USA — Hear the words “Hemet-Ryan Airport” and many Inland residents likely think of packed air shows, where pilots perform acrobatic maneuvers in loud classic planes.
But while the air show garners attention, the airport also is home to the historic Ryan Air Attack Base, a tanker facility that has played a vital role in wildfire fighting efforts for more than 50 years.
The base was named after the late Claude T. Ryan, who is best known for his role in the design of the Spirit of St. Louis Airplane, which was used by Charles Lindbergh when he made the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927.
Hemet-Ryan Airport is home to the historic Ryan Air Attack Base, a tanker facility that has played a vital role in wildfire fighting efforts for more than 50 years.
Ryan later launched the Ryan School of Aeronautics in Hemet during World War II, working with the federal government to train about 14,000 Army cadets to pilot. Once the war ended, the need for pilots diminished and the training was halted.
In 1957, the U.S. Forest Service began conducting air tanker loading operations at the site, and in 1959 the California Division of Forestry, now known as the California Department of Forestry, started its own operation at the field.
For years, the two agencies functioned separately at the shared site. Then, in 1969, the two agencies merged into a single, joint agency air attack base. With the merger, the agencies shared base operation responsibilities as well as facilities. The merger continued until 1998, when the U.S. Forest Service relocated efforts to the vacated Norton Air Force Base.
A variety of planes have been used at the Hemet base, including privately owned World War II vintage aircraft that were contracted for use by firefighters. Excess U.S. Navy Grumman S-2A submarine-hunting aircraft also were converted from military planes to firefighting aircraft with help from a design developed in Hemet.
In 1981, CDF secured Bell UH-1F Huey helicopters. Several larger Bell UH-IH helicopters were acquired by CDF in 1992. In 1993, the OV-10 replaced the Cessna 337 and in 2001 the older S-2A’s at Ryan were replaced with new S-2G Grumman models. The later models allow for longer periods of constant water flow, dramatically aiding firefighting efforts.
In addition to firefighting, the Hemet-Ryan airport, which is owned by Riverside County, also serves civilian flyers. The airport is popular with locals, as well as business leaders and visitors to the area.