Philippe Bodino receives the 2015 Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award

Walt Darran Award 2015
Left to right: Jerome Laval, CAL FIRE pilot; Richard Alder, General Manager, National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in Australia; Philippe Bodino; Rear Admiral Terry Loughran (CB FRAes) Royal Navy, Tangent Link Chairman, and conference speaker; and Jeff Cavarra, Program Manager at DynCorp International. Photo by Frédéric Marsaly.

The 2015 Aerial Fire Fighting Europe conference took place this year in Zadar, Croatia on April 29 and 30. During the dinner event on the 29th the second Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award was presented to Philippe Bodino. The Award is given annually to recognize a significant contribution by an individual or organization to aerial firefighting.

Colonel Philippe Bodino is a French firefighter who was heavily involved in ground firefighting but was also an “officier aero” (ie, Air Tactical Group Supervisor, or ATGS). He was director of the French Fire Academy (Ecole Nationale Superieur des Officiers de Sapeur-Pompiers) and led a group who wrote the manual for Sécurité Civile Fire Fighters on how to manage aerial fire fighting assets over incidents so that the aircraft could efficiently support ground troops.

The award for Mr. Bodino was presented by Richard Alder, General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in Australia. Mounted on the award is a model of Tanker 93, an S-2 flown by Mr. Darran when he was based at Chico, California.

The Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award is named after the late Walt Darran who was a highly experienced airtanker pilot from California, USA, a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in the aerial firefighting industry. In 2014, the first award was presented to George Petterson.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Frédéric Marsaly for supplying the information and the photo.

George Petterson receives Walt Darran award

George Petterson
George Petterson receives the Walt Darran award. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Wednesday night at the Aerial Firefighting conference during a dinner at the California Aerospace Museum in Sacramento, George Petterson received an award named after Walt Darran, a legend in aerial firefighting, who passed away November 15, 2013.

Mr. Petterson was instrumental in determining the cause of two fatal crashes of air tankers. Below is an excerpt from an article in Aviation Week and Space Technology, February 21, 2005, (which is more accurate than the information which we received and posted earlier).


“George Petterson of the Los Angeles office of the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the 2002 inflight wing failure of a U.S. Forest Service Lockheed C-130, which led to the grounding of the firefighting fleet. Finding that metal fatigue hidden by a doubler was the cause, Petterson expedited the dissemination of this information to operators so there would be the least interruption to firefighting services. The investigation stirred his curiosity about a 1994 crash of a C-130 in which the wing also came apart during firefighting. The NTSB had attributed that accident to a fuel explosion. At considerable personal effort, Pettterson retrieved evidence from that crash in mountainous terrain, showing how a fatigue crack had grown unseen beneath a doubler in a manner similar to that experienced by the 2002 crash aircraft. Due to Petterson’s initiative, the NTSB changed the probable cause of the 1994 accident to fatigue cracking (AW&ST May 10, 2004 p. 69).”

Walt Darran, rest in peace

Walt Darran passed away yesterday, November 15, 2013.

Walt Darran

Walt Darran, a good friend, passed away yesterday, November 15, after fighting a battle with stomach cancer. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his wife, Christine.

Walt was the first person we went to when we began our series of articles featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. Below is what we posted on Fire Aviation January 18, 2013.

We begin the series with one of the most experienced and well-respected pilots, Walt Darran. Walt has retired from active duty as an S2T air tanker pilot with CAL FIRE/DynCorp, and is now the Safety Committee Chairman of the Associated Aerial Firefighters and also serves as the Chairman of their Board of Directors.

Here are Walt’s responses to our questions:


Walt Darran cranking air tanker at Hemet
Walt Darran starting Tanker 68, a TBM at Hemet

Who is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
Don Ornbaum, airtanker pilot. In addition to his outstanding stick & rudder skills, Don’s ability to succinctly, powerfully, and without reservation present his ideas, both positive and critical, based on many years of aerial firefighting, which added greatly to the legend and store of Tribal Knowledge in the early days of aerial firefighting.

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Think. Never forget the option to just say “no”.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Two-way communication; outreach to firefighters in the field, both boots on the ground and aircrews, preferably one-on-one face time. There is currently a severe disconnect. Desk-bound managers at Fire & Aviation occasionally riding jumpseat on live missions, and maybe living out of a suitcase attached to an airtanker for 3-4 months at a time away from home, would help close the gap in their understanding and empathy.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Better communication. Visit your local airbase occasionally and have a cup of coffee with the aircrews. Better yet, call and debrief after an incident with suggestions (or even praise!) about a specific drop or incident. Check into; consider joining Associated Aerial Firefighters.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
“Lessons Learned” —Tribal Knowledge; now available in NTSB accident reports, NAFRI I and II, Cal Fire Safety seminars, and forum and archives. Experience is one way of learning, but it’s not always the safest, most effective, or most efficient way.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
If I had to pick only the two most cost-effective, flexible, Initial Attack aircraft that are FAA certified I’d have to say the Sikorsky S70C Firehawk and the Airtractor AT802AF (lots of them, all over the place, real IA, on “exclusive use” contracts, not CWN; including the Wipaire FireBoss amphibian option). Bombardier CL415 and AW319 are close behind. C130J with MAFFS II is OK for surge, but probably cost-prohibitive, and not as effective/efficient as a C130 with RADS.

Remanufactured, or newly converted, choices would include BAe146 (and RJ85), Erickson Sky Crane, DC10, B747, Grumman S2T, DeHavilland Dash 8-Q400, and C130H with RADS. Beriev BE200, Shinmaywa US-2, and Kamov KA-32A11BC have potential if/when FAA certified and given adequate OEM support. But they are all just tools in the tool box—each works well if, and only if, dispatched in a timely manner, then properly applied by a proficient crew in the appropriate situation.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
Flown on fires: Grumman TBM, Grumman Ag-Cat, Grumman S2A/T, Stearman PT-17, Lockheed P2V-5/7, Beech D18, MELEX Dromader M18T, Consolidated PBY5A, Fairchild C119C, Douglas B26, Douglas C54E. Carded on DC7B. Flight time in (airline/military, not airtanker conversions) Lockheed L100 Electra, DeHavilland DH4 Caribou, MD80 (series), DC10-10/30, Douglas AD4 Skyraider, Pilatus Tirbo-Porter. Airtanker evaluation flights, with drops, in BAe146-200, DC10-10 (jumpseat on fires), Airtractor 802 AF, and FireBoss. Loved them all, but felt most at home in S2A and S2T. The S2T has a big advantage in reliability, tank system, capacity, speed, maneuverability, performance, and comfort.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
Joe Satrapa describing to a reporter how a Heavenly vision of John Wayne told him to open the overhead hatch in his S2T, piss on a rag, and use it to clean his windshield in flight (after the retardant from the previous airtanker drop had totally obscured his cockpit vision).

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?

  1. Firebombers Into Hell, Linc Alexander.
  2. Air Attack on Forest Fires, Alexander Linkewich (Linc Alexander).
  3. Firecrew, Ben Walters with Kelly Andersson.

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Pilot for Hemet Valley Flying Service, 1971.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
GPS, TCADS [a collision avoidance system], iPhone with lotsa apps, air conditioning. Wish list; GPS moving map display with IR (Max-Viz) SVS overlay, ARINC with printer, auto-pilot, Electronic Flight Bag on iPad, Appareo Flight Reconstruction System. Folding gas-powered motor scooter.