|Last updated 22 December 2021|
|US FIRE BOMBER OPERATORS: B to C|
A historical survey of US fire attack air tanker companies to the year 2000, compiled by Geoff Goodall
|B & B Flying Service, Waterville Washington|
B & B Flying Service Inc, PO Box 1606, Wenatchee WA
A long established agricultural spraying operation which used a Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon fire tanker on contract to USFS during the 1963 season (at least) based at Wenatchee WA. The Harpoon had been fitted with a fibreglass belly liquid retardant tank by Robert Larabee at Seattle-Boeing Field WA and leased to B&B Flying Service. No record of the company after the late 1960s.
Boeing Stearmans: N48782, N56275, N56909, N58622
Vultee BT-13 N67022
Piper Cub N29083
|Ball-Ralston Flying Service, Hillsboro, Oregon|
Established circa 1946 at Hillsboro Airport near Portland OR by Ed Ball and Norman "Swede" Ralston. Both had been pilots at this airfield prewar and served as military flying instructors during WWII. Ball-Ralston was built up as an FBO and flying school, but the partners branched out into more adventurous pursuits including Ball-Ralston Flying Circus with a P-38 and P-40 and Ball-Ralston Aerial Spraying with Vultee BT-13 sprayers. They pioneered spraying of budworm in Oregon forests and gained similar early work in Idaho.
Four Grumman Avengers were acquired and tanked. The first, a veteran TBF-1C was purchased in 1954 in poor condition from US Navy disposals at Chicago and ferried to Hillsboro by Norm Ralston as N7922A. A chemical tank was installed in the bombay and spraybars for forest spraying. N7922A is reportedly the first Grumman Avenger adapted for spraying in USA.
In 1957 Ball-Ralston leased their four Avenger sprayers to Skyway Air Services, Langley BC for the 1957 Canadian forest spraying season. They retained their N numbers but were painted with "Skyway" titles.
In October 1956 Ball-Ralston Flying Service purchased a Beech C-45F from USAF disposals and carried out its civil conversion overhaul to be registered N8030H and resale.
During 1960 Ball-Rallston Flying Service was restructured as Aero Air Inc, still operating today at Hillsboro as Aero Air LLC.
|Ball-Ralston Avenger N5635N leased to Skyway Air Services for thre 1957 Canadian forest spraying season. |
Note the modified cockpit area. Photo: nbavengers.com
|Bellroy Air Tankers, Long Beach California |
J. M. Jackson Inc, Lacey Building, 27th and Lime Avenue, Long Beach CA trading as Bellroy Air Tankers
During 1960 J. M.Jackson Inc purchased three North American AJ-1 Savage naval bombers from US Navy disposals at NAS Litchfield Park, Arizona. They were acquired via Allied Metal Industries which had bid for a batch of AJ-1s for scrap metal. The three were prepared at Litchfield to be ferried to Long Beach, each having the Allison turbojet engine in the rear fuselage removed. One was lost during the delivery flight in June 1960 when an in-flight fire caused the ferry pilot to bale out.
At Long Beach the remaining two Savages were rebuilt with a 2,000 gallon liquid tank in the bombay and P&W R2800 Double Wasps were replaced by R2800-CB16 models with water injection to increase power for takeoff. The first tanker was test flown in June 1960, the second two months later. In a press statement Bellroy Air Tankers claimed that the Savages would handle twice the load at twice the speed of other fire bombers at that time.They were deployed to the nearby Van Nuys Airport fire tanker base where they flew the 1960-62 seasons.
Other aircraft: P-51D Mustang N5480V was owned by J. M. Jackson Inc, Long Beach CA between 1960-1963.
During 1962 the Bellroy Air Tankers business was taken over by Jack Folz and continued under new name A.J.Air Tankers Inc.
Savage N9142Z #E88 at Van Nuys Airport fire attack
Photo by Eddie Coates|
|Savage N9143Z #E77 at Van Nuys CA.
Photo by Eddie Coates|
|J.M.Jackson Inc's P-51D Mustang N5480V parked with the two Savages at Van Nuys CA in September 1960.|
Photo by Robert T. O'Dell
|Biegert Brothers Inc, Lincoln, Nebraska, later Shickley Nebraska, Phoenix Arizona *|
Agricultural dusting and spraying business established in 1947 by brothers Max L. and John Biegert, Lincoln, Nebraska
Operated under the names Biergert Bros and Biegert Bros Aerial Spraying
The brothers moved into heavy spraying aircraft in April 1953 when they acquired a derelict B-17F that had been a war memorial at Stuttgart Arkansas since 1946. They rebuilt the Flying Fortress to airworthy as a sprayer, installing 7 chemical tanks in the cabin as well as two more underwing chemical tanks in fuel drop tanks from a USAF Lockheed F-94 Starfire jet fighter. A rear fuselage entry was constructed using a cabin door from a Lockheed Lodestar. Registered N17W the B-17F commenced a two year contract for Central Aircraft Corp,Yakima WA on large scale mosquito spraying across USA.
A second B-17 was acquired in 1956 and finished its conversion to a sprayer in April 1957.
The original B-17 was replaced in 1960 by a former Skyspray fruit fly spraying Fairchild C-82A Packet.
By 1959 the Biegert Brothers business was based at Phoenix AZ with address 5915 E Exeter Blvd, Phoenix
Manager Max L. Biegert was listed with address 8941 North 12th Street, Phoenix
Boeing Stearmans N73349, N4809V
Vultee BT-13 N61129
Cessna T50 Bobcat N50022, N61398
Lockheed Lodestar N34E (2082) purchased 10.65, sold 8.70, retired at Mesa-Falcon Field, to Aircraft Specialties Inc.
Lockheed Lodestar N6060 (2623) purchased 2.6.65, sold 10.65 to Mexico
North American T-28A Trojan N8098H (1961-1963, sold to Aircraft Specialties Inc, Mesa AZ)
Beech D50 Twin Bonanza (1964-1968)
|Biegert Brothers B-17G N117W in the late 1950s, with underwing chemical tanks and spray bars|
|Biegert Aviation Inc, Phoenix Arizona *|
Max L. Biegert, previously manager of Biegert Brothers Aerial Spraying, Phoenix, formed a new operation Biegert Aviation circa 1974. Financing was gained to allow the purchase of a large fleet of ex-military surplus Douglas C-54 transports then available for civil disposals at Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson. The C-54 was chosen as a reliable and effective spraying platform, which would allow Biegert Aviation to offer wide-scale spraying of insecticides as well as the growing market of ocean oil-slick dispersant spraying.
