From baseball stars to forest fires: Southeast Fire Centre water bomber has an interesting past

Tanker 489 in action. Photo: BC Wildfire Service
The Kay-O was the Los Angeles Dodgers team plane for most of the 1960s. Photo: Lockhead Martin
The Kay-O was immortalized in the form of a model airplane. Photo: HM HobbyMaster
Tanker 489 in action. Photo: BC Wildfire Service

There’s a new bird in the skies above Castlegar and it has an interesting history.

The Lockhead Electra water bomber contracted to the Southeast Fire Centre hasn’t always been putting out fires. It once carried the Los Angeles Dodgers from game to game.

Lockhead built 170 L-188 Electras in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The plane with the serial number of 1006 was originally owned by the General Motors Corporation. But Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley had his heart set on an Electra for his team’s plane and offered to purchase the almost new plane from the corporation.

The plane would serve the team from 1962-70, carrying players and management to the 1963, 1965 and 1966 World Series and bringing them home as world champions in 1963 and 1965. Some of the most famous players from those years were Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton.

The plane underwent an extensive remodel to suit the team that included four bunks, six card tables, a lounge area, 66 seats and custom designed carpeting featuring baseball bats and balls.

During those years, the plane was known as the Kay-O, after O’Malley’s wife Kay.

The Kay-O was even immortalized in the form of a model airplane.

Eventually the Dodgers moved on to a new plane and the Electra was once again converted to serve as a passenger plane for a series of commercial airlines ending with Mandala Airlines in Indonesia.

That is where Neil Fix and wildfire suppression company Air Spray come into the picture.

In 1995, Fix flew to Indonesia on behalf of Air Spray to pick up the Electra.

The plane was converted into an airtanker that holds 3,000 US gallons of fire retardent and can land on paved or compact gravel runways.

Since then, the plane has helped put out fires across the province on contract with the BC Wildfire Service in areas such as Castlegar, Penticton, Prince George, Williams Lake, Kamloops and Prince George.

“But Castlegar is her favourite home,” said Fix, who has been the primary captain of the plane for most of its 25 years of fire suppression service.

When the plane, now known as Tanker 489, is contracted out to a fire centre, it comes with pilots, a maintenance team and a truck full of tools and parts.

Cristalle Fairbank, the other pilot stationed in Castlegar this year, happens to be the first female pilot of an Electra.

The former Dodgers plane is now the longest in-service airplane that Air Spray owns.

“It is very good at low-level operations and in the mountains of British Columbia,” said Fix. “It is a very useful airplane for getting large loads out quickly.

“It is very maneuverable and designed to work out of smaller airports and get off short runways.”

After more than 18 years of flying the plane, Fix has become very attached to it.

“She’s a very lovely plane, with a unique personality,” says Fix. “It is by far, everybody’s favourite.”

Tanker 489 will make Castlegar its home base until September, but may be moved around the province as required, depending on the nature and severity of the fire season.



betsy.kline@castlegarnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

bc wildfirescastlegar

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

EDITORIAL: Editor bids farewell

Editor Paige Mueller will be leaving The Free Press team at the end of July

Aislinn Dressler competes in 2020 Youth Innovation Showcase

Dressler was a finalist at the showcase, exhibiting her energy efficient fridge design

Stories decorate city pathways for new reading initiative

The Fernie Women’s Resource Centre began the initiative in support of the local early years community

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Metal detector rings true for Cranbrook couple

A Cranbrook couple went looking for a missing ring after reading a plea on Facebook

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Most Read