Pilots and Teams: Fire Bombing – 1975 To 2012

Sources: FPL Annual Reports, FPL files, personal communication from Peter Amirault based on FPL internal reports, FPL Web page.

Additional Reading

I flew the TBM for several years both in Fire Bombing and the Budworm spray (1960 – 67). My new book Fire Bomber Into Hell…A story of survival in a deadly occupation, contains some of my adventures with the TBM. [Linc Alexander]

The New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources (DNR) operates its Forest Fire Watch Web page. DNR has employed some of the FPL fleet to fight forest fires in New Brunswick since 1975.

An FPL TBM dropping fire retardant in advance of a fire.

Operations Base

DNRE’s fire operations base was located at Dunphy Airstrip starting in 1975; in 1994, the base was moved to the Air Tanker Operations headquarters at Miramichi Airport.

DNR-FPL Airtanker Base, Miramichi NB, 5 May 2010

DNR-FPL Airtanker Base, Miramichi NB, 5 May 2010.

DNR-FPL Airtanker Base, Miramichi NB, 5 May 2010

DNR-FPL Airtanker Base, Miramichi Airport, NB, 5 May 2010. The FPL hangar is on the left and the base office is at centre.

FPL hangar, Miramichi NB, 9 May 2006

FPL hangar, Miramichi NB, 9 May 2006. (Janice Goodine)

1975

In late June of 1975, FPL provided three TBMs to DNR for fire bombing:

#14 C-GLEK pilot F. Gilland
#6 C-GLEM pilot J. Kirschke
#A14 C-GLEN pilot J. Inman

Sixty loads were hauled from Dunphy Airstrip from 29 June to 2 July on four separate fires over 38.25 hours.

FPL also provided the Newfoundland Forest Service with two TBMs equipped for water bombing. The two TBMs [id not known] were stationed on stand-by at Gander Airport from 5 July to 10 July. No fires were fought. Pilots were C. Glass and R. Mereien.

1976

Prior to the completion of the 1976 larval spraying project, DNR was contacted regarding the utilization of FPL aircraft as fire bombers during the remainder of the fire season. As a result, an agreement was drawn up whereby FPL would supply suitably equipped aircraft, maintenance, pilots and necessary administration for an initial fee for conversion, plus a daily rate, plus an hourly rate for hours flown. DNR provided board and lodging for pilots and maintenance crew plus gasoline and oil consumed by the aircraft involved.

Two TBMs [id not known] were converted, were on stand-by for two days and flew approximately three hours.

1977

No firebombing was conducted by FPL in 1977. Stand-by procedures were drawn up but never initiated.

1978

FPL contracted eight TBMs for fire bombing July 4 to August 8.

#601 CF-IMI
#602 CF-IMK
#605 CF-IMN
#607 CF-AGN
#612 CF-MUD
#616 CF-KCM
#618 CF-MUE
#14 C-GLEK

Pilots were L. Jewers, K. Atkins, H. Koerfgen, B. Archer, A. Vallée, D. Kelly, B. Laird and R. Harrington.

TBM#2 demo water drop, Juniper NB, Jul 1978

TBM #16 water bombing demo, Juniper Airstrip, NB, July 1978.

Dates:

24 June, Juniper airstrip. 4 TBMs practiced fire bombing with a barrel on the runway using half-load drops, string drops and full-load drops.

4 July to 5 August, presumably Juniper. Fire bombing practice and bird-dog officer training at 4 hours per week. It was decided to use short-term retardant for stand-by and training at Juniper, while DNR would be capable of loading TBMs with short-term and long-term retardant at Dunphy.

5 and 26 August. First and last fire calls received. 35 fires were fought over 281.2 h, and 8 TBMs plus one spare were used.

30 August. Fleet reduced to 4 TBMs, but remaining aircraft were on stand-by until 7 Sep, when operations were shut down.

1979

After the completion of larval spraying, a four-TBM Avenger fire bombing unit complete with bird-dog officer and Cessna 185 bird-dog aircraft was trained and maintained in a state of readiness by FPL. Training began at Boston Brook Airstrip, but the unit was based at Fredericton Airport where facilities of two loads each (eight TBM loads) of short-term fire retardant were set up. Reloading was to take place at Dunphy Airstrip or other suitable airstrip at the discretion of the NB Department of Natural Resources.

