The last Forest Service DC-3 retires

The last DC-3 operated by the U.S. Forest Service retired this week following a ceremony at the Missoula smokejumper base.

N115Z smokejumper DC-3
The last U.S. Forest Service DC-3 departs from Missoula December 10, 2015 after retiring from smokejumper duty. Image by Jason Junes.

Known to the jumpers it hauled as Jump 15, it took off December 10 from Missoula and a flew to McClellan Airfield in Sacramento at 16,000 feet and 200 mph, unpressurized of course. There it will await an auction and a new owner.

The 71-year old aircraft, first operated by the Royal Air Force, was manufactured as World War II was winding down. The radial piston engines were replaced 24 years ago with turbines by Basler extending its life while providing more reliability and less maintenance. The aircraft’s sister, Jump-42, another DC-3, retired in November, 2012.

Approximately 607 DC-3s were built between 1936 and 1942. At that time their cost was $79,000. Most of them had 14-cylinder Pratt and Whitney radial engines.

With the two DC-3s now gone, the smokejumpers will be using some of the 15 C-23B Sherpa aircraft they received from the Army and two De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters. The Forest Service has been contracting for two additional Twin Otters but those will be phased out as the C-23Bs transition into the fleet after going through modifications, maintenance, and painting.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.

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4 thoughts on “The last Forest Service DC-3 retires”

  1. First mil aircraft ride–but with PW’s..Glenview to Travis ’61. Plz don’t museum, sell to WWII movie work (most won’t notice 5 blades) or local low-cost service. Side bench seats still work. Repaint to D-Day stripes? Sell (donate) to Darryl Fisher at Ageless Aviation for his crew and airshows? Jimmy Doolittle got a ride back to India via China after his “30 Seconds over Tokyo” —spring ’42 (DC-3’s first flew late Dec 41). Another story there. Not many left but this is a nice one…Oh well…

  2. I agree with Dick. To much history. My son Levi was one of the South Canyon firefighters flown home on 5 Zulu, another son was a Smokejumper on 4 Zulu and gave 4 Zulu a proper going away “speech” in Utah. Thanks for the site Bill.

  3. Taking this airplane out of service is a very bad decision by the Washington Office. The agency keeps telling people that the additional mission of the smj program is to rapidly bring smokejumpers into an interface incident. One needs more than up to eight firefighters brought into a interface incident at a time. The DC-3T and 16 jumpers moving from a base to an incident at 200 knots can not be replicated by any other aircraft. The FS talks up one mission while undercutting it by dumping the best aircraft to conduct the mission. Very bad decision.

  4. J 15 had the capability of putting 16 Missoula smokejumpers on a fire in Northern California in 3 hours. That capability has been lost.

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