Ryan Air Attack Base History
Early YearsIn 1957 the United States Forest Service commenced airtanker loading operations, and in 1959 the California Department of Forestry (now CAL FIRE) began their operation at Ryan field. Both agencies maintained separate parking, loading, and mixing areas. However the initial stages of a joint base operation had begun. In 1969 the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the California Department of Forestry (CDF) truly merged into a joint agency air attack base sharing the base operation, responsibilities and facilities. The joint base concept successfully continued operation until 1998 when the USFS moved their airtanker base operation to the larger and recently vacated Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino.
For over 50 years, Ryan Air Attack Base has played a vital role in wildland fire suppression efforts in Southern California and Riverside County.
Ryan Air Attack Base (RAAB) is named after the late Claude T. Ryan, who is most famous for having designed the spirit of St. Louis airplane, and who began the Ryan School of Aeronautics in Hemet during World War II. Through a contract with the Federal Government 14,000 cadets were trained to fly. With the end of World War II and the need for pilots diminishing, training ceased. The facility eventually became a public airport owned and operated by Riverside County.
(Pictured: The base as it looked in the late 1980's.)
(Pictured: TMB's assigned from the late 1950's.)
From the beginning of Ryan Air Attack base, CAL FIRE and the USFS used privately owned and contracted World War II vintage aircraft. The type and sizes of aircraft varied based on the vendor, availability of flyable airframes, and spare parts. As the years counted off and the flight hours increased, these airplanes became static museum displays, or were robbed for parts to keep the dwindling fleet flying. Because of te dwindling air tanker fleet, CAL FIRE aquired excess U.S. Navy Grumman S-2A submarine hunting aircraft. These planes were converted from military use to firefighting aircraft, using a design developed by Hemet Valley Flying Service. The first two aircraft build-ups were completed by Hemet Valley Flying Service and tested by Ryan Air Attack Base. The basic aircraft design has been in continuous service since 1975.
(Pictured: An air tanker arked in front of the RAAB tower in the early 1980's.)
Ryan Air Attack base is one of 19 tanker bases strategically located throughout California, based on climate, fuels, geography, and fire occurrence. The base provides initial attack aircraft service to over 17,000 square miles of private, state, and federally owned lands. Up until 1998, RAAB was statistically the busiest air tanker base in the United States. Delivering an average of 1.5 million gallons of retardant annually. With the USFS moving to San Bernardino, these statistics have dropped.
In 1977 CAL FIRE began a two-week pilot helitack program utilizing a contracted helicopter. Headed up by Captain Emil Derdowski and two Firefighters, the program was extended to a total of four weeks. The success of this pilot program gave birth to Hemet Ryan Helitack Base, using a full time contract helicopter staffed with three Captains and nine Firefghters operating out of RAAB.
In 1981, CAL FIRE acquired Bell UH-1F Huey helicopters through the Federal Excess Property Program (FEPP), and leased them from the U.S. Air Force through the USFS for one dollar a year. This program now allowed CAL FIRE to operate and manage its own fleet of fixed wing and rotor wing aircraft. In 1992 CAL FIRE aquired several of the larger Bell UH-IH helicopters through FEPP, with Hemet Ryan Helitack (stationed at RAAB) receiving one of the first buildups. These helicopters were further upgraded with larger engines, main rotor, and tail boom assemblies, making them the "Super Huey" model. CAL FIRE now has eleven of these helicopters in service, with nine based throughout the state.
Air Attack Operations
In 1993, the OV-10 replaced the older Cessna 337 as Air Attack 310 based at RAAB. In June of 2001, CAL FIRE replaced the older S-2A's at RAAB with Tanker 72 and Tanker 73, both new S-2G Grumman models. The upgrades include constant flow 1,200 gallon tanks, and turbine engines, allowing for better capabilities and performance.
If you are interested in a tour of the facility, or a formal presentation of CAL Fire Air Operations for your civic group, club, or school, please contact Ryan Air Attack Base at (951) 652-2066 during normal business hours. You may also email RAAB at: RRU.RyanAirAttack@fire.ca.gov