Photos of two DC-7 air tankers from 1975

DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 60, N838D
DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 60, N838D, August, 1975 at Lancaster, CA.

(Originally published at 4:58 p.m. PDT June 17, 2019)

The Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base called and asked if we were interested in accepting some old photos of air tankers that they didn’t know what to do with. I said, “Of course!”

I’ll be posting some of them off an on over the next few days and weeks.

Today we have two DC-7 air tankers that were photographed in August, 1975. The locations on many of the photos say Lancaster, California, and that is the case for these.  There is no indication who took any of the photos. The aircraft model, N number, location taken, and the month/year are hand-written on the backs.

DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 69, N45W
DC-7 air tanker, Tanker 69, N4SW, August, 1975 at Lancaster, CA.

Most of the photos were taken while the aircraft were on the ground, a few show them airborne, and only a couple show them dropping water, which were probably a test flights.

If anyone has more information about these aircraft, such as what company operated them and the pilots who flew them, that would be great.


(UPDATED at 6:20 a.m. PDT June 18, 2019)

After getting more information in the comments from Tom Story and Jon (thanks folks), it turns out that there was an error in the hand written notation on the back of the Tanker 69 print. The N number should have been N4SW instead of N45W. I fixed the caption in the photo above.

And, like Tom said, the two DC-7s were operated by Butler, according to the information at Geoff Goodall’s Aviation website. In 2012, Tanker 60, N838D, was transferred to Erickson Aero Tanker and is still in operation.

Tanker 60 DC-7 Madras, Oregon
Chuck Rhodes, Erickson Aero Tanker Maintenance Supervisor, with Tanker 60, a DC-7 at Madras, Oregon, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In his comment, Jon said, “Tanker 69 was the one lost on the way to Medford from Klamath Falls for the end of the season party in 1979. My dad knew most of them.” Here is some of the information he referenced at aviation-safety.net:

[On September 14, 1979] DC-7 “Tanker 69” departed Redmond, OR a company business flight to Medford, OR, with an en route stop at Klamath Falls, OR. The aircraft struck trees on the crest of Surveyor Mountain and crashed. The aircraft departed Redmond for Klamath Falls about 19:45 and arrived there at 20:29. Two passengers enplaned and the aircraft departed runway 14 at Klamath Falls at 20:40.The aircraft struck trees on the crest of the 6400 feet high Surveyor Mountain about 7 minutes after takeoff.

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The flight crew’s decision to undertake a direct point-to-point high-cruise-speed flight at low altitude. The crew’s judgment in the selection of a low-altitude flight profile may have been influenced by their familiarity with the terrain.”

CLASSIFICATION: Controlled flight into terrain.

Any crash of an air tanker is awful, usually killing two or three crew members, but in this case 12 people died — two crew members and 10 passengers. May they rest in peace.

The NTSB report can be found here.

Multiple aircraft to assist in Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment

NASA DC-8 study smoke plume fires
The NASA DC-8, N817NA, will be one of the aircraft used to study smoke plumes over fires.

At least 17 researchers from 12 agencies and universities will be leading various segments of a large project to develop more detailed information about wildland fires. This will be the second year of the study, titled Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment—A Plan for Integrated, Large Fire–Atmosphere Field Campaigns.

The goals include obtaining additional information about how fires burn so that new fire spread models can be developed and existing ones improved. They will also be collecting information about fire-emitted heat and emissions fluxes, near-source micrometeorology, plume properties, smoke dispersion, and atmospheric chemistry. Both wildfires and prescribed fires will be part of the study.

The expected outcomes from the FASMEE project include:

  1. Improved scientific knowledge of the physically coupled fuels–fire–smoke–chemistry system.
  2. Exportable methodologies for measuring fuels for fire spread, fuel consumption, and fire emissions models.
  3. New insights concerning the processes that drive the spatial organization of fire energy and emissions that defines the transition between fires and plumes that impact air quality.
  4. Improvement of existing operational fire and smoke models and the development of new, more advanced models based on the collection of an unprecedented dataset (fuels, fire, meteorological, smoke plume and chemistry).
aircraft equipment study smoke plumes fires
A large assortment of ground and air based platforms will be used in the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment.

Data collected from the ground:

  • Instruments on towers upwind, in the burn unit, and downwind.
  • LIDAR on vehicles.
  • Automatic weather stations.
  • Mobile labs.

Data collected above the ground:

  • Multiple manned fixed wing aircraft.
  • Drones, small and large.
  • Radiosonde.
  • Geostationary satellite.
  • Polar orbiting satellite.

One of the aircraft will be NASA’s *DC-8-60/70 which will be especially useful when collecting data over wildfires due to its ability to remain in the air for an extended amount of time with a range of more than 5,000 miles.

