Photographic essay of air tankers, by Joe Cupido

Aero Union's P3A Tanker 22
Aero Union’s P3A Tanker 22 getting reloaded at Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base while another P3A is headed towards the fire.

We are honored to present a photographic essay of air tankers by professional photographer Joe Cupido. He tells us below about his career in photography.

I grew up in a military family and acquired the love of aviation early on. When I was in high school I started photographing aircraft. Then later while in the military I became a Combat Photographer / Photojournalist and continued photographing aircraft professionally. I specialized in Air to Air photography working with the military and for some of the major aircraft companies. I was lucky enough to finish my career with about 5,500 hours in over 100 different airframes, 7 books and over 2,000 magazines articles on aviation subjects.

I’ve always enjoyed chasing fire-fighting aircraft whenever I had the time. The images below were captured over time and with a lot of cooperation from a lot of good people in the Air Tanker business. Without their help I could not have captured the images that I did and I thank all of you. Hope you enjoy!

Thanks Joe!

Hawkins & Powers Tanker 121
Hawkins & Powers Tanker 121, a PB4Y2, an ex-US Navy World War II patrol bomber.
McDonnell-Douglas DC 10
McDonnell-Douglas DC 10s, Tankers 911 and 910, operated by10 Tanker Air Carrier
Butler Aviation's Douglas DC7's
One of Butler Aviation’s Douglas DC7s, Tanker 66 during engine start. Nothing better than four smoky Pratt & Whitney radial engines.


Hawkins and Powers Lockheed P2V Neptune, Tanker 140
One of Hawkins and Powers Lockheed P2V Neptunes, Tanker 140, making a low pass at Grand Junction, Colorado.
Aero Union's Lockheed SP2H Tanker 16
Aero Union’s Lockheed SP2H Tanker 16 departing Fox Field towards a fire in LA County.
Air Attack A26, a Cessna Skymaster
Air Attack A26, a Cessna Skymaster sits while a Grumman S-2 Tracker taxi’s for departure at Fox Field.
Coulson's Martin Mars
Coulson’s Martin Mars Flying Boat during a take off run. Flying out of Lake Elsinore.
Coulson's Martin Mars docked at Lake Elsinore
Coulson’s Martin Mars docked at Lake Elsinore. Just beautiful!
Two Lockheed C130's, Tankers 131 and 64, taxi into the ramp at Fox Field Air Attack Base.
Two Lockheed C130’s, Tankers 131 and 64, taxi into the ramp at Fox Field Air Attack Base.
Aero Union's first Douglas DC4 air tanker, Tanker 76
Aero Union’s first Douglas DC4 air tanker, Tanker 76. One of the nicest looking paint schemes ever seen on an Air Tanker.
Aero Union's Tanker 13
Aero Union’s Tanker 13 departing Hemet Ryan Airport towards a fire in Riverside County.
Fairchild C119L air tankers
Two Fairchild C119L tankers and Tanker 87 waiting to be released on a fire near Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base.

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11 thoughts on “Photographic essay of air tankers, by Joe Cupido”

  1. Nice pictures. I remember working many of those old tankers back in my ATGS days. Brought back some good memories but also reminded of some of the tanker pilots that are no longer with us.

    1. Tom,

      I understand what your saying, I was lucky enough to have flown with Dale @ Aero Union on Tanker 76 during it’s testing phase. So, when I look at the above photo of Tanker 76 it does remind me of good times and people we’ve known, which is a good thing!


    1. Hi Pat,

      There are a few books that have been done on Air Tankers, not sure if you have seen them. Currently the main issue is that there isn’t an interest a high quality photographic books and the investment is to high for the return. I do have another idea though, a calendar. I know it sounds strange but I was actually thinking running it from June to June as the calendar year. I know it’s odd, but so is the fire season! What do you think the interest would be in that? Also do you know of one currently being done?


  2. Spent many a nights at Hemet. I guess I should have slowed down and enjoyed the view, what a great picture. Equally impressive was the way the Cal Fire staff handled their guests. I give this State tanker base five stars. Thank You.

    1. Johnny,

      As you can tell I spent many days at Hemet as well and as you mentioned there are just a lot of good people that helped me out at a number of bases. Bob, helped me more then I can say, when he was at Hemet and later at San Bernardino Air Attack Base was just great! Photography needs cooperation and I hope its shows that I did have a lot.


  3. Great picts! one thing the DC7 is powered by R-3350 Wrights. 66 is ex-United like 62 I’ve been Co-Pilot on both…
    You do learn real fast why they had an Engineer..

  4. Nice pictures of newer planes and the classic old iron. Thanks for sharing them.
    Dad worked on the development of the Wright 3350s.

  5. Joe, I flew as co-pilot for Aero Union in a DC-6, Tanker 16. That would have been in 70’s/80’s. Would you happen to have a pic. of that plane?

    1. Bob Chestnut, B 26 fire bomber pilot and crop duster. Late 1970’s Northern California, Pacific Farms, you and the owner of North Valley Aviation were out doing some P.R. I had just taken off with a full load of fertilizer when the engine quit, five seconds to impact. I put it (crop duster) between the almond trees on a dirt road. Hit a stand pipe, destroyed aircraft. you came to my rescue. Did you seen Deans comments. Hope you will continue to follow and comment on this great site.

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