The C-54 fleet was delivered in 1975 to the original base Falcon Field, Mesa AZ, where they were fitted with fuselage tanks and wing spray bars. A variety of work was undertaken, including forest budworm spraying in Maine and Canada.
Biegert Aviation moved from Falcon Field to nearby Chandler-Memorial airfield during 1980. The stripped parts C-54 was made airworthy for the short ferry flight
In 1989 it was reported that Biegert was leasing a civil C-130 Hercules for an oil slick dispersal contract around oil rigs off the US coastline.
By that time Max Biegert had retired and Biegert Aviation's President was James C. Jeffries.
During 1994 Biegert Aviation President Jim Jeffries announced plans to use some C-54s under the name Classic Air for vacation flights from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon Railway. The tourist railroad business was owned by one Max Biegert!
All C-54s were purchased by Biegert Aviation during 1975 from US Navy surplus sales at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona
|Biegert Aviation C-54 N44904 with above-wing spraybars at Mesa AZ during October 1979. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Biegert C-54 N44911 with above-wing spraybars at Mesa AZ during October 1979. Photo by Geoff Goodall
N44910 at Chandler AZ during November
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Biegert C-54 N44909 at Chandler AZ in November 1991, freshly repainted following a lease to Ecuador as a freighter.
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Biegert Aviation C-54 spares ship N44915 in faded US Navy paintwork, seen at Mesa AZ in October 1979,
stripped of engines, nose undercarriage and parts. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|When Biegert moved base from Mesa-Falcon Field AZ to Chadler AZ, C-54 spares ship N44915 was reassembled for
a ferry flight to the new base in 1980. Seen at Chandler November 1981. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Big Piney Aviation, Big Piney, Wyoming *|
Big Piney Aviation Inc, Post Office Box 98, Big Piney WY
Founded as an aerial insecticide spraying business by Truman E. Miller who lived in the small town of Big Piney. In 1950 he acquired a Douglas B-18A N66809 fitted out for spraying by its previous owner "Ace" Demers of Salem, Oregon. The B-18 was registered in Miller's name, ownership transferring to his wife Midred M. Miller in September 1952 for the next four years until sold to another sprayingoutfit.
Cessna 180 N3642C, Cessna 172 N5869A, PA-11 Cub N778838, PA-18 Super Cub N3289Z
|Black Hills Aviation, Spearfish, South Dakota, later Alamagordo, New Mexico|
Arnold A. Kolb trading as Black Hill Aviation Inc, Spearfish SD commenced fire bombing operations in 1964 with B-17s.
Arnold Kolb had an aerial agricultural business at Beulah, Wyoming with Piper Pawnees in 1966
Two B-17s were acquired from Californian tanker operator Ewing Aviation Co and a business partnership was formed Ewing-Kolb Aircraft, Spearfish SD. This seems to be part of an arrangement in which three Black Hills B-17s had major structural rebuilds at Spearfish by Black Hills Aviation using fuselage and wing sections from other B-17 airframes probably from Ewing spares.
After moving base to Alamogordo NM circa 1971, Black Hills Aviation decided to standardise on Lockheed Neptune air tankers and from 1976 acquired a sizeable fleet of former Royal Canadian Air Force and US Navy aircraft. The first three were purchased already converted as fire tankers, but the following were tanked by Black Hills Aviation at Alamogordo with tanks and delivery system designed by the company.
Company President Arnold Kolb was still a rated Neptune tanker pilot in a 1985 USFS listing, along with his son Nathan Kolb.
By 1993 Arnold Kolb had logged 24,500 flying hours.
Black Hills Aviation was also an aircraft dealership and General Aviation maintenance organisation, with large numbers of Piper, Beech and Cessna types registered to the company over the years. These included top of range aircraft such as new Cessna 208 Caravan N9413F (1.86) and Beech 200 N707BC (9.88)
Arnold Kolb sold Black Hill Aviation's air tanker business in 1993 to the newly-formed Neptune Inc. The maintenance base at Alamogordo were retained, but the operational base moved to Missoula, Montana where the company was renamed Neptune Aviation Services.
The air tanker Neptune displayed at Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson
AZ painted to represent a Black Hills Aviation tanker |
"N65170 #08" on left side, "N14448 #08" on other side, was not a Black Hills aircraft. It is in fact SP-2H Bu147957/N7060X,
ex Hawkins & Powers Aviation storage stock, acquired by Pima via the USAF Museum.
Hills Aviation B-17G N6657 at Troutdale OR in September
Photo by Ron Olsen|
at Greybull WY in 1979. It was lost in a takeoff crash the following
year. Photo by Larry Johnston |
|Black Hills Aviation Neptune N4235T tanker #09 at Wenatchee WA October 1991. Photo by Geoff Goodall |
|N9855F #06 landing at Billings MT in August 1989 late afternoon, one of four tankers working a |
fire in the nearby Bighorn Mountain range. Photo by Geoff Goodall
#05 at home base Alamogordo NM in November 1992.
Photo by Geoff Goodall |
|Neptune Bu128422 with hand-painted registration N1386C was one of four stored at Alamagordo in 1992.|
It later became tanker #113 with Neptune Aviation Services. Photo by Geoff Goodall
Black Hills Aviation coffee cup in the company office at Alamogordo NM
|Blue Mountain Air Service, La Grande, Oregon|
|Blue Mountain Air Service Inc, P.O.Box 12, La Grande OR.|
Founded early 1950s by Eldon Down at La Grande Airport, Oregon as an agricultural spraying company.
