|Last updated 22 December 2021|
|US FIRE BOMBER OPERATORS - I to K|
A historical survey of US fire attack air tanker companies to the year 2000, compiled by Geoff Goodall
|Idaho Air Tankers Inc, Boise Idaho|
Idaho Air Tankers Inc, 818 W State Street, Boise Idaho
Founded by Walter E. White and Thomas A.White
|Idaho Aircraft Company, Boise Idaho|
Idaho Aircraft Co Inc, P.O.Box 4512 Boise ID
This business was established by Milt Smilanich and Dennis G. Smilanich and incorporated on 12 February 1959.
By 1961 it was a fire bombing contractor to US Forest Service and Burea of Land Management, when tanker pilots included Milt Smilanich, Judd Stevens, Jim Saad, Milt Sparks.
Withdrew from air tanker operations in 1971 but the company continued as an general aviation business at Boise Airport into the 1990s.
Beech 35 N738D
Cessna 140 N81066
Cessna 150 N8324G
|1961 magazine picture showing Idaho Aircraft Co B-25 and TBM at work dropping fire retardant in Idaho. |
With thanks to nbavengers.com
|Grumman TBM-3 N9590C tanker #D1 at Boise in June 1967. Photo: J.A.Morrow via nbavengers.com|
|International Air Applicators, Riverside, California|
International Air Applicators Inc, Riverside CA
In 1958 this operator was the first to tank a US Navy disposals Consolidated P4Y-2 Privateer for chemical spraying and fire retardant dropping. It was the largest aircraft converted for aarial application at the time and attracted a lot of interest.
Unfortunately the first Privateer tanker was destroyed while spraying near Flagstaff AZ in June 1959, but a replacement (with the same registration) was quickly put into service.
|The first Privateer N6884C at Riverside CA during 1959 with spray gear along the wing trailing edge |
of the first N6884C at Prescott AZ in June 1959, spray bar
visible. Bob Livingstone
|International Air Response, Chandler AZ|
International Air Response Inc, Chandler Memorial Airfield, 22000 South Price Road, Chandler AZ,
later Coolidge Municiple Airport AZ, later Mesa-Gateway AZ
William "Woody" Grantham, a long-time partner with Sergio Tomasoni in the large tanker operation T&G Inc at Chandler AZ, established IAR as an associate company during the 1980s. IAR offered the same range of spraying, fire attack, oil-slick dispersant and Government contract transport tasks as T&G Inc, from the same office block at Goodyear Memorial Airfield, Chandler AZ. The airfield was closed to operations in 2005.
T&G Inc/T&G Aviation Inc had built up a fleet of tanker Douglas DC-7s used for spraying and fire attack with 3,000 gallon belly tanks. Their DC-7s had been deployed to Africa on locust plague spraying contracts during the 1980s. T&G Inc acquired a number of military surplus Lockheed C-130As via the US Forestry Service from 1989, and equipped them with the removable RADS retardant delivery system. Two were operated in France on fire attack contracts.
IAR had taken over T&G Aviation's last operational DC-7 tanker N4887C by 1989, when it continued the T&G Inc fire contract with the State of Alaska for the next three years, crewed by Woody Grantham, Bob Russell and Craig Hutchings based at Palmer. After a 1990 repaint in stunning Delta Airlines scheme, it continued working until retired in 1994 at IAR's new base at Coolidge AZ.
The T&G Aviation C-130A Hercules were marketed by IAR as each was brought into civil service, offering them for aerial fire fighting, spraying oil slick dispersant or chemical insecticides, heavy transport and parachuting supplies from the open rear ramp.
During 1991 T&G Aviation C-130As gained commercial transport contracts from the US military in Kuwait for Operation Desert Storm including carrying heavy oil field fire fighting equipment after the war. These Gulf War transport contracts drew heavy criticism from other US air tanker operators who claimed the C-130As had been acquired through a US Forest Service exchange scheme to reequip tanker companies with turbine aircraft for fire attack use only. Eventually this led to an US Congressional Enquiry and legal action, the findings generating years of US media attention referred to as the Forest Service Air Tanker Scandal. Refer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Forest_Service_airtanker_scandal
Air Response Inc emerged as the sole operating name when T&G
Aviation President William Grantham filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and
ceased all T&G Aviation operations. Meanwhile IAR acquired more
C-130A Hercules and secured world-wide
work, mostly for Government agencies.|
IAR moved from Chandler to Coolidge AZ in 2004, and moved again to Mesa-Falcon Field in 2014.
