Smokejumpers’ DC-3 retires

DC-3 smokejumper
Jump-42, a US Forest Service DC-3, retires. USFS photo, taken at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012.

A retirement ceremony was held Monday, October 24 in Ogden, Utah, for a 69-year old firefighter that served for 42 years. It was J-42, a DC-3 that for four decades flew firefighters and smokejumpers around the western United States. Manufactured in 1943, its radial piston engines were replaced with modern turbines a number of years ago, extending its life while providing more reliability and requiring less maintenance. Most recently the aircraft had been assigned to the smokejumper base at McCall, Idaho.

There is still one other US Forest Service DC-3 remaining, stationed at Missoula. It also went through the turbine conversion years ago, but recently serious structural problems were found which required extensive repairs. That aircraft is expected to begin flying again next year. It will probably be used for a few more years before it too faces retirement.

Approximately 607 DC-3s were built between 1936 and 1942. At that time their cost was $79,000. Most of them had 14-cylinder Pratt and Whitney radial engines.

After being around the DC-3s off and on while on fire assignments, I never got used to the strange, new turbine sound coming from the aircraft after the conversion. I loved hearing those 28 cylinders. We still get to hear it from the 36 cylinders in the two radial engines on the currently-flying P2V air tankers operated by Neptune Aviation out of Missoula. But the days for hearing that sound are numbered, as the air tanker fleet transitions to the “next generation”.

When I worked on the El Cariso Hot Shots in southern California, we were told that previously, in the 1950s or 1960s, a DC-3 had been stationed at a nearby airport, possibly Ontario, ready to transport El Cariso and the Del Rosa Hot Shots to fires.

I flew in one of the USFS DC-3s in the 1970s, from Redding, California to a fire on the Plumas National Forest. At the time I had a cold and my ears had difficulty equalizing in the unpressurized aircraft. The pain was severe as we climbed to cruising altitude and leveled off. After a while my ears finally equalized and the pain subsided. That’s when we began our descent and the process started all over again.


Thanks go out to Ken and Chris.