Photos © Ruud Leeuw

Conair at Abbotsford, B.C. (2006)

My itinerary dictated a 'last minute' friday afternoon visit here.
Since I was uncertain about whether or not I could make the appointment happen in my busy travelling schedule, I had made no definite arrangements. So I walked in on 23Jun06, more or less unannounced, and was very much relieved when Dennis made some time available to show me around. Thanks!

In the middle of the season most aircraft were out on contract, but a few were still around.
This Canadair CL-215 C-GFSM is c/n 1098. It was registered to Conair on 20Apr01 and when I checked at time of writing, Dec.2006, it was registered to Conair Group Inc / Conair Aviation again on 05May06. I don't know why.
It still wears Alberta titles from previous assignment.
This piston-engined scooper was built by Canadair Inc in 1988.
Tanker 103's right engine has been taken off end it seems the prop of no.1 has been removed too.

Row of stored Gruman Trackers Across the airport, near the airtanker base, sits a good selection of deHavilland Canada (DHC) Trackers: all stored by Conair. The grey ones are former military CS-2's and are used for spares supply.
The de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd (DHC) built 100 CS-2 Trackers for the Royal Canadian Navy at Downsview Airport in Toronto, with some later sold (a.o.) to the Dutch Navy.

Here is a map, courtesy Google Earth (2005?), of
the Abbotsford airport locations I am talking about.

C-FKUR C-FKUR is former Canadian Air Force 12150, c/n DH-49.
I would welcome details about it service records.

Tracker stored at Abbotsford Here is some information from the Grumman S-2 Tracker web-site:
Tracker Types
The first production version wasn't much different from the prototype. The engine power was increased from 1500 hp to 1525 hp. The S2F-1 had an AN/APS38 search radar in the fuselage that could be lowered during ASW missions and a MAD boom in the tail area that could be extended 9 feet. On the fuselage, over the cockpit a APA69 ECM antenna was installed. This was later replaced by an AN/APA69 antenna in a radome.
The fuel tanks could contain 520 gallons of av gas, enough for a combat range of 841 sea miles or a 6 hours flight. The cruising speed was 130 knots and the top speed was 230 knots.
Under the right wing a very powerful search light was installed for night missions. Later version received an even more powerful light. The Tracker could carry three underwing station for 5 inch HVAR rockets, Mk54 depth carges or 2,75 inch rocket pods on each side. In the internal bay the S-2 could carry a Mk34 or Mk43 torpedo.
In the end of both engine nacelles tubes were installed for 8 SSQ2 and 2 SSQ1 sonobouys.
A total of 755 S-2F-1s were built.

Specifications S-2A
Length 42 feet Maximum speed 265 mph
Wingspan 68 feet 8 inches Range 841 miles
Height 16 feet 3 inches Service ceiling 22,000 feet
Weight, empty 18,315 pounds Crew 4
Weight, maximum 26,000 pounds

The last new version of the Tracker built by Grumman was the S-2E; later versions were all modified S-2s. There were some external differences between the S-2D and S-2E.
The E had a long retractable antenne under the fuselage and an extra small radome behind the belly search radar. Internally there were more changes.
The tactical navigation system was modernised and added with a computer. Improvements in the MAD system doubled the detection range compared with the S-2A.
A total of 252 S-2Es were built, of which 238 entered serbvice with the US Navy.

Specifications S-2E
Length 43 feet 6 inches Maximum speed 242 mph
Wingspan 72 feet 7 inches Range 1000 miles
Height 16 feet 7 inches Service ceiling 18,000 feet
Weight, empty 19,033 pounds Crew 4
Weight, maximum 29,150 pounds

Source: (2021: dead link)

C-GHCB Tanker 43 C-GHCB is of course a Douglas DC-6BF.

The aviation history of this Six (c/n 44893/647) reads as follows:
Delivered to United Airlines ("Mainliner Diamond Head") on 11Jan56 as N37569. US Overseas Airlines bought it 02Jun60 and after 3 years it continued to Ansett-ANA (18Nov63) as VH-INA.
Australian Aircraft Sales owned it as from 10Mar67 and from there it went as B-2003 to Far Eastern Air Transport, that same date!
It became N62876 for Bellomy-Lawson Aviation during July 1973 and during that November it was converted to a DC-6B(F) freighter.
Shortly after this a new phase in its career manifested itself when Conair converted it to airtanker after its purchase on 20Dec73; at first it operated as Tanker 443, later as 43.
By 30sep96 it had amassed a total of 33.191 flying hours. Later in 1996 it went on assignment to New Zealand for Conair.
It has been stored here since at least 2001.
Source of most of this: TAHS' Piston Engine Airliner Production List

