A well known air tanker pilot passed away March 17. Joe “Hoser” Satrapa was known most recently as an S-2T pilot for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection flying Tanker 89 out of Grass Valley, California. But his flying career was much more than that. In the Navy he flew combat missions over Vietnam in an F-8 Crusader and an A-5 Vigilante. Later he moved into EC-121Ks and F-14s and was one of the four developers of the Navy fighter weapons school, Top Gun.
A few years after retiring from the military and flying air tankers for a while, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman personally called and talked him into returning to the Navy to again teach fighter tactics at Top Gun with the rank of full Commander. After doing that for several years he returned to the cockpit of air tankers.
Below is an interview uploaded to YouTube in 2013 in which Hoser tells a story about losing visibility over a fire when his windscreen was covered by retardant. Dropped by another air tanker, the viscous liquid was was lifted by rising air.
Hoser was a highly skilled pilot and an outspoken and colorful individual, characteristics that generated many stories. Here is a link to one about a simulated aerial battle. While flying an F-14 he scored a kill on an F-15 using his fighter’s 16mm gun, not a missile. The brass at the Pentagon were horrified, worried that if the gun camera’s photos were released the dogfight would scuttle Japan’s plan to purchase 21 of the supposedly more advanced F-15s.
Below is an article about Hoser posted on the Facebook page of the Nevada Yuba Placer Unit of CAL FIRE. It includes the fact that he had his tombstone made years ago to ensure it included these words:
Here lies Hoser
A fighter pilot
He never landed with his gear up.
Jimmy Barnes of the Associated Aerial Firefighters wrote the excellent piece below. It is used here with permission.
March 18, 2019 – Thirty-three years ago, I was a Co-Pilot for Chuck Bartak on a DC-6 at Chico Air Attack Base. On the first day of the contract we had our pre work meeting With Chief Don (Bigfoot) O’Connell presiding. Sitting quietly on the couch was a tall, lean gentleman in a tailored orange flight suit. His appearance was so dapper that I naturally assumed that he was a U.S. Forest Service Lead Plane Pilot. Then I noticed that on his name tag, in addition to his name, there was one word in big bold letters. It read, HOSER, with a set of Navy wings affixed to the tag. I introduced myself;
“Hi I’m Jim Barnes, I’m Chuck’s Co-Pilot on the six, who are you with”?
“Just call me Hoser, I’m flying with that big f****r over there”. He pointed to Bigfoot and I realized that he was our new Air Attack Pilot.
“Why do they call you Hoser”?
“Well when I was a new pilot in the Navy, during training in the gun pattern, I rolled in on the target and shot all my ammo in one pass. The instructors called me Hoser after that and it became my handle for the next twenty years”.
“Where did you go to flight school for jet training”?
“Kingsville in Corpus Cristy”.
“Kingsville is Wingsville and at Beeville you attrite with the best”?
“I’ve heard that one before, what’s your story”?
“I fell on my sword in A-4 training for bad procedures and busting an AN-10 instrument check at the wrong time of the fiscal year. I was so close to the end of training that I was slated for C-130 school in Littlerock”.
“C-130s, that’s where all the bottom feeders go. You would have been a shitting post for some grizzly old Major, you’re lucky you flunked out. Flying instruments in an A-4 is hard, I had trouble with it too”.
I thought, this guy is putting me on. A fighter pilot who has both humility and empathy for the less fortunate, how could such a travesty occur?
What he said next convinced me that he was the biggest bullshit artist that I had ever encountered and there was no shortage of bullshit artists in the tanker business.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, the Secretary of the Navy called me and he wants me to come back in the Navy and teach fighter tactics and gunnery as a Flight Duty Officer”.
I had been around the Navy for quite a while and I had never heard of such a title. He continued on.
“I told him that I would only come back in if I could keep collecting my retirement pay and if he would promote me to full Commander”.
Now I was convinced that this guy was smoking dope.
A while later our phone rang. Chuck, my Captain, picked it up.
“Hoser it’s for you. Somebody from the Department of the Navy”.