune N4692A tanker
Photo: Wildfire Today |
|Arbor Air Inc, Columbus, Nebraska *|
Arbor Inc, Columbus NE.
Established circa 1979 by Eino William Warra, an experienced propliner pilot, as an agricultural operation.
Probably connected with El Marc Air also at Columbus NE, which took over the two C-119Ls.
By 1983 Arbor Air Inc was quoting addresses at Laredo TX and Ypsilanti Michigan.
By 1989 William Warra was based at Opa Locka Florida operating DC-6s ands DC-7s as Gomes and Warra Aircraft Inc.
|ARDCO Inc, Tucson-Ryan Field, Arizona|
ARDCO Inc, Tucson AZ
Name based on "Aerial Retardant Delivery Company".
ARDCO was a 1981 restructure of the fire tanker operator WAIG Aircraft Inc, Tucson AZ by the surviving WAIG partners.
(WAIG Aircraft Inc had been formed in 1976 based on the initials of the four partners, former pilots with Hawkins & Powers Aviation in Wyoming:
Ken White, Clyde Alford, Roger Iverson and Gary Garrett. In a tragic accident on 2 December 1980, Clyde Alford and his copilot were killed when WAIG C-54 N96449 #118 collided mid-air with WAIG C-54 N406WA #119 near Palm Springs CA. Kenny White and Gary Garrett in the damaged #119 were able to reach Tucson and land safely.
WAIG Aircraft Inc designed and built its own 2,000 gallon 8-tank under-belly retardant tank delivery system, initially with hydraulic activation. Further development led to electric activation systems controlled from a cockpit console. ARDCO carried out the conversion for other C-54 tanker operators, including Aero Flite's N96358.)
ARDO Initial Principles were Ken White and Gary Garrett, both Captains on C-54 tankers.
Kenny White retired in 1991, and in 1996 Gary Garrett and his wife Meegan (a C-54 copilot) bought out Roger Iverson's share in the company.
Gary and Meegan operated the business until C-54s were no longer contracted by the USFS.
ARDCO's base at Tucson-Ryan Field was badly damaged by a storm on 23 July 1998 when the WWII vintage wooden hangar was destroyed. The company had three new buildings erected as office, workshop and parts store.
In August 1999 at the closing-down auction of Catalina tanker operator SLAFCO in Washington, ARDCO successfully bid for a stock of Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone power plants. N406WA had been re-engined with R-2600s back in 1977 when tanked by WAIG Inc, but no other ARDCO C-54s were fitted with these more powerful engines.
For the 2001 fire season:
Bases: Redding CA and Lancaster-Fox Field CA
Director of Maintenance: Pete Taylor
Captains include: Gary Garett, Gary Towle, Steve Howland,
Copilots incude: Meegan Garrett, Pierre Delvoix, Todd Tomkins,
Flight engineers include: Terry Wood, Dave Lahn, Barry Sandberg
ARDCO appears to have ceased flying by 2005. In 2002 an ARDCO pilot reported that a USFS bureaucrat had helpfully suggested that they should re-engine their C-54s with turboprops.
|C-54Q N406WA #119 at Tucson AZ in November 1981. This aircraft had been re-engined by WAIG with|
more powerful P&W R-2600 Twin Wasp engines. Photo by Geoff Goodall
Douglas C-54T N8502R #165 at Tucson in November 1981 retains its former US Marine Corps scheme|
from its VIP transport days, including the painted square window shape. Photo by Geoff Goodall
This view of N8502R shows the belly 2000 gallon retardant tank and drop doors of the WAIG Aircraft Inc design
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|N460WA tanker #151 on station at the Hemet CA Attack Base in November 1990. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
|ARDCO C-54 N9015Q #152 on station at Fox Air Tanker Base, Lancaster CA in November 1990.|
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|ARDCO C-54 N82FA #153 at the Ramona CA attack base in November 1992. Photo by Geoff Goodall|
|ARDCO owners Meegan and Gary Garrett at Tucson-Ryan Field in March 2001. Photo by Ralph M. Pettersen
|Fred Arnberg Inc, Yreka, California|
|Fred J. Arnberg, PO Box 1007, Yreka CA|
Operated the first military-surplus Grumman F7F Tigercats converted to fire tankers for several seasons in the early 1960s. When Bud Davis established Sis-Q Flying Service in 1963 at Montague CA with F7F tankers, Fred Arnberg was listed as a partner
Cessna T-50 Bobcat N49445 (1963-1971) restoration project with Ralph Ponte at Grass Valley CA in 1976
|Fred Arnberg F7F Tigercat N7625C in 1962 with tanker number E22 (the second) - what was the first E22?|
Photo by Warner E. Stewart via Bill Bailey collection
|A.V. Aircraft Co, Lancaster, California *|
A.V. Aircraft Co, PO Box 603, Lancaster CA and Deming NM
Associated with A.V. Pest Control Co, PO Box 603, Lancaster CA
Insecticide spraying operation which took its name from Lancaster being in the Antelope Valley district north of Los Angeles.