Between 1958-1962 tanked and operated a number of USAF surplus North American B-25 Mitchells for fire bombing
The operation was taken over in 1962 by Gerald D. Wilson with new name Hillcrest Aircraft Company, P.O.Box 12, La Grande OR
Boeing Stearman N1181N, N3955B, 3960B, 49700, N49255, N56236, N5685N, N58712, N58957, N62775
Beech AT-7 N8036H purchased 12.10.56 ex USAF disposals, CofA 30.4.57, tfd 7.62 to Hillcrest Aircraft Co
Cessna 180 N1530C, N5329D
Aeronca 7AC N83841
Bell 47 N6752D
|Les Bowman, Los Angeles, California|
Les Bowman, Bowman Engineering Co, Long Beach Airport, CA
An early fire tanker operator using USAF disposals North American B-25 Mitchells
Bowman operated in partnership with Paul Mantz Air Service, Santa Ana CA to promote aerial fire bombing. The enterprise was named
Les Bowman and Paul Mantz Air Service. The high profile movie aviator Paul Mantz sent two Les Bowman B-25 tankers to Caracas, Venezuela for the 1960 fire season. One was sold to the Venezuelan Government while the other B-25 returned to California. The following year a different Bowman B-25 tanker was ferried to Caracas for the 1961 season before returning to California
|B. B. Burson & Associates, Columbia California|
|B.B.Burson and Associates, Columbia-Gravelly Valley Airport CA|
An early operator of Consolidated Catalinas as fire tankers. The company ceased operating by 1969 when all Catalinas were sold.
Other aircraft: Beech C-45G N5246V (by 1963, sold .65)
Super Cat N6453C tanker #E54 landing at Columbia CA
1963. Photo by
William T. Larkins
|Super Cat N6453C tanker #E54 makes a test water drop at Columbia Airport in 1964|
|Ramp scene at B. B. Burson's hangar at Columbia Airport CA in the 1960s. Tanker Memories site
|Butler Aircraft Co, Redmond Oregon|
|Aviation business founded in 1946 by Calvin J. Butler at Redmond and Corvallis in Oregon. |
Cal Butler was born in Redmond in November 1918 and learnt to fly at age 15. He was a USAAF pilot during WWII and when his P-38 was shot down over Europe in June 1944. he was captured and held as a German PoW. After the war back home in Oregon he established Butler Farm Air Service Co in March 1946 to conduct agricultural spraying intially with three Piper Cubs. He moved on to a fleet of Boeing Stearmans, and later Grumman Wildcats and TBM Avenger sprayers before deciding in late 1950s to enter the growing aerial fire bombing business. He began with two TBMs followed by more TBMs, F78F Tigercats and a B-17.
Butler Farm Air Service was FBO for Redmond Airport, for refuelling and maintenance for over 50 years.
Butler Aircraft associate Butler Rental Co at Redmond provided general aviation light aircraft hire
The Butler agricutural spraying business used a variety of types:
Boeing Stearman: at least six, re-engined with P&W R-985s removed from surplus Vultee BT-13s which were then discarded: N3956B, N49292, N4764V, N62934, N63070
Convair L-13 N4961V sold to Rosenbalm Aviation Medford OR
Stinson L-5 Sentinel N49279. N57254, N54920, N54769, N69091
Grumman FM-2 Wildcat: 5 operated as sprayers with underwing chemical tanks, N1352N, N58918 are the only ones yet identified
The agricultural spraying operation seems to have been taken over during the 1960s by Henderson Aviation Co which shared the same Corvallis P.O. Box address as Calvin Butler. By 1966 Boeing Stearmans owned by Henderson included N1069N, N1222N, N4797V, N4764V, N52273, N56769, N57047, N58703. Henderson Aviation also had a base at Eugene OR with Bell 47 sprayers.
Butler Aircraft Co was established as an associated company in 1963 to take over the fire bombing operations. To add Klamath Falls OR as a tanker base Butler bought out Liston Aircraft at Klamath Falls but did not use their Catalina fire tankers, on-selling them to other operators.
A Butler Aircraft Co hangar was destroyed by fire at Redmond Airport on 30 December 1969, claiming the following Butler aircraft parked inside: Douglas A-26 N9161Z, Stearman N63070, Cessna U206 N4880F. In addition two PA-18 Super Cubs, a Beech Bonanza and
Stinson 108 owned by local owners were lost. The financial ramifications of that hangar fire had a serious impact on Butler's ability to maintain the services required by the USFS contracts, resulting in Calvin Butler selling 50% of his company to Californian fire bomber company TBM Inc, Sequoia Field, Tulare CA. Butler became a subsidiary of TBM Inc, but TBM Inc President Hank Moore let both companies continue under their own names and management, but on a shared basis, pooling resources and aircraft. USFS annual tanker contracts often listed Butler DC-7s as operated by TBM Inc, and show TBM Inc's address as Redmond OR. Hank Moore visited the Butler operation at Redmond 3 or 4 times each year.
One of the worst tragedies in the history of the US fire tanker business occurred on 14 September 1979 when Butler's DC-7 N4SW struck a mountain ridge after departing Klamath Falls OR on a night visual sector to Medford OR. The DC-7 had worked a fire that day before departing Redmond in the evening, the two pilots carrying 8 Butler personnel to a celebration at Medford OR, via a stop at Klamath Falls to collect two more staff based there. All 12 on board were killed. The accident investigation suggested pilot familiarity with the area contributed to the flight crew's decision to make the night flight at low level.
A combined Butler Aircraft/TBM Inc investment to transition into turbines resulted in each company putting a C-130A into service, with high tech computerised retardant dump sysems. Butler's N531BA tanker #67 entered service in 1991, only to have its USFS contracts cancelled the following year. Structural failure accidents to C-130A and PB4Y aircraft during the 1992 fire season resulted in USFS dropping both types permanently. Worse was to come. The USFS attitude against aging piston-engined tankers came to a head in 1994 when no annual contracts were awarded to Butler's DC-7s. Half the Butler workforce lost their jobs. The way it was handled infuriated Calvin Butler and his team who made strong protests. Calvin died two months later at age 85.
TBM Inc took over management of Butler, which was now flying vastly reduced hours on fire fighting and support work for State agencies in Oregon and California. In October 1996 Butler Aircraft Co was purchased by longtime Ops Manager Nan Garnick and her husband Travis.
Butler Aircraft Co continued at Redmond until taken over by the newly-formed Erickson Aero Tankers in 2012, commencing with three of the former Butler DC-7s.