Measurements will be synchronized across time and space. This is especially critical for multi-temporal measurements of the fire and plume, for which failure will jeopardize the end-product usability. A key feature of the proposed field campaigns is that they will be designed up-front to be completely integrated with high-resolution mapping of fuels, fuel consumption, fire behavior, plume dynamics, and smoke measurements and temporally synched to provide context for related measurements (e.g., flaming fire front, heat release, and plume dynamics).

Vegetation data at prescribed fires will be collected at each site before and after the burns.  During the burns much of the work will be conducted from the ground, but multiple aircraft will also be used at the burn sites.

Prescribed fires will be studied at locations that have large projects planned:

  • Fort Stewart in Georgia
  • Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina
  • Fishlake National Forest in Utah, and
  • Kaibab National Forest in Arizona

More information about the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment.


*Interesting historical note about the NASA DC-8-60/70 (N817NA) which was delivered in 1969 to Alitalia Airlines. It had an incident in 2000 (according to Wikimedia Commons) when it inadvertently flew through a diffuse volcanic ash cloud of the Mt. Hekla volcano during a flight from Edwards Air Force Base (Edwards, California) to Kiruna, Sweden. Although the ash plume was not visible to the flight crew, sensitive research experiments and instruments detected it. In-flight performance checks and post flight visual inspections revealed no damage to the airplane or engine first-stage fan blades; subsequent detailed examination of the engines revealed clogged turbine cooling air passages. The engines were removed and overhauled.

Buildings dedicated to four airmen killed on White Draw Fire

MAFFS 7 crashed July 1, 2012 in South Dakota

Family and friends of fallen U.S. Air Force Maj, Joseph M. McCormick view building plans and a dedication plaque at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, June 9, 2019 following the Building Dedication Ceremony to honor Maj. McCormick and three other fallen Airmen, Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, Maj. Ryan S. David, and Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon. Photo by Staff Sgt. Laura Montgomery, 145th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs North Carolina Air National Guard.

Yesterday four buildings at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport were dedicated to the four airmen who were killed in an aircraft crash July 1, 2012 while fighting the White Draw Fire northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota. Their C-130 was serving as an air tanker using a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) in the cargo hold which enables the aircraft  to drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant on a wildfire. There were four fatalities. The two loadmasters operating the MAFFS unit in the rear of the aircraft were seriously injured but survived.

building dedication MAFFS 7 Air National Guard
Rob David, son of fallen U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan S. David, delivers a speech during the Building Dedication Ceremony in honor of his father and three other members of the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) seven crew at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, June 9, 2019. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Ballard, 145th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs North Carolina Air National Guard.

The article below about the June 9 building dedication event was written by Staff Sgt. Laura Montgomery, Public Affairs with the North Carolina Air National Guard.


As the rain descends, reverent family and friends of the North Carolina Air National Guard gather in a hangar at the base June 9, 2019 to commemorate the devastating loss of four crew members of the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System seven mission over South Dakota that occurred July 1, 2012. The four fallen members, Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, Maj. Joseph McCormick, Maj. Ryan S. David, and Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, have buildings dedicated in their honor, including the new base operations, small air terminal, an aircraft maintenance hangar, and soon-to-be built flight simulator.

building dedication MAFFS 7 Air National Guard
A plaque is displayed dedicating the 145th Maintenance Group hangar to U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) seven crew member, at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, June 9, 2019. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Ballard, 145th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs North Carolina Air National Guard.

“These Airmen selflessly gave their lives executing our C-130 Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System mission while fighting the White Draw Fire in South Dakota, “ said Maj. Joel Kingdon, 156th Airlift Squadron, “Today we say thank you to the families for their sacrifice, and we forever memorialize our fallen heroes by dedicating these buildings to serve as a lasting tribute of their service to our country.”

Members of the fallen Airmen took turns speaking about their loved ones and reflecting on joy they brought to their lives and their thankfulness for the men and women of the North Carolina Air National Guard.

“We’re unbelievably grateful for this building, we never really imagined anything like this happening,” stated Alex Cannon, son of the late Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, “We feel only closer with the people here today, we look forward to seeing everyone and we hope to maintain these relationships.”

building dedication MAFFS 7 Air National Guard
Alex Cannon, son of fallen U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon delivers a speech during the building dedication ceremony in honor of his father and three other members of the MAFFS 7 crew, at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, June 9, 2019. Photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Paz
145th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs North Carolina Air National Guard.

As these buildings are erected and modified to suit the new mission of the North Carolina Air National Guard, we reflect on the dedicated service of our fallen Airmen and their willingness to answer a call for something bigger than themselves.

