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

Tanker 489 in action. Photo: BC Wildfire ServiceTanker 489 in action. Photo: BC Wildfire Service
The Kay-O was the Los Angeles Dodgers team plane for most of the 1960s. Photo: Lockhead MartinThe 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 HobbyMasterThe Kay-O was immortalized in the form of a model airplane. Photo: HM HobbyMaster
Tanker 489 in action. Photo: BC Wildfire ServiceTanker 489 in action. Photo: BC Wildfire Service
From baseball stars to forest fires: Southeast Fire Centre water bomber has an interesting past

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

The Rotary Park Auto Tourist Camp, circa 1923. Two years later, the camp was moved Pooley Avenue, and is now the Mount Baker RV Park. Courtesy Jim Cameron.
After 96 years, Cranbrook’s downtown RV park is facing its future

The “Cranbrook Auto Camp” — Mount Baker RV Park — has operated at that spot since 1925. That’s about to change

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

Latest COVID-19 numbers in Cranbrook and surrounding regions.
Cranbrook sees five COVID-19 cases in first week of January

To date, there have been nearly 230 cases reported in the East Kootenay region

(Courtesy photo)
SD5 joins teachers in calling for end to FSAs

School District 5 has sent a letter to the Ministry of Education to replace FSAs with alternate testing

Cranbrook Search and Rescue safely and effectively rescued an injured snowmobiler on January 16. Pictured are six members took part in a Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 course, which also took place on the 16th. Members are required to have at minimum AST1 for winter responses. (Facebook/Cranbrook SAR file)
Cranbrook SAR rescues injured snowmobiler from Lumberton area

A helicopter crew assisted in safely and quickly located the injured person

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Sunnybank
COVID-19 related deaths at Oliver, West Kelowna and Vernon senior care homes

Sunnybank, Heritage Retirement Residence and Noric House recorded deaths over the weekend

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Most Read