Mooney M20 N7158U, N6666U
Champion 7AC N81578
Piper Cub N35774, N32991
Piper PA-16 N5278H
Piper PA-22 N7235D
Piper PA-28 N6719W
plus numerous Cessna singles from late 1960s onwards. Cessna U206F N4880F was destroyed in the Butler hangar fire at Redmond 30.12.69
The aircraft in the following listing were registered in the names of Calvin J. Butler, Butler Aircraft Co, Butler Farm Air Service Inc or Butler Rental Co, all with the same address at Redmond Airport:
|Butler Aircraft Co A-26 N5457V pictured at Redmond OR with original tanker number #A20|
|The same A-26 N5457V as #16 at Redmond in May 1971, now with Ace Demers curved-down wingtip mod.|
A replacement rudder has yet to be painted to restore the tail tanker code #16. Photo by Ron Olsen
|Butler Aircraft Co Douglas A-26 N9159Z at home base Redmond Oregon in May 1971. Photo by Ron Olsen|
Butler B-17 N5237V tanker #15 at the Butler Aircraft Co hangar, Redmond OR in October 1973. Photo by Jay Sherlock
Aircraft Co DC-7B N6353C tanker #66 at Pocatello ID in October
1992. Photo by Geoff
|Butler DC-7B N400US tanker #62 at Stockton CA in August 1981, still in previous Aero Union paint scheme.
Photo by Barney Deatrick
N401US in new paint scheme, at Lancaster-Fox Field CA in October 1987
Butler DC-7B N6318C tanker #67 at Tulare CA during 1992 while on contract to the Bureau of Land Management.
Photo by John Chapman
|Tanker 69 tragedy memorial at Medford Airport. DC-7 N4SW struck a mountain|
on a night travel flight in September 1979, killing 12 Butler Aircraft Co employees.
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Butler's Fairchild C-123K N3836A remained parked at TBM Inc's base at Sequoia CA and was not tanked.|
Photographed at Sequoia in October 1987 by Gordon Reid
|Butler C-130A N531BA tanker #67 at Redmond in October 1992. It had flown 130 hours during the past |
two fire seasons, but was now grounded by the USFS ban on Hercules tankers. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|These two pictures of Butler DC-7s in action in Oregon in 2009 are via Butler DC-7 pilot Larry Kraus|
|Cal-Nat Airways, Grass Valley California|
Cal-Nat Airways Inc, Loma Rica Airport, Grass Valley CA. Associate company was Cal-Nat Airways Corp
Founded in 1958 as Californian National Airways by Robert J. (Jim) Stevenson at Grass Valley. Commenced with Twin Beech tankers.
Stevenson and George Kreitzberg of Kreitzberg Aviation, Salem Oregon teamed up during 1958 to develop an effective retardant tank system for the Grumman F7F Tigercat. Fibreglass internal and belly tanks of 800 or 900 gallons capacity were designed, constructed and tested. When approved, the tank system was built by Kreitzberg for Cal-Nat and other operators. The partnership is reported to have purchased a total of 16 Grumman F7F-3s which became the source for most Tigercat tankers.
Cal-Nat Airways became a major USFS fire tanker player through the 1960s with a large and varied fleet.
By 1970 the operation had been taken over by Sis Q Flying Service, Montague California.
Ralph M. Ponte, Grass Valley CA was a maintenance engineer and tanker pilot with Cal-Nat Airways who remained based at Grass Valley into the 1980s, flying 24 consecutive seasons for different companies. A sideline business in his Grass Valley hangar was acquiring and rebuilding former tankers to restore back to military configuration for resale as warbirds.
Beech D18S N44620 (A-28) 1963-64
Beech C-45G Conrad 9800D trigear N7203C (AF-131) 1967-1969
Beech C-45G N9542Z (AF-674) 1965
Beech C-45G N9663C registered to R.J. Stevenson, Grass Valley 1968-1970
North American Harvard N16730 (75-3473) 1966-1969
North American Harvard N28500 (66-2583) 1966-1969
Champion 7AC N82107, N82859 both sold in 1964
Cessna 172 N7215T,
Cessna 182 N2970Y, N2846F, N3570Y
Bell 47 N73991, N8529F
|Cal Nat Airways' first fire bomber was this Beech AT-11 Kansan N6656C tanker #90|
|Northrop F-15 Reporter with Cal-Nat Airways name on the nose, circa 1966|
F-5 Reporter N9768Z tanker #E35 at Fresno CA September
Photo by Jay Sherlock
An early Cal-Nat Airways F7F Tigercat N7626C seen at Oakland Airport CA early 1960s. Photo by William T. Larkins
|Cal-Nat Airways' Grumman F7F Tigercat N7629C tanker #E41 at the Grass Valley base. William T. Larkins|
N7619C at the Chino Attack Base in southern California in July
William T. Larkins|
|Cal-Nat Airways Grumman F7F N7629C at Fresno CA in September 1968. Photo by Barney Deatrick|
|B-25 Mitchell N5256V retired at Grass Valley in September 1968, showing the retardant tank and drop doors.|
Photo by Gordon Reid
|An early paint scheme on Cal Nat Airways' Grumman TBM N6825C #E37. Photo by William T. Larkins|
|The same TBM later in the 1960s in a new Cal Nat Airways paint scheme. Photo by William T. Larkins|
|Californian National Air Service, San Francisco California|
Californian National Air Service Inc, Pacheco CA (1978), to Concord CA (1979), to Richmond CA (1981)
Operated a Douglas DC-4 on USFS fire tanker contracts
|Californian National's DC-4 N31356 at Tucson-Ryan Field AZ in November 1981. The belly retardant tank|
is a different design to those used on most C-54s. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Capitol Aire, Carson City, Nevada|
Capitol Aire Inc, Carson City Airport NV
Tanker operator, the company name reflecting Carson City being the Nevada state capitol.
|Capitol Aire's TBM N6447C at Minden Nevada in September 1973.
Both photos by Ron Olsen
|Also at the Minden NV air attack base in September 1973 was Capital Aire's Grumman TBM N9433Z
|Alvin B. Celcer|
Operated a leased B-17 tanker under his own name for the 1983 season on a USFS contract. The B-17G N3509G was owned by Los Angeles aircraft dealer Richard M. Vartanian who handled large numbers of military disposals aircraft, specialising in P-51 Mustangs. It was registered to Aircraft Component Equipment Supplies Inc, Klamath Falls OR 3.82-7.90 but was retired at Stockton CA from 1984 onwards.
