Three flying boxcars at Hemet-Ryan tanker base

Looking back at 1981

Three C-119s Ryan 1981
Three C-119s at Hemet-Ryan Air Tanker Base in 1981. Front to back, Tanker 81 (N13743), T-87 (N13746), and T-82 (N13745). Photo by Steve Whitby.

Steve Whitby took this photo in 1981 at Hemet-Ryan Air Tanker Base in southern California. Three of Hemet Valley Flying Service’s Fairchild C-119s are lined up in the pits where they are loaded with fire retardant for assisting firefighters on wildfires.

Steve said he’s been scanning negatives he took 39 years ago. Keep up the good work, Steve!

The last C-119 in line is T-82 (N13745) which was advertised by GSA as scrap for sale. It apparently sold for $10,400 February 1, 2016.

Tanker 82 C-119
C-119. Tanker 82 (N13745). GSA photo, possibly in 2016.

More photos of tankers at Hemet-Ryan, 1980

Air tanker 81 Hemet-Ryan Airport 1980
Air tanker 81 at Hemet-Ryan Airport in 1980. Photo by JD Davis.

After seeing the 1980 video of air tankers landing and taking off at the Hemet-Ryan Airport JD Davis sent us these photos that were also taken at Hemet-Ryan in 1980.

He said Tanker 70 (N400DF) was the first S-2 to be converted to an air tanker.

Air tanker 70 Hemet-Ryan Airport 1980
Air tanker 70 at Hemet-Ryan Airport in 1980. Photo by JD Davis.
Air tanker 88 Hemet-Ryan Airport 1980
Air tanker 88 at Hemet-Ryan Airport in 1980. Photo by JD Davis.

Thanks JD!

Air tanker activity at Hemet-Ryan in 1980

Some of the aircraft were probably working the Panorama Fire that burned 310 homes

Hemet-Ryan airtankers 1980
Tanker 65 lands at Hemet-Ryan in a screenshot from the video that was shot in November, 1980. Posted to YouTube by Habujet.

This film was shot at Hemet-Ryan Airport in southern California in November, 1980. Some of the air tankers were probably working the Panorama Fire that burned 310 homes and almost 29,000 acres. At that time the number of homes lost was considered to be extreme. Now almost 40 years later it ranks far down the list of destructive fires.

Aircraft seen in the video include C-119, S-2, PB4Y-2, B-17,  and a few others. The video was posted to YouTube by Habujet.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

CAL FIRE’s aviation program at Hemet-Ryan

Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base
Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base. Google Earth.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise has an interesting article by Brian Rokos about CAL FIRE’s aviation program, and specifically the pilots and aircraft at the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in southern California (map). Mr. Rokos goes into some depth, exploring how the aviation program is managed and the experience of the pilots at Hemet-Ryan.

Below are the first few paragraphs of the article:


“Cliff Walters has a photo on the wall of his home in the San Bernardino Mountains showing him making a spectacular water drop on a brush fire from the Super Huey helicopter he pilots for Cal Fire. Framed with the photo is a handwritten note from schoolchildren thanking Walters for saving their homes.

Mike Venable also pilots a firefighting aircraft that brings out the shutterbugs: a Cal Fire airplane that can drop up to 1,200 gallons of orange-red fire retardant as it swoops through canyons and skims over treetops.

But the veteran pilots based at Cal Fire’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base say daredevils need not apply. Their jobs are shaped by calculated decisions – often made on their own – that weigh risk vs. reward in the race to put out flames that threaten lives and property.

“Maybe you have to make it look like (you are) a daredevil, but everything is controlled,” said Walters, 50.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more conservative,” said Venable, 55. “Everybody wants to come home to their families at night. Taking an unacceptable risk is going to jeopardize that.”…  “