Old Warhorse Helping Firefighters

Wildfire the 2003 Season
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Nevada is only supposed to get one large air tanker to fight wildfires this summer. When it arrives sometime this month, the plan is for it to be stationed in Battle Mountain.

But with fires already breaking out throughout the state, fire managers have been hoping they'd get something sooner and closer.

Well this week they got it.

Little did Douglas Aircraft know back in 1945 that their brand new nondescript DC-4 would someday be a gift of the fire gods.

She was a C-54 then - flying cargo and war weary troops home from World War II. Two years later she flew coal and food into a beseiged Germany when the Soviets barricaded Berlin from the allies.

She shed her military uniform in 1953 and was sold to Falcon Airlines where she shuttled passengers back and forth until she was set aside in favor of jets.

But that's just the beginning of her long career.

For close to two decades now, she's been employed by the U.S. government as an air tanker.

Usually by this time of year she'd be heading for Arizona or New Mexico. But for some reason she is in between contracts and has no permanent summer home yet.

So just as fire managers here are chewing their fingernails up to their elbows worrying about what they're going to do this year with eleven less air tankers than in years before . . . ol' number 161 shows up as pretty as you please here at Minden.

Rumor has it she could be here for 30 days - or maybe a month and a half until some muky-muck decides what to do with her.

But in the Interim, her veteran crew of hundreds of missions are ready to fly in a moment's notice to do battle with fire right here in our own back yard.

And, for the moment, Nevada's fire managers have time to let their finger nails grow back.

Of all the air tankers in service, the DC 4, the 6's and 7's have been the most reliable and the safest. They can fly right down the throat of a nasty incident, and drop 21,000 pounds of mud right in mother nature's eye, and fly right back out again without the crew having to worry about the plane falling apart in chunks.

These old Dougs were overbuilt . . . which is why so many are still flying. With the guts to take on mother nature's firey temper tantrums.

The old Doug may be old and slow but it's also very reliable. Air crew members tell me this is probably one of the best platforms for air tanker serive they have ever been involved with . . . and they wish they had more of them..

And that's quite a coincidence - because right now the State of Nevada wishes they had more of them also.