“We take this moment, this chance to memorialize and remember these gentlemen, not because of the fact that they perished on that fateful day but because they actually served faithfully,” said Maj. Gen. Gregory A. Lusk, Adjutant General of the North Carolina National Guard, “The fact that they rose above and answered the call to respond to and secure the blessing of liberty.”

building dedication MAFFS 7 Air National Guard
The family of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal pose next to a commemorative photo created for the 145th Airlift Wing building dedication ceremony at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, June 9, 2019. Photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Paz 145th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs North Carolina Air National Guard.
building dedication MAFFS 7 Air National Guard
A plaque is displayed dedicating the 145th Airlift Wing C-17 operations building to U.S. Air Force Lt Col. Paul Mikeal, a MAFFS 7 crew member, at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, June 9, 2019. Photo by Airman 1st Class Juan Paz, 145th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs North Carolina Air National Guard.

MAFFS 7 crew

IHOG is now SHO

Standards for Helicopter OperationsThe book of standards that has governed the use and management of helicopters used by federal land management agencies has changed its name. The 2019 revision of the Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide (IHOG) is now titled Standards for Helicopter Operations (SHO).

The document, “…establishes the standards by which helicopter operations are to be conducted under the exclusive direction and operational control of federal, state and local agencies in the accomplishment of interagency fire suppression and natural resource aviation management.”

The SHO has been adopted by the USFS, BIA, BLM, and NPS as policy for all helicopter operations.

The last edition of the IHOG was published in June of 2016. The new SHO is dated May, 2019 and is expected to be revised in 2022.

Apparently there are no plans to officially print and distribute paper copies of the 319-page book and the four associated documents, but they can be downloaded at the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s website.

The SHO was produced under the auspices of the NWCG and the National Interagency Aviation Committee, Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide Unit, and Interagency Helicopter Operations Subcommittee.

DynCorp awarded Customs and Border Protection contract

The contract could be worth up to $1.4 billion

DynCorp logoOn May 31, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), awarded DynCorp International a contract to provide national aviation maintenance and logistics services. This hybrid Firm Fixed Price, Cost Plus Incentive Fee and Cost Reimbursables contract is estimated at more than $1.4 billion and consists of a base year plus nine and a half option years.

DynCorp is familiar with many of Fire Aviation’s readers due to their contracts with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) for maintaining and flying the agency’s nearly two dozen S-2T air tankers. CAL FIRE hires their own pilots for their 11 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters, but they are also maintained by DynCorp.

At the 2014 Aerial Fighting Conference DynCorp and Coulson Aviation announced a strategic alliance to work together to bid on aerial fighting contracts and provide those services if selected.

DynCorp will provide aircraft maintenance and logistics support services for CBP’s diverse fleet of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft to ensure that the Government has the numbers and types of properly configured aircraft available to meet operational commitments. CBP’s aviation assets consist of approximately 211 aircraft at multiple locations in the Western hemisphere. The fleet is a mix of military and non-military, fixed- and rotary-wing, single- and multi-engine aircraft, including some modified and equipped with state-of-the-art, highly sophisticated sensor equipment.

DynCorp is based in McLean, Virginia and has 11,500 employees.

Air tankers working the Chuckegg Creek Fire in Alberta

Air tankers Chuckegg Creek Fire
Air tankers on the Chuckegg Creek Fire. Alberta Fire photo.

The large aircraft on the left is the Electra L-188. It has four turbine engines, can cruise at 592 km/hr (368 mph), and can carry 11,365 liters (3,000 gallons) of fire retardant.

To the right of the Electra are four of the Air Tractor 802F amphibious aircraft. They can work as land-based or skimmer air tankers. They have a cruising speed of 260 km/hr (161 mph) and can carry up to 2,430 liters (644 gallons).

The Chuckegg Creek Fire in northern Alberta has burned 276,000 hectares (682,000 acres).

Drone used for aerial ignition in Arizona

reload drone plastic spheres aerial ignition
Fire personnel on the Maroon Fire on the Coconino National Forest reload a drone with plastic spheres used for aerial ignition, June 1, 2019. USFS photo.

Tom Kurth’s Type 1 Incident Management Team began using drones on fires in 2017. In 2018 they experimented with using one for aerial ignition, lighting burnouts by dropping spheres which burst into flame 30 to 45 seconds after being released.

Last weekend the same type of drone was used for aerial ignition on the Maroon Fire 18 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona.

In this video posted by Kurth’s IMT last August, team members describe how they used drones on the Taylor Creek and Klondike Fires in southwest Oregon for aerial surveying, detecting the location of heat, mapping, and aerial ignition.

The Maroon Fire has burned 5,000 acres on the Coconino National Forest in a cinder basin northeast of Flagstaff. Aerial ignitions are being conducted by helicopter and drones.

drone aerial ignition wildfire
This type of drone was used for aerial ignition in Southwest Oregon in 2018, and on the Maroon Fire on the Coconino National Forest June 1, 2019. USFS photo.
maroon fire coconino national forest
Burnout operation on the Maroon Fire, Coconino National Forest. USFS photo.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chip. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

100 firefighters attend aircraft Safety Fly-In at Durango

Durango Helitack crew
The Durango Helitack crew demonstrates crew loading.

