Wildfire pilots

In Read on February 16, 2011 at 7:03 am

During southern California’s 2009 wildfire season, Popular Mechanics did a profile on the pilots who fly the tanker planes used to aid firefighting efforts:

Their mission: Stop the fire’s advance by laying down lines of retardant. The flying is aggressive and dangerous–since 1958 more than 130 crew members in large tankers have died. Until recently, aerial firefighting was the last vestige of a seat-of-your-pants aviation culture of tinkerers and pilots who ruled wildfire attacks for 50 years.

The flying, says [pilot Joe] Satrapa, was always “right on the edge.” He’s tall and broad-chested, 66, with a ruddy face, a gray mustache and 17 years of tanker flying since retiring from the Navy in 1991. “No two drops are the same. You’re close to the ground; you’re looking out for trees and poles. You’ve got wind shears and crosswinds and convection columns that can flip you right on your back, and smoke and pieces of ember the size of grapefruits. You’ve gotta plan your escape route every time.”

There’s lots of history and detail at the link, including a video from the cockpit of an air tanker.

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