Refer in this series: Douglas County Aviation and T&G Inc
Hercules N116TG in fire attack role as tanker
IAR C-130A N118TG stored on a retardant-stained ramp at Chandler AZ in November 1991 still in USAF paintwork
with serial 70152 on the tail. An Allison and some parts had been removed. Photo by Geoff Goodall
at IAR's latest base Mesa AZ
Photo by Brian Lockett|
DC-7B N4887C #33 at the Coolidge AZ IAR base in April 2004 showing its Delta Airlines paint scheme.
Photo by Ralph M. Petersen
| International Air Response 1995 brochure|
|Intermountain Aviation, Marana, Arizona|
|Intermountain Aviation Inc, Marana AZ|
A charter air transport operator which carred out clandstine operations and crew training for the US Central Intelligence Agency from a remote former military airfield Marana AZ. From 1963 Curtiss C-46 Commandos became the standard transport used for freight, personnel, parachuting platform etc.
Among Intermountain Aviation's aircraft fleet was Boeing B-17G N809Z which had been used for CIA tasks including retrieval of agents from the low flying B-17with the Fulton Skyhook system (as used by James Bond and female friend in the movie Thunderball in 1965). It ranged as far as the North Pole in 1962 when the B-17 dropped two US agents to investigate a Soviet ice station and retrieve them three days later.
During 1969 Intermountain Aviation decided to gain more utilisation from their sole B-17 by entering the rapidly growing fire bombing field. N809Z was fitted with an internal retardant tank and delivery system, completed in July 1969 in time to go to work during that year's summer fire season. A DHC-4 Caribou N6080 (c/n 2) was acquired in June 1971 for a USFS smoke-jumpers contract before being transferred to a CIA company Tynol Associates for operation in SE Asia by Air America.
The Intermountain Aviation business was taken over effective March 1974 by Del Smith's Evergreen Helicopters of McMinnville, Oregon. Evergreen had also been engaged in special operations for US Government agencies so the acquisition of Intermountain including the Marana private airfield with all its facilities would allow Evergreen to expand its tactical contract work. In November 1975 Evergreen Helicopters Inc bought out Johnson Flying Service at Missoula MT to acquire its Supplemental Air Carrier certification and fleet of Lockheed Electras.
Del Smith, President of Evergreen then established two new subsidiaries:
Evergreen International Airlines Inc, based at Evergreen Air Centre, Marana AZ: transport charters
Evergreen Air of Montana Inc, based at Missoula MT: to operate the former Johnson utility aircraft for Government agencies.
Intermountain Aviation other aircraft:
Douglas A-26 Invader: N5001X/N800V, N5002X/N900V
Curtiss C-46 Commando: N67936, N74811, N8417C, N1698M, N5076N, N9700Z, N9761Z, N9900Z
Douglas C-47: N404D, N404U
Douglas DC-6A: N61267
DHC-4 Caribou: N6080
Lockheed PV-2 N7258C: crashed into houses 3.2.66 due engine fire on takeoff Phoenix-Sky Harbor AZ
Refer in this series: Evergreen Airlines
|N809Z at Marana AZ September 1968 with the Fulton Skyhook apparatus on the nose. Photo by Neil Aird|
|Intermountain Aviation N809Z at East Wenatchee WA fire attack base in August 1971 as tanker #71. |
The cabin windows are a reminder of its earlier clandestine CIA transport days. Photo by Ron Olsen
N809Z at Marana February 1973 after a repaint, Evergreen Aviation name on fuselage, tanker number C71.
