Western Trips

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grumman S-2A Tracker / Submarine Warfare to Forest Fire Fighting

pacific coast air museum 
One of the most unique aircraft on display at the fascinating Pacific Coast Air Museum is the Grumman S-2A Tracker, an airplane that has supplied great service to the United States. The Pacific Coast Air Museum is a rare find in beautiful Sonoma County California and makes a fun companion side trip during your wine country tour. Located just a few miles northwest of Santa Rosa, the air museum which is located at the Charles Schulz Sonoma County Airport is a fun stop for young or old and everyone in between. Sonoma county's wineries are located all around the airport so a side trip there works out well during a wine country vacation.

The Grumman S-2A Tracker

The Grumman S-2A Tracker was built for the military as a submarine hunter aircraft. The plane is powered with two Wright Twin Cyclone R-1820 nine cylinder radial engines. Each engine produces 1,500 horsepower. The cruise speed of this aircraft is 150 MPH with a top speed of 195 MPH. The Grumman S-2A has an empty weight of 18,750 pounds with a maximum takeoff weight of 27,000 pounds. Dimensions are a 70 ft wing span, 43 ft 6 in length, 16 ft 7 in height and a wing area of 496 sq ft.

firefighting airplane
Grumman S-2A Fire Tanker
The S-2A Tracker was designed to be a replacement for the Grumman AF-2 Guardian. The Tracker's first flight was in December 1952 and it entered Naval service about 14 months later in February 1954. The aircraft had a long military service life, not being replaced by the Navy until 1976. During it's service with the Navy, the S-2A was a carrier based anti-submarine aircraft.

Fire Fighting Capabilities

The Grumman S-2A aircraft shown in this story, after it's service in the Navy, was a longtime member of California's fire fighting aerial fleet. This particular firefighting aircraft, while serving the California Department of Forestry, referred to as the CDF, was based in Santa Rosa. When the Forestry Department converted it's fleet to turbines the Pacific Coast Air Museum was able to take it over. Now this aircraft is a permanent display on the museum grounds. An interesting fact is that the Sonoma County Airport has long been a Calfire Attack Base. There are many CDF Attack Bases located throughout California. The Sonoma CDF base was established in 1964 and according to their government web site responds to about 300 calls each year. The Attack Bases serve to provide quick initial attack on wildland fires. The Sonoma Attack Base currently has on hand one OV-10 Bronco and two of the newer S-2T tankers. The base covers a fire protection area of some 4,000 square miles and pumps about 300,000 gallons of fire retardant per year. The current S-2T's each carry 1,200 gallons of retardant. Sometimes an aircraft of this type is referred to as a water bomber but in actuality the plane carries retardant with names such as Fire-Trol and Phos-Chek. Some of today's aerial firefighting craft also may carry tanks with a gum derivative to thicken the water and reduce runoff. Modern firefighting aircraft typically take advantage of the newest retardant additives.

Cal Fire

Airplane fire fighting of course includes more than the aerial tanker planes. The Smokejumpers, who probably have one of the more dangerous fire fighting jobs, are dispatched from smokejumper bases spread thoughout the western United States.

CalFire currently operates forty-eight aircraft spread throughout the state. being a statewide fire fighting agency, Cal Fire offers protection to about thirty-one million acres of state owned wildlands and also provides emergency services on a contractual basis in about 36 counties. The location of the Attack Bases make it possible in most circumstances for the aircraft to reach a target destination within twenty minutes. Air tactical planes fly overhead during a fire directing both the S-2T tankers and helicopters. According to the state, the annual budget for the Cal Fire program runs about $20 million per year.

cdf insignia
Department of Forestry Emblem on plane
The S-2A's were first purchased by California from the military in 1972 while the Defense Department were replacing them with newer aircraft. After being converted to fire fighting craft, the first was put in service by the CDF in 1973. The S-2T fire fighting airplane which eventually replaced the S-2A was considered more maneuverable and faster.

I enjoyed mu trip to the Pacific Coast Air Museum and would recommend it to anyone passing through the Sonoma wine country. The Grumman S-2A on display at the museum is an excellent example of a wildland fire fighting aircraft.

Visit the Pacific Coast Air Museum

The Pacific Coast Air Museum is located at the Charles Schulz Sonoma County Airport. The airport is just a few miles northwest of Santa Rosa California and just a mile south of the town of Windsor. The airport is just about two miles west of US Hwy-101. If you're coming from the San Francisco area, take Hwy-101 north and exit at Airport Rd. just a few miles past Santa Rosa and turn left.

The Pacific Coast Air Museum also has on display the F-15A fighter jet that was the actual first responder over the New York area on September 11, 2001. This is a rare find for the museum and is a very interesting exhibit.

Lots of fascinating aircraft also on display at the Planes of Fame museums in the Los Angeles area and just north of Williams Arizona near the Grand Canyon. Also, you'll be interested in the marvelously restored and flyable Beech E-18S at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River Oregon.

(Photos from author's private collection)