The foundation of the Smokejumper program is the safe, effective and quick delivery of firefighters. Therefore, the aircraft is one of the most critical elements of Smokejumping. In 1957, the first fire jump for the California Smokejumpers was made out of a Lockheed Lodestar. The Lockheed Lodestar was powered by two 9-cylinder radial air-cooled engines providing a top cruise speed of 207 knots and a range of 1653 miles. Originally designed for commercial flights, the Lodestar was frequently flown by the Air Force in the 1940’s. After the war, the Lodestar returned to civilian service and eventually found its way in to the Smokejumper program.
During the fire season of 1957, several fires were also jumped from the Twin Beech. The Beech craft Model 18, or "Twin Beech", as it was better known, is a 6-8 smokejumper, 450 horse twin-engine, low-wing, tail-wheel aircraft with a cruising speed of 191 knots and is jumped from a sit-down position. It was manufactured by the Beech Aircraft Corporation of Wichita, Kansas.
In the following season, the DC-3 made its way into the Redding aircraft rotation and, along with the Twin Beech, became the primary aircraft in 1959. Also known as the “Doug”, the DC-3 is the largest aircraft in California Smokejumper history and can hold 18 jumpers. The “Doug” is jumped from a stand-up position, has an average flight speed of 174 knots, and with the max payload can cover a 400 mile radius. Although a turbulent aircraft, the Doug became a favorite to many jumpers for its spacious 215 square foot floor and large door which allows for a vigorous exit.
Starting in 1974, and lasting into the early 90’s, two DeHavilland Twin Otter (DHC-6) were used to transport Redding smokejumpers to fires. The Twin Otter is a highly maneuverable, STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft which can be flown slowly (80-160 knots/150-300 km/hr) and in tight circles, which makes it ideal for smokejumper operations. The Twin Otter was able to cover approximately 360 miles between fuel stops.
Around 1991, one of six Shorts 330 Sherpa’s purchased by the USDA from the military, replaced one of the Twin Otters used in Redding. The Sherpa 330 is made by the Shorts Brothers in Northern Ireland and is known as a flying wing because of its unique, aerodynamic body shape. The Sherpa has a cruise speed of 160 knots, carries up to 10 jumpers and is jumped from a stand-up position. It has a range of approximately 300 miles and is currently still used at Redding.
In 2001 the other Otter was switched out with a DC-3, which was contracted for five years to accommodate a larger than normal number of jumpers. The Doug was then replaced by the Dornier 228 in 2006 which, along with the Sherpa, makes up Redding’s current aircraft.
The Dornier is contracted through Bighorn Airways, and is the smaller of the two planes based at Redding. It carries 8 jumpers and requires jumpers to use a "step exit." Although smaller, the Dornier is faster than the Sherpa with a cruise speed of 200+ knots, and has a range of approximately 375 miles depending on the load.