Photo by Dave Welch
|Jadon Enterprises Inc, Riverside, California|
|Charlie T. "Red" Jensen, Sacramento, California and Tonopah, Nevada|
|Charles T. Jenson, Sacramento CA trading as Farm Air Inc, Sacramento CA. |
Based at Sacramento Municiple Airport, later Capitol Sky Park, West Sacramento
Jenson also operated under these company names:
- Nevadair Inc, Reno NV, Box 311 Reno NV
- Nevada Cropdusters Inc, Box 311 Reno NV
- C.T.Jensen of Nevada Inc, Box 311 Reno NV
- Tonopah Air Service Inc, Tonopah Municiple Airport NV
Travelair 4000: N54129, N6297, N8132, N8715, N436N, N390M, N645H
Naval N3N: N45084, N45292, N44973, N45136
Boeing Steaman: N62911, N63519, N63594, N57441, N68824, N68825, N68826, N68828, N68829, N68830, N68832, N68833,
Vultee BT-13 N56916
Piper J-3C Cub N98804
PA-18 Super Cub N7676D
Hiller UH-12 N5334V, N7725C, N7726C
Cessna 140 N2255N
| Jensen fire bombing Naval N3N N45084 at Placerville CA in October 1964, re-engined with P&W R-1340:|
Photo by William T. Larkins
|Ralph Johnson, RALCO, Cheyenne Wyoming|
Ralph S. Johnson was an elder statesman of the US aerial application industry. A highly experienced airline captain who had been flying since 1930, he was a pioneer in heavy aircraft spraying, dusting and baiting, purchasing 22 military surplus PV-2 Harpoons in 1954. He later modified some PV-2s as fire tankers, adding A-26 and DC-4 types for firebombing.
Ralph Johnson traded as Master Equipment Co, Cheyenne WY, conducting aerial operations under the name RALCO, Cheyenne WY.
- Refer RALCO
|Johnson Flying Service, Missoula Montana|
Johnson Fying Service Inc, Missoula MT
Established in 1929 by Robert R. Johnson and incorported as an aviation business on 6 March 1929. Bob Johnson and his brother Dick Johnson developed an aviation FBO business with flying school, air taxi and maintenance. However they built up a specialist contractor role with the US Forest Service and other Government agencies, providing transport and forest fire control services to inhospitable Tall Timber regions of the Northern Rocky Mountains. This included aerial seeding and dropping parachuting "smoke jumper" fire fighters and equipment.
A diverse aircraft fleet was used pre-war, but the mainstay were Ford Trimotors which were maintained for 30 years, suffering numerous accidents on rough airstrips. Bob Johnson had a standard quote each time he was informed of the latest wrecked Trimotor "Fly the biggest piece back". The company workshops at Missoula would then commenced a rebuild from their spares and parts of other wrecked Fords.
After WWII, Forest Service work continued as the mainstay of JFS operations,. A 1948 report quoted the fleet as 2 DC-3s, 3 Ford Trimotors, Cessna T-50s, 3 Travel Air 6Bs, Curtiss Sedan, Beech F17D, Stinson 108 and for the pilot school Cessna 140s and 6 Piper Cubs.
As more military surplus aircraft became available JFS standardised on Douglas C-47s, Curtiss C-46s, Beech 18s and the survivors of the pre-war stalwarts, Ford Trimotors and Travel Air 6000s
To find year-round utilisation for its C-46s and C-47s, JFS gained Irregular Air Carrier certification and bid for US military personnel transport contracts. By 1953 two of each type were in passenger service on military charters. In January 1954 Bob Johnson announced the formation of Johnson Airlines, to initially fly scheduled DC-3 services between Seattle and Spokane via Washington State towns and fares well below current airlines. However the Washington route experiment was not a success and dropped after a month.