Other aircraft owned by Alvin Celcer:
- P-51D Mustang N12066 (1964-65)
- Beech D18S N8616A (1965-66)
- Beech C18S N52722 (1968) Wenatchee WA
- Grumman Widgeon N9311R (1975-78) Casa Grande AZ
|Central Air Service Inc, East Wenatchee, Washington, later Maricopa, Arizona |
Formed in 1972 by William A. Dempsay, Rantoul, Kansas to take over the fire tanker operations of Wenatchee Air Service Inc
(also trading as Wenairco Inc and Wenair). Bill Dempsay was widely known from from his long experience in the insecticide and chemical spraying business with his family's Kansas based companies D&D Aero Inc, D&D Aerial Spraying Inc, D & D Aero Spraying Inc,
Central Air Maintenance Inc. He had also bought into Maricopa Dust & Spray Inc, Maricopa Arizona.
During Dempsay's move into fire bombing, a variety of aircraft types were used which were registered in his name or his various companies, until Central Air Service was fully established and gaining USFS contracts. Outside fire season, some of CAS aircraft were ferried to Dempsay's farm property at Rantoul, Kansas for winter storage and maintenance. As an indication of the variety of types operated by Dempsay's companies at that time, this report by Paul Veenboer lists aircaft he saw at "Highland Farm", Rantoul KS on 5 June 1976:
Douglas A-26 N7086C "43", N74874 "107", N7954C "106", N9682C "105"
Lockheed PV-2 N6651D "40", N9682C "105", N6853C
Lockheed L18 N555H ex sprayer
Boeing O-47B N73716
Boeing Stearman N61673
NA T-6 Texan N9522C single seat sprayer, N7008C wreck
Beech AT-11 N6669C, XA-SED stripped
Kaman OH-43D Bu139975 ex USMarines, stripped
By 1975 Dempsay had decided to standardise on Douglas C-54s which were coming up for military disposal at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona. CAS was to acquire twelve C-54s, most of which were fitted with 2,000 gallon belly retardant tanks. As well as USFS fire attack contracts, CAS gained Bureau of Land Management contracts in Alaska.
Another Dempsay assocaited business was Maricopa Aircraft Service, Tucson AZ, later Rantoul KS.
The CAS C-54 fleet was maintained at Tucson AZ and Maricopa AZ, later Tucson AZ and Tucson-Ryan Field AZ. During the 1980s, loss of work resulted in the majority being retired on various Arizona airfields. In April 1985 Bill Dempsay was advertising eight C-54s available for sale "ready to fly".
Central Air Service had ceased air tanker operations and the company's focus was on the sale of its remaining aircraft fleet. Bill Dempsay personally ferried most of the aircraft between storage locations and to new owners.
Meanwhile at his rural farm airfield at Rantoul KS, Bill Dempsay continued with his other aviation ventures, including aircraft sales, jet airliner repossessions, rebuilding DC-3s and restoring ex-military aircraft which were traded with the USAF Museum in return for Convair C-131s. These Convairs were civil-registered to Central Air Service Inc while their commercial resale as freighters was undertaken.
The listing below shows Bill Dempsay had an affinity for the N number of the Privateer N6816D which he flew at Wenatchee WA in 1972 during the take over Wenatchee Air Service. Ten years later that registration and the uncomfortably close N816D, were used in a confusing series of C-54 ownership moves.
See also: D & D Aerial Spraying, Rantoul KS
|Lockheed PV-2D N6657D #101 on Bill Dempsay's farm at Rantoul KS c74 still with WENAIRCO on nose.|
It is fitted with Wenairco's design fibreglass belly retardant tank. Photo: Peter Marson collection
|The same Harpoon N6657D in Central Air Services paintwork, Missoula MT 1975. Photo by Milo Peltzer|
CAS DC-7B N816D tanker #45 at Pendleton Oregon in July 1975 with a large belly tank. Photo by Paul Veenboer
N816D in June 1976 by now with new tanker number
Photo by Brian Maddison|
DC-7B N823D tanker #110 at Olathe, Kansas in June 1976.
Photo by Paul Veenboer
Douglas A26 N7954C tanker #106 at Dempsay's farm, Rantoul KS in June 1976. Photo by Paul Veenboer
Douglas A26 N74874 tanker #107 retired Dempsay's farm at Rantoul KS in June 1976. Photo by Paul Veenboer
C-54 N6816D tanker #109 at Tucson AZ in October 1983. Photo by Paul Veenboer
N6816D later in its CAS career, at Tucson in April 1987. Photo by Paul Veenboer
|Central Air Service Douglas C-54 N67040 #147 at Fox Air Tanker Base, Lancaster CA in September 1979.|
All CAS C-54 tankers had this same attractive scheme. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|C-54 N67034 #150 comes over the fence
at Fox Field CA in September 1981.
Photo by Geoff Goodall|
C-54 N96451 #111 deployed to Stockton CA during August 1981. Photo by Gordon Reid
|By August 1989 six of the C-54 fleet had been retired: these two were on an ag strip at Eloy AZ. |
Most were later parked at nearby Avra Valley AZ. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Bill Dempsay (right) had three C-54s and a DC-3 at his farm airstrip at rural Rantoul, Kansas when |
visited by Australian aviation historian Gordon Reid in 2015.
|Central Air Service, Lewistown, Montana|
Central Air Service Inc, PO Box 895, Lewistown MT
An established agricultural spraying and dusting business which acquired Grumman Avengers for spraying and fire bombing.
Boeing Stearman: N49259, N50325
PA-18 Super Cub: ag sprayers: N4586A, N2874P, N9877D, N3577Z, N54283
Bell 47 ag sprayers: N2806B, N8505F, N3080G, N8401E
Bell 206B Jet Ranger ag sprayers: N5001K, N910BR
|Central Aircraft Inc, Yakima, Washington |
Commenced in 1939 as a small air service at Yakima. Expanded rapidly with the awarding of wartime contracts for elementary training of military pilots. Banched into aerial agricultural work in 1943 when a Waco was purchased and fitted for dusting potato crops. A large fleet of miltary surplus Boeing Stearmans was built up after the war, owning 30 Stearmans by 1954. Central Aircraft Inc specialised in wide-area spraying and by 1947 won Government jobs for large scale spraying of grass hopper and fire-ant plagues across USA and black-fly in Alaska plus annual forest spraying to control spruce budworm in 1.8 million acres of forests in New Brunswick, Canada. This wide-area work required multiple aircraft operating to carefully planned procedures to ensure effective application across the target area.