Rick Freimuth sent us these photos and description of a Safety Fly-In that occurred Friday, May 31 at the Durango Air Tanker Base in Colorado. Mr. Freimuth staffs the Benchmark Lookout west of Telluride, Colorado where he normally would have been, starting three weeks ago, but snow on the roads has made that impossible. The tower is at 9,262′ elevation.


Yesterday I attended the San Juan National Forest Safety Fly-In event at the Durango Airtanker Base.  It’s an annual event (except last year because of our busy fire season) held for the local jurisdictions – USFS, BLM, NPS, Durango Fire & Rescue and other local towns and counties.  The Fly-In is designed to familiarize the firefighters with air-to-ground radio protocol, general aircraft safety, crew loading, hard landings (turning off fuel, electrical and rotor brakes).

Durango Helitack was represented with their Bell 205, pilot, crew manager and crew.  They demonstrated sling load loading and hookups, bucket hookups and crew loading.  To increase performance for their older ship the 205 is hopped up with wider composite rotor blades, fins along the tail boom and the tail rotor is repositioned on the right side instead of the traditional 205 left side.  Interesting.  Of course Durango Helitack’s primary mission is IA but they also perform bucket work and rescues with the ability to carry two patients.

Mesa Verde National Park Helitack crew
Mesa Verde National Park Helitack crew member describes National Park Service aviation protocol.

Mesa Verde NP Helitack was there with their Bell 407.  They gave us a great demonstration of capabilities from their crew manager and one of their IA firefighters.  Their primary mission is IA but are also equipped for bucket work and they are the only Short Haul capable crew in the Four Corners area.  They’re capable of in-cabin litter transport as well.

Flight For Life’s orange A-Star 350 based at Durango’s Mercy Regional Medical Center was there with pilot, flight nurse and paramedic.  They talked about their protocol as well as their A-Star’s excellent capabilities at high altitude rescue in the local San Juan mountain ranges.  They gave an excellent demonstration of patient loading with firefighters assisting.

An interesting addition to the Fly-In was a Bell 206 from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad excursion train.  Simply referred to as the train helicopter.  It’s mission is to follow the train up and down the route for fire suppression in case the coal burning engines ignite fuels in their right-of-way.  They carry a 75 gallon bucket filled 3/4 full for several hours a day looking for smoke.  The reason for the reduced fill is to increase fuel efficiency during the day at high altitudes.

Durango airport Oshkosh crash rescue truck
Durango airport’s Oshkosh crash rescue truck.

The Durango-LaPlata County airport showcased one of their two, huge Oshkosh fire engines including a thorough discussion of the airport firefighters duties and responsibilities for the myriad aircraft that may land at the field in emergency situations.

The most interesting aircraft, for me, was the State of Colorado’s Multi Mission Aircraft (MMA).  The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control has two Pilatus PC-12 airplanes that have been outfitted with state-of-the-art fire detection infrared (IR) and color sensors (EO) operated by sensor operators from the Division of Fire Prevention and Control Wildland Fire Management staff.  The pilot, Carl Gordon and sensor operator, Jesse, gave us a complete description of their real-time fire mapping capabilities.  Jesse said they were able to send their maps to the ICs and firefighters within twenty minutes of flying the fire.  The firefighters are then able to access the up-to-date fire maps on Avenza.

PC-12 multimission durango airport
Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 multimission aircraft, and Durango airport’s Oshkosh crash rescue truck.

The retardant base was an interesting station at the Fly-In.  We were given a thorough explanation of mixing Phos-Chek with water to create the loads appropriate to fuels and elevation.  Durango Airtanker Base is the highest elevation tanker base at 6,685′.  The retardant loads have to be altered to the summertime temperatures, high elevation of the airport and the, possibly, higher elevations of the fires.  Durango Airtanker Base’s retardant base is now able to fill two air tankers at a time.

sand table fire tactics wildfire
Jerran Flinders (center, wearing sandals) uses a sand “table” to explain air attack strategy, with Mike Bryson, on the right.

The last station at our Fly-In event was the sand table (sand box in our case).  Jerran Flinders, the San Juan National Forest’s Aviation Officer and Mike Bryson, the Durango Airtanker Base Manager gave the attending firefighters scenarios of making a resource order for air tankers or helicopters on an active fire.  The sand box had a fire climbing a slope through timber and approaching a ridge-top structure.  Jerran lead the scenarios through requesting aircraft, communicating with air attack and delivering the retardant load.  This was an excellent demonstration, for green firefighters, of what to do and what not to do during a wildfire event.

The Safety Fly-In was attended by roughly one hundred fire staff including firefighters, fire overhead, and one lookout.