In Dec.2006 I received following email-
"I pulled out my logbook and looked a few things up; I have tons of time in DC-6B C-GHCA, the twin sister of C-GHCB (C-GHLZ and C-GICD appear in my logbook as well).
It was always a challenge to switch between aircraft because of the variation in cockpit layout and instrumentation. We had to be extremely aware of the differences between Imperial, US and Metric standards. Sometimes things got a bit mixed up: we once had all our fuel flow charts and instrumentation in Imperial gallons, a fuel tank dipstick calibrated in US gallons and a fuel delivery truck that pumped in litres --- it took us a few days to figure out why the tanks were so dry after a trip....!"
Don McDonald

Tailnumber C-GHCB was removed from the Register on 21Jul09, as 'without further use / scrapped'..

By 2012 the last DC-6 of Conair was taken out of the firefighting industry:
"The last DC-6, C-GKUG, (and the final two Firecats C-FOPU & C-GABC) have been permanently withdrawn from service following their return to Abbotsford at the end of the 2012 summer contracts." Malcolm Nason on Classic Propliner forum Sep.2012

C-GKUG was reregistered 20Oct2013 as N501XP and on 06Jun2014 it flew north, from Everett,WA (KPAE) to Fairbanks,AK (PAFA). When I checked N501XP on in July 2015 this was the only flight that came up. No doubt it is another spares supply for Everts Air fleet of DC-6s.

UPDATE: it seems likely that C-GHCB was scrapped some time after 2009.

C-FKVB CS2F-1 C-FKVB is ex/CAF 12163, construction number is DH-62. More details on its service life would be welcomed.

Ken Swartz provided the following information-
- Canadair was never associated with the production of the Canadian Trackers (although as a subcontractor they may have built some parts). (INFO: Bombardier bought Canadair in 1986, then Shorts and Learjet, and finally de Havilland in 1992)
- The Trackers were only flown by the RCN and the Canadian Armed Forces while in service, never by the RCAF.

C-FKVR C-FKVR is a Canadair-built CS2F-1 with c/n DH-89, former CAF 12190.


C-FKVD C-FKVD is another DHC-built CS2F-1, c/n DH-67; they were all purchased from governmental surplus stocks to support the CS-2 airtankers in use by Conair.

During Dec.2006 (when this page was compiled) I received follwoing contribution:
"Conair aircraft were all originally 'organized' according to type: 100 - bird-dog planes etc.; Firecats were always 500-something, such as 568 or 572, but only the last two numbers ever appeared on the tail. 400s were the DC-6s, etc., same with the tail numbers.
The boneyard you photographed, or known locally as Conair's Bird Sanctuary, are all Canadian-built, purchased at a time when Conair was converting them to turbo-props and selling them to France (they had already sold about 20 of them, so the design was well accepted).
There was a proposal to convert all of the fleet to turbos for the BC Forest Service, an untendered contract for $40 million was awarded by the Social Credit government of the time, then the government fell and the contract was cancelled by the NDP... because the whole thing was a sweetheart deal that would not result in any new jobs. Rumour has it there were penalties paid so that the purchase of the Canadian fleet was compensated for.
When the sale of the fleet was considered, they were all flown to Halifax and given new grey paint jobs for $40,000 for each airframe, even though they had been sold (the government at work!). They were then ferried to YXX (mostly by Rod Boles and Gord Darnborough, as I recall) and were parked, engines were removed from some, and eventually they were moved to the east end of the airport.
The military stuff was largely discarded. None of them are Grummans, all are DeHavilland-later-Canadair. They are slightly shorter than Grumman models as ours had to fit on the Bonaventure."
[Name of writer withheld on request].

Kenneth I. Swartz added (7-2021): "The de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd (DHC) built 100 CS-2 Trackers for the Royal Canadian Navy at Downsview Airport in Toronto, with some later sold (a.o.) to the Dutch Navy.
To be accurate, all the references to Canadair-built should refer to DHC built. That’s why all these Canadian-built Trackers have have msn that begin with 'DH'."

C-FLQZ C-FLRA C-FLRB From left to right: C-FLQZ - C-FLRA - C-FLRB - ?
Their construction numbers (resp.): DH-54, DH-58, DH-64.

C-FKVG C-FKVG is CS2F-1 DH-72.

This is former CAF 12173.