The company set up the first commercial school for ag pilot training. Central Aircraft commissioned Lamson Aircraft Co at Seattle WA to construct prototypes of a new design specialised agricultural biplane named the Airtractor. It was flying by 1954 and could lift 2,500 lbs for fusting, compared to the Stearman's 1,000 lbs
The Boeing 247 N13318 was used on early USFS fire bomber trials over ten days in 1956 based at Durango CO. It had an 800 gallon tank and dropped only water on wild fires, but much of the load turned to mist. The USFS report traced the cause to the small 5 inch (13cm) diameter drop valve and recommended that suppression chemicals be mixed in the water.
|Central Aircraft's 1933 model Boeing 247 N13318 was used on eary fire bomber trials in 1956|
|Central Oregon Airial Co, Bend, Oregon|
Central Oregon Airial Co Inc, 1436 W 3rd Street, Bend OR
Operated fire bombing with two Douglas A-26 Invaders. Both were contracted by USFS for the 1963 summer season.
After the loss of one A-26 the company had ceased operating by 1966 and sold its remaining A-26 tanker.
Piper L-4 Cub N27198
|Christler Flying Service, Thermopolis Wyoming |
Melvin H. Christler trading as Christler Flying Service Inc, Thermopolis WY
Established in 1961 by Mel Christler as a heavy aircraft aerial application business, using Dougas DC-3s fitted for spraying and dusting. One DC-3 N62374 was equipped for fire bombing but the USFS did not accept it. In 1970 five Lockheed C-121A Constellations were acquired from USAF disposals at Davis Monthan AFB AZ. Four were ferried to Themopolis where they were fitted with chemical tanks inside the cabin and wing spraying bars, to provide wide-area insecticide spraying, often involving formation spraying.
Mel Christler gained his pilot licence in 1938 and became a flying instructor at civil flying schools training military pilots before joining USAAF flying transport Liberators over The Hump between India and China. Back home in Wyoming after the war he established Big Horn Flying Service, Greybull WY with partner Robert Watson. Their flying school used Piper Cubs and Wacos.
Among Christler's students was Greybull man Morris Avery, who was flying Lynch Flying Service at Billings MT Cessna T-50s on spraying and grass hopper baiting. In 1949 the two went into business together in a spraying operation Christler & Avery Aviation Co, Greybull WY. Commenced using Piper Super Cubs before acquiring two Douglas B-18 Bolo sprayers which were also used for freight work. The USFS needed more aerial spraying capacity for spruce budworm infestations in forests, grasshoppers and fire-ants. In 1958 Christler & Avery Aviation Co purchased surplus US Coast Guard Consolidated PB4Y-2G Privateers. They were ferried to Greybull where they were fitted with tanks and spraybars and used on spraying contracts during the 1958-59 winter. They were then modified as fire bombers, among the first heavy tankers to be used on fire bombing contracts by USFS. Christler & Avery had also introduced the first commercial helicopters to Wyoming with a Bell 47 flown by Morris Avery. This was beginning of a substantial rotary wing division that continued at Greybull for the next two decades
In 1961 Christler took a job as a corporate with Empire State Oil Co and moved away, selling his interest to Morris Avery who continued at Greybull as Avery Aviation Inc. Morris Avery died in 1965 following complications following leg surgery. His widow Reba
ran the company with the help of pilots Dan Hawkins and Gene Powers. She sold the company to them in 1969 and when it was renamed Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc.
Christler and Avery Aviation Co, Greybull WY (1949-1961):
Other aircraft: Cessna 195 N1083D, Luscombe Silvaire N1370B
| Christler & Avery Aviation's crew loading Douglas B-18B N52056 for a spraying job in 1956|
Photo: Mel Christler via Ralph M. Petterson
|Christler & Avery Aviation's first Privateer N7974A makes a practice retardant drop at Greybull in 1958. |
It is still wearing its former USCG markings. Photo: Mel Christler via Ralph M. Petterson
|Mel Christler continued corporate flying for the next nine years,
moving up from Cessna 310 to Jet Commander. In the meantime in 1962 he had
formed Christler Flying Service, Themopolis WY
to establish his own spraying operation. |
Christler believed the Douglas DC-3 was an effective platform for spraying and fire bombing, with the bonus of easy conversion to freighter or passenger charter work. He purchased his first DC-3 N62374 in 1963 and had it modified to a multi-purpose sprayer/firebomber with detachable 1,000 gallon belly tank and plumbing to Christler's design. The work was done by Roger Keeney at Torrance CA and Christler gained an FAA Supplemental Type Certificate for the tank system, with hopes of selling the removable tank to DC-3 cargo operators to fit for fire bombing during each summer. N62374 was allocated USFS tanker number B24 for extensive flight trials dropping retardant, which were considered operationally successful. However the USFS was concerned that the DC-3 design was inadequate for the airframe stresses sustained during the drop and pull-up of retardant delivery and would not issue a contract for the type.
However as an insecticide sprayer, duster, or pellet bait spreader, the DC-3's performance and economics were good. Engines and spare parts were plentiful. Christler went ahead leasing or buying more DC-3s and set up a maintenance organisation at Thermopolis Airport. CFS successfully bid for a variety of annual USFS contracts: carrying teams of smoke jumpers to parachute into fire zones, forest pest eradication spraying and dusting, as well as general USFS transport work as far afield as Alaska.
In 1970, to allow CFS to bid for a lucrative 12 year fire-ant bait spreading program across the southern US states, Mel Christler decided he needed larger aircraft for wide-area application. He made a successful bid for a group of five retired Lockheed VC-121A Constellations offered for sale at Davis Monthan AFB AZ. They were in poor condition and a major effort was required to get four airworthy and ferried to Wyoming. The fifth was left at Tucson and stripped of engines and parts. N9466 was first away, flown to Twin Falls ID where a specialist maintenance company installed grain hoppers and hydraulically activated augers for fire-ant dusting. The others were ferried to Themopolis where CFS installed their own hoppers. The 12 year fire-ant contracts were cancelled after only two years, due to environmental concerns. This had a profound effect on Christler Flying Service as well as Globe Air and RALCO, all left with an unexpected drop in income.
