When JD Davis saw Steve Whitby’s photos of the three C-119 air tankers taken in 1981 as they were lined up at the Hemet-Ryan retardant pits, he was kind enough to send us individual photos of each of the tankers, all shot when they were airborne — tankers 81, 82, and 87. JD’s pictures were taken between 1975 and 1982 in southern California.
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!
These first four photos were provided by GSA, and were presumably taken recently.
Over 1,100 C-119s were produced between 1949 and 1955. A few were converted to air tankers after they were discarded by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Some of them had the “Jet-Pack” modification to supplement the power produced by the dual radial engines.
Two C-119 air tankers crashed while they were dropping on fires in California, in 1981 and 1987. In the first accident, on the Los Padres National Forest, the outboard half of the left wing flexed downward, snapped off, and began cartwheeling along behind the air tanker. The two-person crew was fatally injured when the aircraft struck the ground.
The 1987 crash occurred on a fire about 10 miles southwest of Mt. Shasta, California. At about the time the pilot dropped the retardant the right wing separated from the airframe along with the tip of the left wing and the tail booms. The crew of three was killed.
Steve Whitby was kind enough to send us another batch of photos that he took of air tankers. (These first five photos are his; the other five were taken by Bill Gabbert.) This time Steve’s are from 1979 and 1980 at Hemet in southern California. Earlier we posted some photos he took last summer at the Mountain Fire in southern California. Thanks again Steve!