Air Attack 330, and a Skymaster story

Air Attack 330
Air Attack 330, an OV-10A, at Ramona, California, operated by Cal Fire. Photo: Cal Fire

I like this photo that was provided by Cal Fire in San Diego. It shows Air Attack 330 flying very low and dispensing smoke as if it were designating a target for a following air tanker. Either that, or he has a serious engine problem.

Cal Fire began acquiring OV-10A’s, or Broncos, in 1993 to replace their Cessna OV-2  Skymasters. The OV-10A’s can serve double-duty as both a platform for the Air Tactical Group Supervisor and as a Lead Plane.

Cessna Skymaster
Cessna Skymaster, OV-2

I flew in a Skymaster once, as a passenger from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The aircraft has two engines–one in the front and one in the rear–in a push/pull configuration.

I was working on a fire and had been flown from San Diego to Santa Barbara and needed a ride home after being released. The pilot walked right out of the pilot’s lounge and got directly into the aircraft. He didn’t bother with any pre-flight checks. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he may have done that earlier in the day.

Flying from Santa Barbara to San Diego in a straight line takes you over the Pacific Ocean. Not long after we reached our cruising altitude over the ocean the sound from the engines decreased suddenly and I realized that the rear engine had stopped. I saw some of the gauges on the instrument panel go down to zero.

The pilot said not to worry, that the Skymaster can sustain level flight on just one engine. But the altimeter I had my eyes glued to was showing that we were descending. As the pilot kept saying not to worry, he began turning to the left toward land, he was trying to restart the engine, and was looking through a Jeppesen Flight Guide for the closest airport. He was a busy guy as I sat there wondering if we could make it to a runway somewhere, anywhere. I was checking the altimeter every 1.5 seconds. It kept going down.

Finally the pilot got the rear engine started again, and we continued our merry way to San Diego. This time over land. We arrived safely at Gillespe Field where I kissed the ground after I got out of that damn Skymaster.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “Air Attack 330, and a Skymaster story”

  1. Bill great story, glad you made it to the ground! I too remember flying on short trips in a skymaster and having “problems” but we made it!

    Also, do not forget that BLM had 4 OV-10’s in the early 90’s that were in service untill a major crash near Holister-Pinicles stopped the program. It wa a bad crash with the loss of the BLM pilot. It was too bas as it was pilot error.


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