Since it was considered as a backup unit only to DNR contract fire bombers, it was agreed that a 24-hour notice would be given by DNR for this unit to be put on “alert standby” status.

#602 CF-IMK
#605 CF-IMN
#607 CF-AGN
#616 CF-KCM
#601 CF-IMI (spare)
#612 CF-MUD (spare)

Pilots were J. Gomany, R. Harrington, L. Jewers and A. Wall.

The unit was disbanded on 20 August and worked on one fire (4 TBM loads).

Some images of TBMs fighting actual fires from the 1979 season

1980

After the completion of larval spraying, a four-TBM Avenger Fire Bombing unit complete with bird-dog officer and Cessna 185 bird-dog aircraft was trained and maintained in a state of readiness by FPL. The unit was based at Fredericton Airport where facilities of two loads each (eight TBM loads) of short-term fire retardant were set up. Reloading was to take place at Dunphy Airstrip or other suitable airstrip at the discretion of DNR.

The team comprised:

#602 CF-IMK
#607 CF-AGN
#612 CF-MUD
#618 CF-MUE

The pilots were B. Farrell, R. Harrington, L. Jewers and T. Martindale.

Dates:

4 July, Brockway airstrip. The 4 TBMs practiced fire bombing; also 6 sessions later in the month.

20 August. Fleet disbanded; worked on no fires. The unit was considered a backup to DNR contract fire bombers.

1981

FPL was not involved in fire suppression activities in 1981.

1982

FPL TBMs [id not known] were called out for firebombing on 26 May until 1 June. The TBMs flew for 9 hours, mostly on one fire.

1983

In 1983 FPL TBMs were not maintained in a state of readiness for firebombing as DNR felt that the extra expenditures for fire standby were not warranted.

However, on 23 June, 1983, DNR requested that FPL provide six TBMs with associated aircraft as quickly as possible.

Two TBMs plus one spare and bird-dogs were made available on 24 June, three more on 25 June and a sixth on 27 June. The seven TBMs [id not known] worked a total of 94 hours, and were released on 12 July, 1983.

TBM CF-AGN crashed at the end of the runway on take-off at Charlo Airport, and was a complete write-off. Pilot John Wood was not injured.

1984

No FPL TBMs were required for forest fire control in 1984.

1985

FPL aircraft were not required for forest fire control in 1985. For the future it was confirmed that particular TBMs should not be readied for forest fire suppression if they were more desirable for forest spraying.

1986-1989

FPL was not involved in any fire bombing activities during these years.

1990

Tank Conversions

The TBMs used for fire suppression from 1990 onwards were provided with tank systems that were totally different and more effective from those used previously. The decision to convert three TBMs to exclusive fire airtankers was made in 1990. The design and manufacture of the tanks were done by Conair and each aircraft was converted at considerable expense to have a tanking system that allowed for three different types of drops – full salvo, split salvo and a string drop. Prior to this FPL had been using pesticide tanks whereby the system for jettisoning a pesticide load in case of an emergency had been the same system used for dropping water or retardant.

The three TBMs converted were:

#22 C-GFPL
#23 CF-IMR
#24 C-GLEJ

1991

With the conversion of three TBMs into fire bombers, FPL played a major role in fire suppression activities during the 1991 fire season. These bombers responded to 400 fire calls out of a possible 404 throughout the season. Dunphy airstrip was the main base for the fire operations (8 May to 15 September), but other airstrips were also used.

#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Gomany
#24 C-GLEJ pilot J. Lavigne
TBM#22 water drop demo, Dunphy NB

TBM #22 giving a public water drop demonstration at Dunphy Airstrip, NB, 1991.

1992

Two additional TBMs were converted into fire bombers during the winter of 1991-1992. These were:

#3 C-GFPS pilot D. Wilkie
#21 C-GFPM pilot J. Gomany

The five TBMs operated out of the main base at Dunphy for the 1992 fire season. All aircraft left Fredericton for Dunphy on 30 April. GFPS and FIMR returned on 15 September and GFPM, GFPL and GLEJ returned on 21 September. Full scale practice drops were carried out at Brockway on 7 May, 29 June and 8 August. A total of 713 loads were delivered over 432.5 hours flying time.