CFS gathered its four Constellations at Casper WY where they were modified as sprayers, each with two 1,800 gallon tanks in the cabin and spray bars along the trailing edge of the wings. They gained spraying work all over USA, Puerto Rico and budworm forest spraying in Quebec. On one occasion all four flew in echelon formation spraying insecticide on a grasshopper plague at Moses Lake WA.
During 1978 reduced demand caused Christler to advertise the Constellations for sale and they were all sold early the following year. Mel Christler went to Canada with the three sold to Beaver Air Spray to assist the new owner. Christler Flying Service continued for several more years at Thermopolis but their DC-3 smoke jumper contracts were not renewed as the USFS introduced turbine aircraft types.
Such was Mel Christler's affection for the Constellation that, some years after selling his sprayers to Canada, he became aware that his spares aircraft 48-610 had been President Eisenhower's personal aircraft Columbine II. It was by now a stripped hulk resting on its tailplane in Desert Aircraft Supplies storage yard adjacent to Davis Monthan AFB. Items missing included power plants and undercarriage. Mel was determined to get her back into the air and commenced work. He acquired sister VC-121A N608AS at the closing-down auction of Globe Air at Mesa AZ in October 1985. It was in very poor condition after years retired in the open weather and missing parts. In July 1986 Mel ferried N608AS from Mesa to Tucson-Ryan Field. There the engines and undercarriage were removed and taken to Tucson for installation in 48-610. The restoration continued, now in partnership with Henry Oliver of Santa Fe NM. On 5 April 1990, the restored N9463 Columbine II was flown from Davis Monthan to Ryan Field by Lockie Christler, Mel's son. After attending air shows and historic events the aircraft was retired with only occasional flights until sold to Dynamic Aviation and delivered to their home base at Bridgewater VA in March 2016.
|My thanks to Ralph M. Petterson for information and pictures relating to the career of Mel Christler|
|Christler Fying Service, Thermopolis WY (1963-1980) |
|Christler Flying Service DC-3 N62374 during fire bombing trials from a 1000 gallon belly tank.|
Photo: Mel Christler via Ralph M. Petterson
|Christler Constellation N9466 "SCAP" with others at a spraying base during the 1970s. Photo: Mel Christler|
Christler's superb restoration of his spare parts VC-121A
Photo by Graham Robson|
|Former Christler Constellation C-GXKR at St Jean Quebec in Ocober 1981, by then owned by Canadian |
forest spraying operator Conifair Aviation. Photo by Geoff Goodall
Christler in 2003 in retirement in Texas.
Ralph M. Petterson|
|CISCO Aircraft, Lancaster, California|
Zack C. Monroe trading as CISCO Aircraft Inc, PO Box 183, Lancaster CA.
Willis "King" Baker was also involved with CISCO (see Aero Enterprises Inc in Part 1)
Monroe had several aircraft registered in his own name with address 44021 North Fig Street, Lancaster CA
An early heavy aircraft tanker operator, providing agricultural and chemical spraying and fire bombing. Ceased operations by 1964.
The Avenger tankers were painted with large "CISCO" on fuselage sides.
Press report of the 22 July 1960 crash of B-25 N3446G states three persons on board were killed, the two pilots and "the owner of the aircraft and employer of the victims" .
N7850C #83 at Chino CA in May
|CISCO TBM N8398H at Mojave CA June 1963 without spray bars.
CA June 1963 when some of the CISCO fleet had been repainted white and
black. Photo: Sledge39
|CISCO Consolidated PB4Y-2G Privateer N6813D at Mojave CA in June 1961 with spray bars.
|PB4Y-2 Privateer N6813D at Mojave CA June 1963 in CISCO's white paint scheme. Photo: Sledge39
of the spray bar installation on Privateer N6813D, Mojave June
|Former CISCO Grumman TBM N8397H parked on flat tyres at Salt lake City UT in August 1966, while held|
in reserve by Aerial Applicators Inc. It was later returned to fire bomber service. Photo by Neil Aird
|Clarks Aerial Service, Brownfield Texas *|
Clarks Aerial Service Inc, PO Box 807, Brownfield TX. Based at Terry County Airport, Brownfield TX.
Also used name Clarks Aero Service Inc, Brownfield
Aerial application operation established in the 1950s by Lonnie D. Clark, Brownsville TX. Advertised as aerial spreading, dusting and seeding contractors. Heavy aircraft were introduced in the 1960s with the Lockheeds fitted with a liquid or granular chemical hopper in the cabin with dump door or spreader gear through the bomb-bay. Manager at this time was Wayne C. Hill. The company gained large scale contracts across USA which allowed introduction of Curtiss C-46s for low-level wide-area seeding.
Clarks appears to have operated in association with another Brownfield ag operator Brownfield Aerial Service, President Harley D. Wilke.
In 1977 the assets and remaining aircraft of Clarks Aerial Service were transferred to Brownfield Aerial Service, which also used the names Brownfield Aerial Inc, Brownfield Aero. However operations had ceased by 1977 and the Lockheeds were left parked outside at Brownfield waiting to be sold.
Boeing Stearman: N64708, N59659, N64974, N4591N
T-6G Texan N2892G, N2893G: both ex USAF to Lonnie D. Clark, then Clarks Aerial Service, sold by 1970
Mooney M20 N5942Q
Ventura N151V at Brownfield TX in May 1973. Despite the chemical hopper inside the cabin the windows
retain their curtains from its executive transport days. Photo by Jay L. Sherlock
|Former Clarks Aerial Service Ventura N165H on the Oklahoma Aircraft sales lot at Yukon OK in 1981.|
The roof hopper loading hatch can be seen above the first window. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Cochise County Airport, Willcox, Arizona|
Cochise County Airport Inc was a Fixed Base Operator which operated Grumman Avenger fire tankers in the early 1960s.
The following two were in the USFS tanker allocation list for 1963 summer season based at Willcox and Marana AZ
|Colco Aviation, Anchorage, Alaska|
Colco Aviation Inc, Anchorage AK (1963), to Fairbanks AK (1969)
Tanker operator which provided fire bombing as well as a range of Alaskan services such as dropping sand on frozen rivers.