Update 21Jan21:"A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum."
(Paul Henderson/Chilliwack Progress)

Also of note to the update above: (downtown)
"The Chilliwack Military Museum, run by CFB Chilliwack Historical Society (CFBCHS), recently moved from its location on Hocking Avenue underneath the Masonic Hall to Wellington Avenue, right in the heart of downtown Chilliwack." (Jan.2019)

UPDATE 7-2021:
After a long wait, the British Columbia Aviation Museum is finally in possession of its newest display aircraft.
“We’ve been anticipating that this machine would arrive months and months and months ago,” said museum librarian Doug Rollins.
The machine in question is a Grumman CP-121 Tracker. Ninety-nine planes were built under license by de Havilland Canada from 1956 to 1960. The planes were designed to operate from aircraft carriers in an anti-submarine role during the height of the Cold War.
“There’s a surprising number that were left because after they retired from military in 1990, they’re a flexible machine, they’re very versatile, and they found a very useful role in commercial aviation here in B.C.,” said Rollins. “Most of them were actually used in fire fighting as aerial tankers [and] water bombers.”
The museum’s Tracker was originally housed at the Canadian Military Education Centre in Chilliwack, but when it shut down in 2015, the plane went into storage. That’s when the Aviation Museum came to the rescue.
“They had no place for it and they offered it to us and we said great,” said Rollins.
The only hitch was that the museum had to cover the cost of delivering the aircraft.
“So a towing company towed it all the way from Chilliwack down to temporary storage on the Fraser River,” said Rollins. “From there it went to Steveston and stayed there for almost two months until the time was right.”
Its arrival is a welcome sight for those with a connection to the aircraft, such as Jay McGowan. His brother flew Trackers off of the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure.
“Seeing something like this come back to Victoria is really exciting, this is part of our heritage and history here in Victoria,” said McGowan.
The Tracker now sits outside the museum awaiting and restoration and will go on static display upon completion.

By Cole Sorenson (CHEK News), 07Jul2021. //\\
(Forwarded to me by Ken Schwartz).

Aircraft details:
de Havilland Canada CP-121 Tracker, CAF s/n 12173 (c/n DH-72)
ex-RCN CS2F-3 s/n 1573 (built as CS2F-2) - ex/ Conair C-FKVG
'573' on nose; 'TRACKER' on nacelle

C-FKVQ C-FKVQ is DHC-built CS2F-1 with c/n DH-88.
Ex/ Canadian Air Force, serial 12189.
C-FLRD and C-FKUR These are C-FLRD and C-FKUR, resp. DH-65 and DH-49.
Former CAF 12166 and 12150.
C-FKVK C-FKVK is DH-77, a CS2F-1 formerly with the CAF as 12178.
C-FKUQ C-FKUQ is ex/CAF 12147, DHC-built with manufacturer's serial number DH-46.
C-FLR? C-FLR? (O?) Another one I have difficulty in identifying: the last letter seems removed on purpose.
I was feeling guilty and rushed: coming here unannounced and having someone in the car (no doubt thinking: what the hell does he want to photograph these old hulks for?), who was delaying his test flight of an aircraft just out of maintenance (on a beautiful sunny friday afternoon), waiting for me to finish taking these pictures...
It sure was appreciated Dennis!
unidentified ..EE?
Probably C-FLRH, hard to identify from this side.


Plenty of spares in supply here..
This is C-FLRH, which makes it CS2F-1 DH-96, ex CAF 12197.

C-FKVR C-FKVR is DH-89, in its military days for the Canadian Air Force it wore serial 12190. Service records for all these "Stoofs" would be greatly welcomed.



C-FKVB is DHC-built CS2F-1 DH-62, ex/ 12163.

C-FKVP C-FKVP has c/n DH-82 and it too was built by deHavilland Canada as a CS2F-1 (ex/ CAF 12183).

This is a helpful link for
Canadian Military Aircraft Serial Numbers

David Dwight Jackson has a considerable website on the Grumman Tracker:

Now we come to the nearby airtanker base and we see the reason of all these stored Trackers: to support a selection to Firecats and then maintain them.
This is C-GWUO, Tanker 63, c/n 39 and conversion 003 and its days of firefighting seem over.
It was built as CS2F-1 by deHavilland Canada (DHC) for the Royal Canadian Navy as RCN 1540. Later it was reregistered as CAF 12140 as CP-121 COD Mk.II. Ownership went to Airborne Geophysics (Tucson,AZ) and it became N99261 tanker 75.
Until Conair bought it in 1980 and changed it to C-GWUO; it was converted to Firecat (Apr80) and was decorated with tailno. 563. This was current in 1999, but by 29may01 it was reported as stored at Abbotsford and the same on 09apr02, but now as Tanker 63.
C-GWUO C-GWUO Tanker 6
C-FOPV (c/n DH-34 and conversion no.006) was built as CS2F-1 by DHC for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), registered as RCN 1535.
It was bought by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and reregistered as CF-OPV, coded 55 in 1972.
In 1980 Conair bought it and its tailnumber was revised in C-FOPV; Conair converted it to a Firecat during Apr81 and had tailnumber 566 decorated the aircraft on its aerial firefighting missions.
I have no info when it was put aside in storage, nor when the 3-digit firefighting code was replaced by a 2-digit, '66'.

