Monday, September 28, 2015

Aerial Firefighting

After experiencing the wildfires in Northern Idaho this past summer and watching the airplanes used to fight those fires, we were pleased to find The Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting in Greybull, Wyoming.

This museum is located at the edge of the South Big Horn County Airport, which was formerly the base of operations of Hawkins & Powers Aviation. This company pioneered the use of heavy WWII era aircraft as aerial tankers for use in fighting wildfires. The airport was the busy operations center for this company which contracted with the US Forest Service to fight fires across the western US starting in the 1970's.
C-130A Dropping Fire Retardant
In 2002 two aerial tankers broke up in flight, killing the flight crews and destroying the aircraft. This led to USFS grounding the fleet and ultimately discontinuing the use of WWII aircraft as aerial tankers. Hawkins and Powers Aviation closed their doors and most of their aircraft and equipment were auctioned to cover debts.

There were a few planes left behind, and the museum was founded and staffed first by former Hawkins & Perkins employees and later by the Greybull Area Chamber of Commerce.
Flying Boxcar
Two of the planes on display are converted cargo planes designated C-119 but more widely known as the Flying Boxcar. The unusual plane had two tails to allow a large cargo loading door at the rear. One of the Flying Boxcars displayed has a jet engine mounted on top to increase power. Who'd have thought you could just bolt a jet engine on top of an old propeller driven plane and have it fly??
Flying Boxcar with Added Jet Engine
None of the planes on display are airworthy, and most are in an advanced state of deterioration. The Flying Boxcar had aluminum skin over most of the plane, but the control surfaces were fabric covered. Most of the fabric is now rotted away. 
Rotted Fabric on Tail
The two largest planes on display are the PB4Y-2, more commonly called Privateer. This was a modification of the B-24 bomber that saw widespread duty during WWII. 
This plane has four massive radial engines, and I'll bet it was really loud when they were all running. Looking into these engines they are so complicated that I'm amazed they ever all ran at once!
Huge Radial Engines
Beyond the museum fence is an aircraft boneyard where another twenty or so planes are sitting in various states of disrepair and disassembly. I guess this is the sort of place that you come if you need a hard-to-find part for your obsolete airplane. Kind of sad to see, but I suppose old planes have to sit somewhere.
Aircraft Boneyard in the Distance
So if you are an aircraft enthusiast or are interested in the history of aerial firefighting, make your way to Greybull, Wyoming and give this place a visit.



  1. Sometimes those out-of-the way almost forgotten museums can be a real find..... so interesting!

  2. Thanks for the blog post. I like these kind of places myself. Being from Tucson, they have these kind of boneyards there too.