12 Questions for Kenny Chapman

Kenny Chapman

This is the third in a new series of articles on FireAviation.com featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

Today we hear from Kenny Chapman, a Senior Firefighting Pilot of an S-64 Aircrane, flying with Erickson Air-Crane, Inc.


Kenny ChapmanWho is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
Sonny Morrison, Rusty Foster, Vern Shindele, Bob Forbes, Walt Darran. I flew my first fire with Sonny, my first full contract with Rusty and my last fixed-wing contract with Vern. All had the patience to teach and tolerate a beginner. Bob has been in the business longer than anyone else. That says volumes alone about his abilities. Walt has always been a force in trying to make the business safer, more modern and more professional. There are too many others to mention here, many that have given their lives in the line of duty.

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Simple. No fire is worth someone’s life. Remember your training.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Listen to the people in the field, both in the air and on the ground. They know better than anyone what we need and how we need to do it. If you are retired from another agency quit trying to turn what we are doing into what you used to do.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Good communication and visibility when you are on the line. Mirror flashes, panel markers and quality radio calls can save a great deal of time. Visiting any of the tanker or helitack bases also helps immensely by putting faces with names and learning the other person’s job.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
How to better make use of the standby time.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
I think the industry obsesses with the idea of converting something when there are three new production aircraft available right now. The Erickson Air-Crane S-64, the Canadair CL-415 and the 802 Air Tractor on both wheels and floats. That said I think the MD-87 and BAE/RJ that are coming out have great potential. I think later versions of the C-130 and P-3 will make fine tankers. They have already proven themselves. They just need the later airframes.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
PBY, S-2, Bell 206 Series, Sikorsky S-61 and S-64 on fires. The S-64 Skycrane is my favorite by far because of the amazing capabilities it has and because it is the one I have the most experience in. The PBY would be my second choice.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
Flattening a chicken coop on the island of Othonoi Greece with a drop and watching the chickens shoot out unharmed.

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
Around 4500 out of 16200.

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?
The Pine Tree Shield, Stephen Pyne’s Fire on the Rim, [Steve Smith’s] Fly the Biggest Piece Back, Tall Timber Pilots.

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Co-pilot on a PBY for Hemet Valley Flying Service 1971.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
iPad with ForeFlight and OzRunways


3 thoughts on “12 Questions for Kenny Chapman”

  1. Agree with Kenny on his ideas of what makes a good airtanker
    (of course my ideal would be a DC7 with PW 100’s)
    jes’ sayin’…

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