Despite the USFS ban on B-25 fire bombers from 1962 due to wing structural failures during retardant drops, the type continued to be used in Alaska operating for State authorities.
Colco's B-25 N9936Z tanker #3 at Fairbanks, Alaska in September 1968. Photo by Neil Aird
|Colco's last B-25 N88972, retired at Fairbanks AK in September 1979. The tyres were flat and the name of its|
previous owner North Star Aviation remained in faded paint under the cockpit. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Columbia Flying Service, Hollister, California|
Columbia Flying Service was contracted in the 1963 USFS fire tanker allocations for these two Avengers to be stationed at Hollister CA:
|Craig Aero Service, Buttonwillow, California |
Danny Wayne Craig operated an agricultural spraying business in central California. Former fire bombing Grumman TBM Avengers were acquired in the mid 1970s, two retaining their fire tanker code numbers while spraying with Craig. Although single-engined tankers were no longer contracted by USFS, they may have been used for fire bombing for State authorities.
Craig Aero Service operated in association with another spraying operator Stewart Aviation, Moses Lake WA and the TBMs were moved between the two companies.
Other aircraft: Champion 7EC N1883G (1968-1971)
Badly damaged Craig Aero Service Grumman TBM N9586Z at Yolo County Airport CA in September 1975.
The Avenger sprayer had forced landed gear-up near here in May that year. Photo by Paul Veenboer
|Crowl Dusters, Phoenix Arizona|
Crowl Dusters Inc, 1125 W.Soland Drive, Phoenix. Based Air Haven Airport, Phoenix.
Founded by early 1950s by Cliffird R. Crowl, Glendale AZ
Agricultural operator. Held FAA type certification for military surplus Navy N3N biplanes and marketed agricultural modifications including extended wing span on the lower mainplanes. One B-25 Mitchell was used for fire bombing
Boeing Stearman N5354N
Navy N3N N44863, N44842, N44700
Vultee BT-13 N61119
Piper J3 Cub N91983
|Crowl Dusters B-25 Mitchell N9877C #C39 with belly retardant tank|
|Clayton V. Curtis, Visalia California |
Clayton Curtis was a veteran of the tanker business. In the mid 1950s he was a mechanic at Visalia CA specialising in agricultural tanker maintenance. Calvin Butler had three Grumman TBMs he purchased from US Navy disposals at Litchfield Park AZ ferried to Visalia, where Curtiss stripped out the military gear and installed chemical tanks for spraying to two TBMs, keeping the third as payment.
By the early 1960s he operated TBMs as sprayers and fire bombers in California under the name Frontier Airways, Visalia CA.
During 1961 Clayton Curtis owned at least one Beech AT-11 tanker N6414C in an arrangement with Texas Air Chemical Corp and
Donald R. Curtis, who traded as Curtis Air Ranch and aircraft dealership Airplanes Inc, Hominy OK. Whether Donald Curtis was a relative is not known. Airplanes Inc purchased for resale the majority of the FAA Beech 18 fleet when retired 1959-61.
The 1963 USFS tanker contract list shows Grumman Avenger N9593C contracted to Clayton Curtiss, Boise ID.
Curtiss' Boise operation appears to have been taken over the following year by Michael T. Loening trading as Loening Air, Boise ID which shared the same PO Box number. In 1964-65 Loening Air purchased three TBMs including N9593C, a B-25 and a PB4Y-2 Privateer.
N9593C later reverted to Curtiss' ownership in 1968,
Curtiss believed retired Martin 404 airliners would make efficient agricultural sprayers or spreaders and designed a modification scheme to tank the type. In 1969-70 he installed tanks and spray systems in four ex Piedmont Airlines Martin 404s for Charlotte Aircraft. During the 1970s he was engaged to modify Martin 404s for other agricultural contractors in Mississippi and California.
Meanwhile, from 1973 operating as Frontier Airways Inc, Crowville Louisiana, Curtiss was operating his own 404 sprayer N9234C.
Later a new operating base was established at Sheridan, Wyoming under the Frontier Airways name, operated by Clayton and his son Sam. More Martin 404s were acquired and used to apply liquid or granular pesticides against grasshoppers and other pests
During the 1980s three Martin 404 grasshopper sprayers were retired at Sheridan WY when contracts were cancelled because of environmental bans on various insecticides. They were parked outside and deteriorated due weather exposure. In 1986 Curtiss was awarded a new grasshopper spaying contract with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and hastily acquired or leased additional Martin 404s. However the operation got off to a disastrous start on 27 June 1986 when over-loaded Martin N40443 crashed on takeoff at nearby Buffalo WY, killing the three on board. It failed to get airborne, ran off the airfield into a canyon and was burnt out. Its wreck can still be seen at the bottom of the canyon. The NTSB summary of this accident:
"The aircraft collided with a dirt bank during takeoff and was destroyed. 3 on board Fatal. Investigation revealed the Pilot held a Private Certificate with multi-engine rating. His Medical Certificate was denied because he failed to provide information concerning high blood pressure and alcoholism. Copilot held a Commercial Certificate with a single engine rating. No evidence was found to indicate either pilot had any operating experience in the Martin 404 aircraft. Former employees of the operator stated that N40443 was not well maintained: the Attitude Direction Indicator instrumentation and interior lighting were inoperative.
Weight of the aircraft at the time of the accident was calculated to be 44,492 pounds. The Max Gross Weight for a Dry takeoff from a 4,500 feet runway was approx 37,900 pounds. The Flight Manual performance charts indicate that a runway length of over 5,500 feet would be needed at 44,492 pounds."
Frontier Airways had ceased operations by 1989. A visit to Sheridan in August 1995 found Clayton Curtiss working on his CallAir A9A N8246H.
|Martin 404 N461M was one of six owned by Clayton Curtiss' Frontier Airways in Wyoming for spraying. |
Seen in 1977 at Madera CA where six Martins were gathered to be tanked. Photo by Geoff Goodall
Curtiss leased N974M for grasshopper spraying in 1986 but it was grounded at Billings MT due corrosion.
Seen at Billings in 1991 after purchased by Lynch Air Tankers for the engines. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|N9234C heads a row of three retired Frontier Airways Martins at Sheridan WY in 1997. Photo: oldprops.com|