12 Questions for Hugh Carson

Hugh Carson

This is the sixth in our 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 Hugh Carson, an Air Operations Branch Director. He served as the Bureau of Land Management’s State Aviation Manager for Utah and Nevada, later becoming the Aviation Training Developer for the BLM at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.


Hugh Carson
Hugh Carson

Who is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
I’m with Walt Darran, it’s gotta’ be Don Ornbaum, whom I had as PIC for the Stead contract my first year as a State Aviation Manager for the BLM in Nevada. One of the smartest, crustiest, most humorous guys I’ve ever run into. I sure wish we’d followed up on that airtanker pilot oral history project – Don would have had a lead role, for sure. But Don also had a co-pilot named Wally Griffin, whom I hired the next year as the Nevada OV-10 pilot ‘til he absconded north to be the AFS Aviation Manager.

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Review situation awareness cues and LCES. It all comes down to that in staying alive.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Being open to “new” technology and platforms that, outside of the feds, are becoming ubiquitous. I would put Unstaffed Aerial Vehicles at the head of this list, followed by the use of the CL-415 as a primary airtanker. And we should not spend 5 years studying aircraft and systems whose use is a no-brainer. If the feds don’t understand the train is leaving the station, the states and municipalities will leave the feds in the dust.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Fire suppression: Measured, slow, and aware. Aircraft: Get with the helitackers and ATGS/ASMs early, one on one. Ask questions, do some what ifs. The more ground folks understand aviation, the less friction we have, and the easier it is to develop synergy.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
Active listening.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
CL-415, and an un-built one for which we should have obtained funding 20 years ago. An airtanker specifically built for the environment. Still a dream.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
Lama [helicopter]. Power.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
This not something I saw, but rather something that happened. Happy Camp, ’87. Team is anticipating aerial firing with PSD potassium permanganate ping pong balls. Carson orders 30,000 PSD Unit on Equipment order but the balls have to go on a Supply Order. Despite specific cross-referencing of the orders, sure enough, 2 days later someone said that a Ryder truck was outside with my ping pong balls. The driver opens the back gate and . . . and . . . there they were. 30,000 regular ping pong balls, though minus paddles and tables. The buzz on this had pretty much calmed down, but this should give it some more legs.

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
AD-1 Helitack Crewmember, 1970, Glenallen, AK.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
Since I’m a DJ on community radio, it’s my 2 Tb External Drive with 28,000 songs on it.

One thought on “12 Questions for Hugh Carson”

  1. Well it happned after that also. I was managing a helo and a ignition was planned using the Premo AID. Well, a van loaded with standard ping-pong balls showed up… No end to the bad jokes at the helibase.

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