On December 22 that year JFS DC-3 N24320 was ditched in an icy river at night in Pennsylvania due fuel exhaustion. It was carrying 4 JFS pilots and a male cabin attendant on a US Army charter flight from Newark NJ to Tacoma WA carrying 23 soldiers on leave. 10 drowned including Captain Harold Poe who had reached shore but dived back into the water to help others. The investigation found the cause was inadequate flight planning and inadequate crew supervision and training. The Department of Defence banned JFS from its civilian air transport program for several years, the CAA considered cancelling Johnson's passenger carrying certificates, but determined the failures were primarily the actions of the pilot in command and not the company. The law suits commenced from the families of the dead passengers and the following years were difficult times for JFS.
|The original Hale Field at Missoula in 1949 showing JFS Fords, DC-3s and Twin Beech types.|
In 1954 Hale Field closed and JFS moved to the new Missoula Airport (MSO)
|Bob Johnson in a Ford Trimotor cockpit|
|Johnson Flying Services DC-3s under smoky skies at the new (current) Missoula Airport in the late 1950s.|
The airport was named Johnson-Bell Field after Bob Johnson and civic leader Harry Bell
In the mid 1950s USFS requested Johnson Flying Services to investigate
aerial fire bombing of forest fires. The first three Grumman TBMs were
acquired from Navy surplus and ferried from the Litchfield Park storage
field to Missoula, where they were fitted with retardant tanks
constructed by the company. It is reported that JFS first experimented
with "slurry bombing" forest fires with its Ford Trimotors flown by
Edgar Thorsrud in the mid 1950s but details are sketchy. The TBMs went
into service from 1957 as dedicated fire tankers dropping the original
highly toxic "Borate" retardant. They were adaptable for insecticide
spraying and JFS was contracted to send TBMs to Canada for the spruce
forest budworm spraying seasons from the mid 1960s. More TBMs were
acquired and the tanker division became an important part of the JFS
business, later upgrading to Lockheed Neptunes. |
Meanwhile the supplemental air carrier work was expanded with the purchase of a DC-4 and Lockheed Electras operating under names Johnson Air and later Johnson International Airlines. These large transports were used to carry USFS personnel during the summer months, and general charter for the rest of the year. They brought new complexities and heavy costs for the company. In April 1975 Johnson lost their main USFS contracts to Christler Flying Service,Thermopolis WY which had underbid their price. It was a bitter blow for Bob Johns, retired and aged in his 80s, but still closely involved with his company and he wanted to sell.
On 6 October 1975 the Civil Aeronautics Board approved the sale of Johnson International Airlines to Evergreen Helicopters of McMinnville Oregon. The sale included Johnson's Supplemental Air Carrier certification and the remaining Electras. Del Smith, President of Evergreen established two new subsidiaries:
Evergreen International Airlines Inc, based at Evergreen Air Centre, Marana AZ: freight and passenger charters
Evergreen Air of Montana Inc, based at Missoula MT: to operate the former Johnson Flying Service utility aircraft for Government agencies.
Johnson Flying Services and subsidiary companies were dissolved and
disincorporated effective January 1977. Bob Johnson continued as a
consultant to Evergreen Air of Montana Inc until 1978 when Evergreen
sold its Missoula interests to Minuteman Aviation. |
Robert Roney Johnson died on 15 December 1980 in his sleep at Missoula, aged 87.
|Other aircraft (since 1945):|
Ford Trimotors: N69905, N7861, N8400, N8407, N8419, N9612, N9642
Travel Air 6000: N464W, N447W, N655H, N8112, N9038, N9084
Beech E17: N15412
Beech AT-11: N6949C, N6950C, N75189, N8069H, N8070H
Beech 18 various models: N9327Z, N9328Z, N90290, N90291, N686Q, N119T, N36F, N452CC
Vultee BT-13 N53375
Douglas DC-2: N4867V
Douglas DC-3: N24320, N49446, N91378, N91379
Douglas DC-4: N88890
Curtiss C-46: N611Z, N74173, N9900Z, N67984, N92854, N9077R
Lockheed Electra: N7140C, N7136C, N7137C, N1006T
DHC-6 Twin Otter: N300JF
Bell 47s: N178B, N73931, N73224, N73947, N75189, N73946, N8416E, N73221, N2816A, N8414E, N8418E,
N8409E, N73269, N1325X, N78065
Bell 206 N4044G, N43HH
Grumman F6F Hellcat US Navy blue "NAVY 711" stored at JFS hangars Missoula early 50s
Numerous single-engined types: Aeronca, Navion, Piper Cub, PA-12, PA-18, PA-24, Cessnas 140 to 206
|Johnson Flying Service Ford 4-AT-6 Trimotor N9612 at Orofino Idaho in August 1952.|
Photo by William T. Larkins
|The same Ford retired at Missoula in 1968, with fire tanker #2 on the rudder. Photo by Neil Aird|
|Johnson Flying Service Douglas A-26 N3426G tanker #A17 at Missoula in the early 1960s. |
Photo: Douglas A/B-26 site
|A-26 N3426G #A17 in a more sedate paint scheme, Missoula MT September 1968. Photo by Neil Aird |
N3426G tanker #A17 early morning at Troutdale, Oregon in June
1972. Photo by
Grumman TBMs at Missoula in September 1968.