#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Wood
#24 C-GLEJ pilot J. Lavigne

Public demonstrations were carried out at the Fredericton Air show, 22 and 23 August (all 5 TBMs) and at St. Anne, NB, on 12 September (3 TBMs) [id not known].

1993

This was the last year the TBMs were used for insect control; TBMs were now used solely for fire bombing.

TBM #14 GLEK was converted to fire bombing sometime over the winter, bringing a total of six active TBMs. TBM #13 GLEL was the spare that was stationed at Fredericton, ready to be activated if necessary. Six TBMs and one spare operated out of the main base at Dunphy for the 1993 fire season:

#3 C-GFPS pilot D. Wilkie
#14 C-GLEK pilot B. Leblanc
#21 C-GFPM pilot J. Gomany
#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 C-FIMR pilot J. Wood
#24 C-GLEJ pilot A. Archer

All aircraft left Fredericton for Dunphy on 30 April. GLEK, GFPM and GLEJ returned on 15 September and GFPS, GFPM and GLEJ returned on 16 September. A total of 333 loads were delivered over 234.4 hours (average 39 h).

1994

The same six TBMs operated out of DNR’s fire bases at Fredericton and Miramichi for the 1994 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton. The spare aircraft was #13 GLEL.

#3 C-GFPS pilot D. Wilkie
#14 C-GLEK pilot B. Leblanc
#21 C-GFPM pilot J. Gomany
#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Wood
#24 C-GLEJ pilot A. Archer

Practice drops were conducted at Brockway 26 and 29 April. The aircraft operated out of Fredericton 1 May to 12 June, 1994. All aircraft left Fredericton for Dunphy on 12 June. GFPM and FIMR returned on 15 September and GFPS, GLEK, GFPL and GLEJ returned on 16 September. A total of 317 loads of all retardant types were delivered.

1995

Six TBMs operated out of DNR’s Air Tanker Base at Miramichi for the 1995 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton [probably GFPS]:

#13 C-GLEL pilot D. Wilkie
#14 C-GLEK pilot B. Leblanc
#21 C-GFPM pilot J. Gomany
#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Wood
#24 C-GLEJ pilot E. Bradley

Operational training was conducted at Fredericton Airport 19 April. All aircraft except GLEJ left Fredericton for Dunphy on 1 May and returned on 22 September. The aircraft fought 112 fires during the hot and dry summer and delivered 1090 loads, which was a dramatic increase over the previous two years.

GLEJ returned early to Fredericton on 19 August and was replaced by an Air Tractor 802A, which was undergoing a one-month trial to assess its value as a fire bomber.

1996

Six TBMs operated out of DNR’s Air Tanker Base at Miramichi for the 1996 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton [probably GLEL]:

#3 C-GFPS pilot D. Wilkie
#14 C-GLEK pilot B. Leblanc
#21 C-GFPM pilot J. Gomany
#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Wood
#24 C-GLEJ pilot E. Bradley

Operational training was conducted at Fredericton Airport 19 April. All aircraft left Fredericton for Miramichi on 29 April and remained until 22 September. The six TBMs fought 54 fires and delivered 515 loads.

1997

Six TBMs operated out of DNR’s Air Tanker Base at Miramichi for the 1997 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton, probably FIMR:

#3 C-GFPS pilot D. Wilkie
#13 C-GLEL pilot J. Wood
#14 C-GLEK pilot B. Leblanc
#21 C-GFPM pilot P. Doherty
#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#24 C-GLEJ pilot E. Bradley

Operational training was conducted at Fredericton Airport 22 April. All aircraft left Fredericton for Chatham on 25 April and returned on 13 September. The season was not particularly busy.

The Avengers participated in the Miramichi International Air Show at the Miramichi Airport in June of 1997.

1998

Six TBMs operated out of DNR’s Air Tanker Base at Miramichi for the 1997 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton (GFPM):

#3 C-GFPS pilot D. Wilkie
#13 C-GLEL pilot J. Wood
#14 C-GLEK pilot B. Leblanc
#21 C-GFPM pilot B. Leblanc (spare)
#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Wood
#24 C-GLEJ pilot E. Bradley/J. Gomany

The spare GFPM was activated after the crash of #14 GLEK on 16 August.

