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Help Save the Fire Bombers

Without warning, in May 2004, just before another possibly long and hard fire season began, the U.S. Forest Service cancelled contracts on 33 medium and large fire bombers.  Their reasoning was based upon the loss of three of these fire bombers, in the past ten years, due to structural problems.  Although these accidents were serious and caused the loss of life of the crews, the decision could have long term disastrous results and indirectly cause more loss of life and property.


The past few years have pointed to the need for more aerial fire suppression capability and the military was called in to help.  But the military only has a handful of C-130 cargo aircraft with fire suppression gear and trained crews.  The loss of 33 fire bombers at this time is unbelievable and could not happen at a worst time.  The Forest Service claims it can make up some of the loss of capability by using Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) aircraft and helicopters.  But with the average capacity of the grounded tankers at any where from two to six times the SEAT aircraft and helicopters, it would be difficult if not impossible to even get close to the lost capability on such short notice.


The long term implications are that these companies, that contract with the Forest Service, were given no warning and have spent millions in preparation for this fire season.  They get a return on their investment by fulfilling these contracts.  With only a handful of companies trained and geared towards this business, many if not all could close their doors forever leaving the future of large private fire bombers in question.  To further complicate the issue, the U.S. Military will no longer sell large aircraft, capable of being converted for fire bombers, to private companies.  Two of the lost aircraft were early versions of the C-130 Hercules.  The military got rid of these early aircraft due to wing problems and the latter versions have stronger wings.  But yet the military would rather cut these aircraft up than to allow private companies purchase them to update the fire bomber fleet.


As a former fire fighter, a former military aviator, one that still have friends in the fire service and even one friend as a fire bomber pilot, this action concerns me.  I do not have any association with or have any financial connections with these companies, it just concerns me.  Fire fighting is inherently dangerous and each fire fighter accepts the risk.  These large fire bombers can suppress large fires in remote areas and can help reduce this risk to ground fire fighters while helping in reducing the loss of life and property.  Last years devastating fires in California are a perfect example.  The amount of property damaged and loss of life was reduced by the use of these large fire bombers.


The time to act in NOW. 

You need to contact your Senators and Congressman to have them require that the U.S. Forest Service reinstate these contracts.  This is only a short term solution to this year’s fire season.  The long term would be to develop more detailed aircraft inspection programs and to allow surplus military aircraft to once again be bought by these companies.  Inspection programs will take time and probably not be completed by the end of this fire season.   I have included links to the Associated Airtanker Pilots website that contains more information and a downloadable petition to get this issue resolved.  Please take the time to contact your representatives.  Time is not on our side for this issue to be resolved.



Greg Brubaker

President, Aero Incorporated


Aero Inc's Fire Bomber Pictures


Associated Airtanker Pilots


Hawkins & Power


Neptune Aviation



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