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Californian Fire Fighters

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With the darker nights setting in I have finally begun sorting out my 2016 digipix. These are some shots I took at Sacramento earlier in the year and show the S-2T Trackers and OV-10A/D Broncos in use by the Californian State Fire teams. By way of background here's the history of this aerial fire fighting unit.


The possibility of using aircraft for fighting wildland fires in California was first proposed in 1931 and again in the late 1940’s after World War II. In the interveninhg years a number of ex mil types were utilised including O-2s and P-3 Orions. Currently with its HQ at the former McClelland AFB at Sacramento the Cal Fire emergency response air program includes 23 Grumman S-2T 1,200 gallon airtankers,  11 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters, and 14 OV-10A air tactical aircraft . From 13 air attack and nine helitack bases located across the state of California aircraft can reach most fires within 20 minutes. The past few years have seen the state of California suffer near drought conditions with the effect that much of the forestry and grasslands are tinderbox dry and raging fires are an unfortunate and sometimes tragic reality. The Cal Fire aerial firefighters are therefore kept extremely busy and maintained at a high state of readiness. 


The airtactical planes fly overhead directing the airtankers and helicopters to critical areas of the fire for retardant and water drops. The retardant used to slow or retard the spread of a fire is a slurry mix consisting of a chemical salt compound, water, clay or a gum-thickening agent, and a coloring agent. While both airtankers and helicopters are equipped to carry fire retardant or water, the helicopters can also transport firefighters, equipment and injured personnel. All CAL FIRE Aircraft are strategically located throughout the state at airbases and helicopter bases. During high fire activity, CAL FIRE may move aircraft to better provide statewide air support. 
The average annual budget of the CAL FIRE Aviation Management Program is nearly $20 million. A total of 18 CAL FIRE personnel oversee the program with an additional 130 contract employees providing mechanical, pilot and management services to the program. CAL FIRE's current support contractors are DynCorp and Logistics Specialties Incorporated (LSI). DynCorp provides airtanker and airtactical plane pilot services, and all aircraft maintenance services. (All CAL FIRE helicopters are flown by CAL FIRE pilots.)  


The main types by number used by Cal Fire and which are featured in this photo essay are the S-2T Tracker and OV-10A Bronco.

The S-2T Tracker

In 1996, CAL FIRE acquired 26 S-2E/G planes from the Department of Defense. CAL FIRE converted the planes to a fire fighting configuration and fitted them with modern, powerful turboprop engines. The completely reconditioned S-2Ts are faster, safer, more maneuverable, and carry a larger retardant payload than the S-2A airtankers CAL FIRE had used since the 1970s. The final three S-2Ts were completed and delivered in 2005. CAL FIRE has 23 S-2T airtankers. One is permanently stationed at the Sacramento Aviation Management Unit facility for maintenance relief. CAL FIRE uses the S-2T airtankers for fast initial attack delivery of fire retardant on wildland fires.The aircraft carry a crew of just one pilot. 




S-2T Tracker N442DF/94 was formerly US Navy BuNo 152826.




S-26 N426DF ex USN BuNo 152824






Ex AMARG S-2E BuNo 149259 which is understood to have been acquired by CAL FIRE for conversion to S-2T to replace one of the unit's aircraft written off in 2014.



The OV-10 Bronco


Originally used by the U.S. Navy/Marines from 1968-1993, the OV-10A was used as a counter-insurgency aircraft and close air-support to military ground forces. In 1993, CAL FIRE acquired 15 OV-10A/Ds from the Department of Defense. Of those 15, 14 have been converted and are available for use as air attack planes. The OV-10s replaced the original Cessna 0-2As that CAL FIRE had been using for air attack. The OV-10s are newer, larger, faster, provide a larger field of vision for the crew and are more manueverable than the older O-2As. CAL FIRE uses the OV-10s as command and control of aircraft on wildland fires. The crew provides tactical coordination
with the incident commander on the ground, providing information on the movement and spread of the fire. The OV-10 crew then directs CAL FIRE’s airtanker and helicopterpilots on where to make their retardant and water drops.




OV-10A N400DF/410 ex BuNo 155454




OV-10D N470DF/505 ex BuNo 155502 






Cockpit of OV-10 N413DF




Believed to be for spares recovery is this OV-10D N6I7NA ex BuNo 155406.




These three Huey cabs were also seen in a compound at the CAL FIRE facility and they comprise UH-1Vs 67-19494, 68-16115 and 69-15145.


Hope this report was of interest. Some of the schemes would certainly make eye for some colourful models!  C&C always welcome.




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Absolutely fascinating, Mark. I didn't realise that it was such a big operation with such a diverse range range of interesting types. Thanks for sharing.

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Great stuff, I saw a couple of them back in 2013 on my way to San Francisco.


Those Bronco's look great, the pilots must have a blast chucking them around :goodjob:

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Thanks for showing Mark. Love the Broncos.


The US Bureau of Land Management had some smart Broncos in the 90's doing a similar role. Converting the Academy kit is pretty straightforward- the main job is to plug the hole where the fuselage sponsons go.


Your pictures have now tempted me to consider one of the Cal Fire ones above - maybe next year :)







Edited by Pinback

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