C-GSXX This is the Abbotsford airtanker base and we see here 'birddog' C-GSXX , an Aerostar 600 , registered to Conair 24Sep91 and also equipped with piston engines (manufactured by Ted Smith Aerostar Corporation in 1977, last Certificate of Registration 02Apr02).
C-FFIF Tailnumber of this birddog, or leadplane, is C-FFIF which makes it a Piper PA-60-600 according to Transport Canada's online database; it was registered 29Apr93 to Conair (last Cert. of Registration issued 02Apr02) and is also of piston-vintage.


Jeff Rankin-Lowe published the following, written by Jerry Vernon, on Yahoo's Classic-Propliner forum in Nov.2010:

Our after-dinner speaker at the Quarter Century in Aviation Club on 16Nov2010 was John Laing, from Conair. John has been with Conair for 37 years and says that he is now Numero Uno on the pilot's list. He is chief Convair pilot at Conair, a training captain with them, and said that in the off-season he exercises his various licences and does pilot check rides, recertifications, etc. outside of Conair.

John sat at our table and I asked him several questions and others asked some good questions after the talk.

I asked him about the Electras. He says that this one has arrived and there is another one coming from Coventry, but it will be a ferry flight only. The second one has been bought as a hangar queen for spares and will not be converted into a tanker.
He told me that the Conair Electras carry 200 gallons more than the Air Spray Electras and 400 gallons more than the Electras used in the U.S. Something to do with the tank arrangement, size, etc.

One problem with the Electras is also common to the Lockheed Hercules; it is the wing construction.
He said it when he talked to me and then someone after his talk specifically asked about Hercs as a possible tanker for Conair. He said both aircraft use a planked wing construction and it is very rigid. In fire bombing, they fly low and in a lot of turbulence. As a result, the wing skins crack and the wings have to be watched carefully and repaired when necessary.
I presume this is why Hercs have to get new wings every so many years and perhaps also related to the way the wings reacted to "whirl mode" when the Electra airliners had the major problem with wings coming off in early service! Not good, but the customers like the Electra as a tanker because of its speed and capacity.

I asked him about the yard full of Trackers at Conair/Cascade Aerospace. I understand that no more Trackers will be converted into Firecat or Turbo-Firecat tankers, but I had heard they are keeping them for the parts.
The only customer they had for the Turbo-Firecat was the French Government.
The problem is that adding the turbine engines converts the Firecat from an $800,000 airplane into a $1,500,00 airplane, with no increase in tank capacity and only a modest increase in transit speed. Speed is not a big thing, as their average distance from fire base to drop zone is something like 80 miles!
The Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss uses the same engine, but only one of them and the tank is almost as large.

The Trackers are being parted out to supply spares for other Tracker operators, as Conair is now the Design Authority for the type and supply parts worldwide to whoever is still operating the type.

Conair's own Firecats were never converted to Turbos due to the cost factor noted above.
The French didn't seem to worry about the cost, because they are a government operation, but Conair couldn't cover the extra cost with no real gain. Now they are being phased out and replaced by Air Tractors, Convair 580s, and Electras.
Only three Firecats were on contract this past fire season. The big problem is AVGAS, which is getting harder and harder to get at many airports...particularly, I presume, in the higher octane grades the Firecat needs. The remaining DC-6s have the same problem. Only one or two are left at Conair.

Someone asked him about the Convair 580s, aren't they getting a bit long in the tooth? He says there are hundreds of them still out there, and they are totally rebuilt by Kelowna Flightcraft and themselves. They make a very good tanker.
Negotiations are under way for several Convairs and birddogs to go down to Australia for this  fire season. I hope they don't get lost like one did several years ago, when they flew south of the equator and everything went the wrong way in their GPS!

Someone asked him about other tanker conversion possibilities. He said that Conair are looking at the BAe 146, the little four-jet airliner. There are a lot of them lying around for sale.

He gave some discussion about the Boeing 747 and MD DC-10 tanker conversions in the U.S. They are being used, but are very expensive. The 747 and DC-10 are supposed to drop from fairly high, but both of them have hit trees!

