Firefighting pilot savors job ‘on the edge’ |

Firefighting pilot savors job ‘on the edge’

When Hoser Satrapa, a tanker pilot with the Grass Valley Air Attack base, flew to Lake Tahoe on the first day of the Angora Fire, he said the flames were 300 feet high and trees were catching on fire “like Roman candles.”

Satrapa’s Grumman S2-T air tanker was one of the first ones on the scene. For three and a half hours, he unloaded 60,000 gallons of fire retardant on the billowing flames, flying through turbulence that threatened to damage his aircraft.

“The turbulence was so bad there was a chance of ripping a wing off after dropping the retardant and pulling up,” Satrapa said.

For the past 17 years, Satrapa, 66, has performed the pernicious work of a tanker pilot.

“I was a fighter pilot for 26 years in the Navy,” he said. “I was always living on the edge.

“This job here is the same way,” he added. “You’re always on the edge, and I like it that way. It keeps you sharp.”

Satrapa has fought about 2,200 fires in his career as a tanker pilot, he said.

“You don’t hear about all of them because we get them while they are small,” he said.

Small fires can be caused if someone carelessly tosses away a cigarette or if a lawn mower gives off a spark, Satrapa said.

He recently helped contain a fire caused by children with bottle rockets.

Satrapa graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 1964 and went to the Naval Flight School in Pensacola, Fla. He said he has fought in 162 combat missions in Vietnam.

He is one of two air tanker pilots at the Grass Valley Air Attack base at the Nevada County Airport. A third pilot at the base flies an observer plane that also has a coordinator from the California Department of Fire.

The base also has four firefighters and six loaders who load the retardant into the aircraft.

For the past 26 years, Satrapa has lived outside Nevada City with his wife, Pam.

Exhilaration is what keeps him hooked on his firefighting job, Satrapa said.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “The fun is seeing a house almost getting burned, then putting your retardant on the flames and pulling up and seeing only steam where the flames used to be and knowing you just saved a house.”


To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail or call 477-4229.

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