A piece of aerial firefighting history has flown its last mission and will become the newest display at the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, British Columbia, about 30 miles east of Vancouver. Conair Group Inc., which pioneered the conversion of military surplus aircraft into air tankers, is phasing out its fleet of Firecats, modified Grumman CS2F Tracker submarine hunters. It donated the airworthy aircraft to the museum. The twin-radial-engine aircraft were carrier-based patrol aircraft used by the Canadian and U.S. Navies in the 1960s. Conair converted more than 35 for use as firefighting aircraft.
The museum's new plane spent its operational history aboard the Canadian aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure. Conair raised the floor of the aircraft and installed an 867-gallon tank where the torpedo bay once was. The result was a relatively maneuverable and powerful air tanker suited to the mountainous terrain of B.C. and the western states. Langley was a natural choice for preservation of the aircraft because it was the location of Conair's predecessor company Skyway Air Services, which pioneered aerial firefighting. Conair is now a major air tanker contractor and modifier based in Abbotsford, B.C., 20 miles east of Langley.