Boeing Stearman: N53403, N53476, N62863
Vultee BT-13: N57234
|A.V.Aircraft Co Grumman TBM Avenger sprayer N66475 at Lancaster-Fox Field CA in November 1969. |
Photo by Barney Deatrick
|Avery Aviation Inc, Greybull Wyoming|
Morris and Rita Avery, Greybull WY.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Morris Avery trained for his pilot licence at Greybull with instructor Mel Christler. By 1949 Avery was working for Lynch Flying Services at nearby Billings, Montana flying their Cessna T-50 Bobcats on pest spraying and grass hopper baiting.
During 1949 Morris Avery and Mel Christler decided to become partners in their own chemical application business and formed a new company Christler and Avery Aviation Co, Greybull WY (details under Christler Flying Service in part 2 of this series).
The two partners built up the operation to gain extensive freight and support work for the US Forest Service, purchasing heavy aircraft such as Douglas B-18s, US Coast Guard surplus Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateers and USAF surplus North American B-25 Mitchells for spraying and fire bombing. Christler and Avery Aviation Co introduced the first helicopters for commercial work in the region, their first being a Bell 47 delivered to Greybull by Morris Avery, the beginning of a substantial rotary wing division.
In 1961 Mel Christler left Greybull to take up a corporate pilot position. Morris Avery purchased his share in the business and the company was reformed in August 1961 under the name Avery Aviation Inc, Greybull WY.
Avery Aviation continued the same operations of fire bombing, pest spraying and fire-ant baiting contracts, but increased the helicopter fleet for spraying and general charter. Heavy-lift helicopter work including forest logging was undertaken with three military surplus Kaman H-43 Huskies. When Morris Avery was suffering health problems, Privateer tanker pilot Gene Powers recruited experienced helicopter instructor Dan Hawkins from Texas to join the company to look after the rotary wing division.
During 1961 Avery Aviation branched into a short-lived passenger airline with Beech 18 N9306Z operating as Sage Airlines. Services were flown between Greybull and other northern Wyoming towns to Casper WY but patronage was disappointing and services ceased. N9306Z was converted with a chemical tank in the cabin and wing spraybars to join two other Beech 18s on pest spraying contracts.
Morris Avery died in 1965 following complications after leg surgery. His widow Reba managed the company with the help of pilots Dan Hawkins and Gene Powers. In 1969 she sold the company to them and it was renamed Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc.
Avery Aviation Inc helicopters: most registered in the aerial agriculural and fire fighting categories:
Bell 47 N73211, N73217
Hiller UH-12 N9748C, N9727C, N9754C, N5369V, N5389V, N9733C, N5343V
Fairchild Hiller FH1100 N435FH
Kaman HH-43A Husky N2843J (ex 58-1823) purchased 20.2.68 ex Rosenbalm, sprayer. Tfd 6.69 to Hawkins & Powers Aviation
Kaman HH-43A Husky N2856J (ex 58-1840) purchased 20.2.68 ex Rosenbalm, sprayer. Tfd 6.69 to Hawkins & Powers Aviation
Kaman UH-43C Husky N3910 (ex Bu146321) Avery by 1968. Tfd 6.69 to Hawkins & Powers Aviation
Avery Aviation other aircraft:
PA-18 Super Cub N3293Z, N3285Z, N4411Z, N4498Z
Cessna 180 N3642C, N8698X, N5059E
Cessna 195 N2083D
Mooney M20 N8386E, N6937U
|Morris Avery at Greybull in 1959 with the first three PB4Y-2 Privateers, former US Coast Guard disposals. |
|Avery Aviation PB4Y-2G Privateer tanker #B22 at Greybull in November 1968|
|Former US Navy PB4Y-2 Pivateers were also acquired. These required removal of the nose turret and modified |
nose section of various innovative in-house designs. N7962C in Navy midnight blue paint, seen at Greybull in
July 1959 just after its delivery flight. It went on to a 40 year air tanker career. Photo by Milo Peltzer
|Avery Aviation's veteran Douglas B-18 N52056 fire tanker #B20 in action at Greybull WY during the 1960s.|
This trial drop was right on target to hit the two fuel drums! Photo: US Forest Service
|B-25 N2849G at Greybull in July 1966 with fire tanker belly retardant dump chute. Photo by Norm Avery |
|North American TB-25N N3699G at Greybull in 1960s with fire-ant bait spreader installed under the belly.|
This Mitchell is still flying today as a warbird. Photo by Milo Peltzer
|Retired Beech C-45G sprayer N9306Z still had faded "Sage Airlines" above the windows at Greybull in 1979.|
Photo by Geoff Goodall