Operational training was conducted at Fredericton Airport 21 April. All aircraft left Fredericton for Miramichi on 25 April and returned on 12 September. The season was not particularly busy; only 16 fires were worked on.

The Avengers carried out a fire bombing demonstration near Charlo for the private Woodlot Owners’ Field Day, sponsored by DNRE before returning to Fredericton on 12 September.

1999

Six TBMs operated out of DNR’s Air Tanker Base at Miramichi for the 1999 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton (GLEL):

#3 C-GFPS pilot D. Wilkie
#13 C-GLEL pilot E. Joyall (spare)
#17 C-GFPN pilot J. Wood
#21 C-GFPM pilot B. Leblanc
#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Gomany
#24 C-GLEJ pilot E. Bradley

The spare #13 GLEL was activated after the crash of TBM #17 GFPN on 1 May. GFPN had replaced #14 GLEK, which had crashed in 1998.

Operational training was conducted at Fredericton Airport on 16 April. All aircraft left Fredericton for Miramichi on 21 April. The last of the Avengers left for Fredericton on 15 September. The season was one of the busiest on record for the FPL team.

TBMs stored at Fredericton, 1999.

2000

Six TBMs operated out of DNR’s Air Tanker Base at Miramichi for the 2000 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton (GFPM):

#3 C-GFPS pilot J. Macneil
#10 C-GFPT pilot B. Leblanc
#13 C-GLEL pilot E. Joyall
#21 C-GFPM pilot J. Gomany (spare)
#22 C-GFPL pilot B. McKinnon
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Gomany/B. McKinnon
#24 C-GLEJ pilot E. Bradley

The spare TBM, #21 GFPM, was activated following an accident involving TBM #22 GFPL on 14 June.

Operational training was conducted at Fredericton Airport on 17–18 April. All aircraft left Fredericton for Miramichi on 18 April. One team was released on 11 September and the second on the 15th. The season was the quietest in years.

The fleet parked at FPL, 21 September 2001.

2001

A committee was formed to evaluate aerial forest fire protection options for replacing FPL’s aging TBM air tanker fleet. It was mandated that future aircraft have a dual role capability (aerial spraying and fire bombing).

Five TBMs and FPL’s new AT-802 (C-FFPL) operated out of DNR’s Air Tanker Base at Miramichi for the 2001 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton (probably GFPM):

#3 C-GFPS pilot C. Fournier
#10 C-GFPT pilot B. Leblanc
#13 C-GLEL pilot E. Joyall
#21 C-GFPM pilot R. Clowes (spare)
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Gomany
#24 C-GLEJ pilot E. Bradley

The spare was used as a seventh air tanker for a few days during a period of extreme fire hazard during August, the driest part of the fire season.

All aircraft left Fredericton for Miramichi on 29 April. One team was released on 21 September and the second on the 22nd.

The famous photo of the FPL fleet in the air, 2001.

2002

Three TBMs and three AT802s operated out of DNR’s Air Tanker Base at Miramichi for the 2002 fire season, plus one spare at Fredericton (GLEJ). GLEJ was activated later during a low demand period after two 802s were sent out of province.

#10 C-GFPT pilot B. Leblanc
#13 C-GLEL pilot E. Joyall
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Gomany
#24 C-GLEJ pilot L. Ricker

Fire activity and missions were well below average after a period of significant activity at the end of May.

2003

The company positioned six AT802s at the DNR Air Tanker Base in Miramichi. This was the first time the season began with a full complement of AT802 aircraft. In July the fire hazard and demand for resources were low enough that three AT802s were sent to BC to supplement resources in that province under the shared tanker resource program.

By 2003, 7 TBMs remained:
Active: FIMR, GLEJ, GLEL, GFPT
Stored: GFPM, GFPS, GFPL

Two TBMs were activated to cover contingencies in NB, but flew zero hours for fire suppression.

#10 C-GFPT pilot R. Clowes
#13 C-GLEL pilot B. McKinnon

TBMs in storage at FPL, 2003.

2004

FPL positioned six AT802s at the DNR Air Tanker Base in Miramichi. In late June the fire hazard and demand for resources were low enough that three AT802s were sent to BC and later Idaho to supplement resources there under the shared tanker resource program.