In reference to the item that was circulated recently about the Fire Boss tankers in Italy, I asked him what the difference is between an Air Tractor AT-802F and an AT-802AF? At first glance, I thought the 'AF' suffix meant "Amphibious Floats", but they all have amphib floats... The difference is the model of engine installed.

Someone asked him what happens when the load is dropped from the Convair 580 tanker? Does the plane leap up in the air when the retardant is dropped?
No, if he flies at the right speed he feels nothing, but gets a tone in his earphones to tell him that the load has dropped!
The load is right on the centre of gravity and the aircraft must be flown at a moderate speed and then there is no jump or pitch-up. If it is dropped too fast, there can be pitch-up. He described the reason for pitch-up, which caused some of the early tankers such as B-25s, to shed their wings (oops!).
When the retardant is dropped, it forms a solid front like a large door in the airflow under the aircraft. This causes a low pressure area behind the load and the air rushes in onto the tailplane and the aircraft will pitch up. A high-tailplane aircraft such as the Canadair CL-215 or CL-415 is less susceptible to pitch-up.
The B-25 was a disaster and several were lost, causing them to be banned as tankers in the U.S., however, the people in Alberta successfully used several B-25 tankers for many years, probably because they knew how to fly them conservatively to avoid the pitch-up problem.

John had with him another former tanker pilot, Linc Alexander, who has written several books on fire bombing. Linc had previously written "Pilot's Notes for Fire Bombing" and "Air Attack on Forest Fires", which have been
widely sold around the world as manuals for tanker pilots.

The new book is "Fire Bomber Into Hell", which is an autobiography, but also includes a lot of the technical explanations, hints, etc. for tanker pilots.
It sells for $22 and he sold a lot of them at the meeting.

There is a thorough explanation of pitch-up in the book, especially how it pulled the wings off B-25s when the pilots dropped at upwards of 200 knots with a diving approach and a sharp pull-up. You can drop a bomb that way, because it is a small streamlined thing, but not a load of thick liquid!

His definition of pitch-up:
"The pitch-up of the nose of an aircraft caused by the downward flow of air on the aft fuselage and horizontal stabilizer moving into the area of low pressure immediately behind a dropped load of retardant."

Jerry Vernon

Tanker base


The Conair Firecats are on standby here for any fire alerts. The weather, hot and sunny, had the fire risk pretty high up.

C-GHPJ Firecat 71 sits nearby the retardant pit and everything has been arranged for quick turnrounds when "the shit hits the fan!"

Tanker 69 C-FOPY

C-FOPY is Tanker 69 and it sees some maintenance on no.2 engine.

Something about the history of c/n DH-24/019:
Built as CS2F-1 by deHavilland Canada (DHC) for Royal Canadian Navy as RCN 1525. Bought by Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and reregisterd CF-IOF, later rereg'd CF-OPY coded 56.
It was bought by Conair in 1980, rereg'd C-FOPY and converted to Firecat April 1985 (tailnumber 569). I saw it during Aug99 in Kamloops,BC as Conair 69, the way it is now.

And I came across C-FOPY at Abbotsford, stored, on 26Sep19. CANADA 2019

C-GHPJ C-GHPJ was built by Grumman as a S2F-1, serial 13660 in its military days. Construction number (c/n) is 509.
After Conair bought it (rereg'd C-GHPJ) they converted it to Firecat in 1986. It was first operated with Tanker no. 571, though the tail only showed the last two numbers.
As a Conair Firecat it has c/n 022.


Tanker 73 is a former Grumman S2F-1 (136465), later converted to US-2B. It was bought by Conair as C-GHDY and converted to a Conair Firecat in 1988, fighting fires as Tanker 573.
I saw it in 1999 at Williams Lake as Tanker 73.

C-FEFK Tanker 74 C-FEFK is Tanker 74 and also built, as S2F-1, by Grumman (c/n 360, later converted to US-2B, 136451).
It was bought by Reagan Enterprises (of Chico,CA) in 1982 and reregistered N3231H.
Conair bought it in 1982 and flown to France for the Securite Civile via Glasgow (12jun83) as F-WDSY, sunsequently rereg'd F-ZBEH after delivery.
It was returned to Conair (via Southend, 26mar89) as C-FEFK. And I saw it at Kamloops,BC as Tanker 74 on 19Aug98.
Since its conversion to Firecat it has c/n 014.

Back to CANADA -2006-

In 2019 I revisited Abbotsford and photographed many of Conair's firefighting aircraft: CANADA 2019

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