A couple of trusty war birds gave a sentimental farewell to an old home Friday afternoon.
With little advance notice, a pair of Conair Firecats performed a "low and over," a fly-past above Fulton Field.
First built in B.C. in the 1970s, the firefighting air tankers were headed south from their final duties up North.
"Kamloops will remember them," said Jeff Berry, superintendent of the provincial air tanker program headquartered in Kamloops. Three of the twin-engined Firecats were based here from 1975 to 2009, he explained.
"They were retired from B.C. in 2009, but they had some life left in them, so they were contracted in the Yukon. This is probably their last flight."
The "ancient" aircraft were returning to their point of origin - or at least the starting point of their latest incarnation - Conair Aviation Ltd. in Abbotsford. The company specializes in retrofitting firefighting aircraft as well as operating a fleet of the same.
Starting in 1978, Conair began retrofitting Grumman S-2 Trackers, carrier-based submarine tracking aircraft purchased from the Canadian and U.S. navies, as Firecats. That's why they were nicknamed trackers.
They originated as Second World War aircraft, first built in the 1940s. Retardant tanks took the place of torpedo bays for a new life with the B.C. Forest Service.
The adaptation lightened the aircraft, giving it greater flight capabilities in the close confines of B.C.'s mountainous terrain. Later re-engined as turboprops, 35 Firecats were built and they made their way to fleets as distant as that of the SÚcuritÚ Civile in France. They were based all over the province at one time and were a familiar site over the years in Kamloops.
Like other air tankers, Firecats were a welcome sight to firefighters sweating it out in the heat of action. Their arrival on a fire can lift hearts because they often represent the best hope of meeting the "10 a.m. rule," once the standard objective of any initial attack crew battling a blaze.
Berry wasn't sure whether Conair will offer the old birds for sale or lease them on contract.
Convair CV-580s have replaced the Firecats in B.C.'s air-tanker fleet.