Three TBMs were activated to cover contingencies in NB, and flew 11.0 hours.

#10 C-GFPT pilot B. Gillies
#13 C-GLEL pilot K. Dorcas
#23 CF-IMR pilot R. Clowes

Three TBMs formerly used for fire bombing were sold in 2004.

#3 C-GFPS
#21 C-GFPM
#24 C-GLEJ

By 2004, 4 TBMs remained:
Active: FIMR, GLEL, GFPT
Stored: GFPL

TBMs #22 GFPL, #10 GFPT, #24 GLEJ and #13 GLEL stored at FPL, September 2004

TBMs stored for winter, September 2004.

2005

FPL positioned six AT802s at the DNR Air Tanker Base in Miramichi. For the second half of the season, three TBMs were activated to cover contingencies in NB, while three AT802s were sent elsewhere. The TBMs flew a total of 64.8 hours for fire suppression.

#10 C-GFPT pilot R. Clowes
#13 C-GLEL pilot E. Joyall
#23 CF-IMR pilot J. Gomany

By 2005, 4 TBMs remained:
Active: FIMR, GLEL, GFPT
Stored: GFPL

2006

FPL positioned six AT802s at the DNR Air Tanker Base in Miramichi. Three TBMs were activated to cover contingencies in NB, while some of the AT802s were sent elsewhere. The TBMs flew a total of 7.7 hours for fire suppression.

#10 C-GFPT pilot R. Clowes
#13 C-GLEL pilot E. Joyall
#23 CF-IMR pilot K. Dorcas

By 2006, 4 TBMs remained:
Active: FIMR, GLEL, GFPT
Stored: GFPL

TBM#10 parked, Miramichi NB, 9 May 2006

TBM #10 parked at the DNR Air Tanker base in Miramichi NB, 9 May 2006. (Janice Goodine)

2007

FPL positioned six AT802s at the DNR Air Tanker Base in Miramichi. At various times during the season, three TBMs were activated to cover contingencies in NB, while some of the AT802s were sent elsewhere. The TBMs flew a total of 78.5 hours for fire suppression.

#10 C-GFPT pilot R. Clowes
#13 C-GLEL pilot K. Dorcas
#23 CF-IMR pilot D. Wilson

By 2007, 4 TBMs remained:
Active: FIMR, GLEL, GFPT
Stored: GFPL

2008

The Company positioned six AT802 air tanker aircraft at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Air Tanker Base in Miramichi. At various times during the season, three TBM air tankers were activated to cover fire suppression needs in New Brunswick. The TBMs flew a total of 28.4 hours for fire suppression.

#10 C-GFPT pilot R. Clowes
#13 C-GLEL pilot K. Dorcas
#23 CF-IMR pilot D. Wilson

By 2008, 4 TBMs remained:
Active: FIMR, GFPT, GLEL
Stored: GFPL

Sold: GFPT (12 Nov 2008)

2009

FPL positioned six AT802F air tanker aircraft at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Air Tanker Base in Miramichi. At one point three TBM air tankers were activated to cover fire suppression needs in New Brunswick while three AT802s were in Quebec.

#13 C-GLEL pilot G. Deschenes
#22 C-GFPL pilot R. Clowes
#23 CF-IMR pilot K. Dorcas

By 2009, 3 TBMs remained:
Active: FIMR, GLEL, GFPL

2010

FPL positioned six AT802 air tanker aircraft at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Air Tanker Base in Miramichi.

The three remaining TBMs were activated for the fire season, but on April 23, 2010, #22 C-GFPL, crashed while conducting a practice flight resulting in the death of the pilot, Ron Clowes, a Forest Protection employee. See the GFPL history page for more details.

This was the last year that TBM Avengers were used to fight fires in New Brunswick.

#13 C-GLEL pilot K. Dorcas
#22 C-GFPL pilot R. Clowes
#23 CF-IMR pilot G. Deschenes

2011-2012

The last two remaining TBMs were sold, C-GLEL in 2011 and C-FIMR in 2012. Neither was assigned to any duties, and the only hours flown would have been in preparation for departure.

FPL continues fighting fires with its fleet of AT-802s.

One response to “Pilots and Teams: Fire Bombing – 1975 To 2012

  1. Great site, anyone know what the cost per hour is for aerial fore fighting / protection

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