|Grumman TBM-3 N3969A at Missoula in September 1968 with unusual tail number "1". Photo by Neil Aird|
Johnson TBM N7014C tanker #A11 being flown by Ray Green
A candid picture of Johnson Flying Service TBM tanker pilots on a job at Bozeman MT: from left
Jack Hughes who later became company President, Elwood "Swede Nelson, Ken Roth, Bob Culver
|Johnson operated this DC-2 N4867V for many years, carrying forestry personnel and dropping smoke jumpers|
Photo by Tom Baillie at Missoula, September 1968
USAF surplus Beech C-45H N9328Z at Missoula in 1968 was one of many Twin Beech models used by Johnson
|Johnson Flying Service P2V-7 Neptune N14447 tanker #F11 at Troutdale OR September 1974. Photo by Ron Olsen
|Kem-Air Inc, Worland, Wyoming|
|Kem-Air Inc, Worland WY, later Airnsworth WY. |
Aerial spraying company operated by James L. Shipley. Douglas A-26 Invaders were used from the early 1960s and at least one was equipped as a fire tanker.
Callair A1 N9959C
Callair A9 N2929G
PA-25 Pawnee: N6956Z, N6969Z
PA-28 Cherokee N9015J
Cessna 150 N7853E
|Kem-Air A-26 N3427G tanker #A28 at Billings MT in May 1973, just after sale to Lynch Air Tankers.|
Photo by Jay L. Sherlocko
|King Baker, Fresno California|
Refer: Aero Enterprises, Fresno CA
|Kinney Air Tankers, Richey Montana|
Air Tankers Inc, PO Box 82, Richey MT. Richey airfield was a small dirt
strip and all Kinney operations were based at nearby Glendive Airport,
Montana. Operations re-structured in 1984 under new name Dawson Aviation of Montana Inc, Richey MT.|
Kinney Aviation was established in mid 1970s at Glendive Airport as an aerial agricultural business by Bruce R. Kinney, Richey MT.
Specialised in large acerage spraying using Naval N3N biplanes with 450hp P&W R-985 radials and 220 gallon spray tanks, also Cessna 188s and Callair B-1s.
Kinney Air Tankers commenced fire tanker operations in 1975 with a single Boeing B-17 tanker.
From 1979 Kinney built up a substantial tanker fleet in a commercial association with Bill Dempsay's Central Air Services. Aircraft and services were transferred between the two operations. PV-2 Harpoons were used for spraying as well as fire bombing. The largest tanker, Douglas DC-7B N823D was destroyed on the ground at Glendive by a suspicious overnight fire, rumoured to have been carried out by a disgruntled dismissed pilot. Despite police invesigations, nobody was ever charged witharson.
Kinney operated in association with ShelIey I.Verschoot, Richey MT trading as Custom Farm Service, Richey MT to whom ownership of Cessna Agwagons and several PV-2 Harpoons were transferred for periods. However the aircraft remained in service with Kinney at Glendive. Kinney's business arrangement with Shelley Verschoot and her busband was later terminated in acrimonious circumstances.
A local report says that Bruce Kinney was in regular conflict with the Glendive Airport commission and Dawson County over unauthorised building extentions to his hangars and chemical spills in the ground where his spray aircraft were loaded each season. Kinney stated in 1981 that he owned only one aircraft and all the rest were leased from other operators. Eventually in 1984 Dawson County brought in the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to dig out the contaminated area on the airfield at Kinney's expense. Kinney was refused a lease renewal on his Glendive Airport hangars and office also his chemical spraying operations were banned at both Glendive or Richey airports.
As a result, in 1984 Bruce Kinney established a new partnership with Dennis Hill of Missoula MT to form Dawson Aviation of Montana Inc, Richey MT with Cessna Agwagons for agricultural spraying and PV-2s for large-acreage spraying including grasshopper swarm eradiction. Under Hill's name Dawson Aviation was able to lease a hangar and recommence operations at Glendive Airport, although Kinney was still very much in charge. Dawson Aviation was dissolved during 1986. The final heavy tanker to depart Glendive was PV-2 N7670C purchased by John Hirth duing 1987, which he flew out that year. John and his wife Connie had been flying and maintaining PV-2s at Glendive for several years but now went out on their own: refer Hirth Air Tankers.
1987 found Bruce Kinney flying his own PA-36 Pawnee Brave with a new Glendive ag spraying operator Don Orwick who took over the Dawson Aviation hangar for his Cessna Agtrucks. Bruce Kinney moved away from Glendive in 1988 and soon after was killed in a collision between a Grumman AgCat and a Bull Thrush while spraying in Idaho.
A Glendive aviator who watched the Bruce Kinney period wrote recently "Sadly, the only evidence to suggest there was once a mighty fleet of airtankers and large acreage sprayers based here is an old main wheel off a PV-2 and bent tin on Kinney’s former hangar where the pilot of an A-26 ran the right wingtip into the corner."
Kinney Air Tankers reformed as Dawson Aviation from 1984
|Kinney Air Tankers' B-17 N9323R tanker #37 at Mesa AZ in 1979 in storage after ferry from Glendive MT.|
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|PV-2 N6657D fire tanker #101 in May 1982 with Kinney Air Tankers, usually flown by Jim Keel.|
Photo by Dick Phillips
| Kinney Air Tankers group with PV-2D Harpoon N6657D tanker #101: from left: pilot Byron Sunwall, |
engineer Rusty Shoemaker, pilots John and Connie Hirth, Bruce Kinney. Photo:Byron Sunwall
|Insecticide being loaded in N6657D during grass hopper spraying. Kinney Air Tankers is painted on the nose.|
Peter Marson collection
|Propliner magazine No.15 Autumn 1982|
Trade-A-Plane November 1986|
|Kreitzberg Aviation, Salem Oregon|
Kreitzberg Aviation Inc was formed in the mid 1950s by George F. Kreitzberg, Salem OR
An associate company was Kreitzberg Aviation Sales Co, Salem OR
Kreitzberg graduated in 1942 from the Spartan School of Aeronautical
Engineering and gained his pilot licence. After years of experience
flying insecticide spraying in Stearmans, Ford Trimotors and DC-3s, he
started his own company Kreitzberg Aviation.|
In 1956 he purchased a number of Navy surplus Grumman F6F Hellcats which he equipped for forest spraying.
Kreitzberg pioneered the use of Grumman F7F Tigercats for aerial application in 1957 when he purchased the first of five F7Fs from US Navy disposals at Litchfield Park storage airfield, Arizona. He initially put several into service on a contract to spray sagebrush in eastern Oregon, fitted with large 500 gallon insecticide tanks under each wing. One was modified for fire attack, using the same underwing tanks but with a redesigned dump doors. Convinced that the F7F could be developed into an effective fire bomber, Kreitzberg teamed up with Robert Stevenson of Cal-Nat Airways, Grass Valley CA, to design, test and certify internal and belly retardant tanks of 800 or 900 gallons capacity. The partnership is reported to have purchased a total of 16 Grumman F7F-3s which became the source for most Tigercat tankers.
When the drop system was approved, Kreitzberg Aviation built the tanks for other F7F operators.
Kreitzberg held the FAA type certificate approval for civilianised Grumman F7Fs.
During the 1960s he withdrew from fire bombing, reportedly frustrated by increasing federal restrictions.
Vultee BT-13 N75789
PA-18 Super Cub N8561C
Cessna 150 N6498T
Cessna 172 N7343T
Cessna 180 N6567A
NA T-28A Trojan N2891G
|George Kreitzberg (left) with unidentified Tigercat tanker #18.
Photo: Steve Zuger|