Hemet Ryan Airport

History of Hemet Ryan Airport

The airfield was opened in September 1940 by the United States Army Air Corps. It was assigned to the West Coast Training Center (later Western Flying Training Command) as a primary (level 1) pilot training airfield. Later it was activated as a Air Corps Training Detachment with Ryan School of Aeronautics conducting primary flight training under control of 5th Flying Training Detachment. Flight training was performed with PT-17 Stearmans as the primary trainer, along with Ryan PT-21 Recruits. Over 14,000 army cadets were trained to fly.

The airport was inactivated in December 1944 with the drawdown of AAFTC’s pilot training program, the airfield was declared surplus and turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers. Later, the airfield was discharged to the War Assets Administration. The facility eventually became a public airport owned and operated by Riverside County.

For over 50 years (approvimately 1959-2009), Hemet-Ryan was a popular site for operating sailplanes (gliders). Sailplane Enterprises operated there from 1972-2009. Orange County Soaring Association (OCSA) used Hemet-Ryan as its home base from 1991-2009. Cypress Soaring was also based there until 2009. On September 30, 2009, the Economic Development Agency closed Hemet-Ryan to glider operations by painting a large yellow “X” on runway 4-22. OCSA filed a complaint with the FAA pursuant to Title 14 CFR Part 16 against the County of Riverside. On February 11, 2011, the FAA ruled that the closure was in violation of of Federal law and Federal grant obligations. The County declined to appeal the ruling.

Information cited from wikipedia.

PT-17 Stearman
Photo by D. Miller

Ryan PT-21 

Photo taken from San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives

1940’s Tower

Photo by OregonMaule

History of Ryan Air Attack

The United States Forest Service commenced air tanker loading operations in 1957, and in 1959 California Division of Forestry (now Cal Fire) began their operation at Ryan field. Both agencies maintained separate parking, loading and mixing areas but the initial stages of a joint base operation had begun. In 1969 the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the California Division of Forestry (CDF) truly merged into a joint agency air attack base sharing the base operation, responsibilities and facilities. The joint base concept successfully continued operation until 1998 when the USFS moved their air tanker base operations to the larger and recently vacated Norton Air Force Base.

From the beginning of Ryan Air Attack Base, Cal Fire and the USFS used privately owned contracted World War II vintage aircraft. The type and sizes of aircraft varied based on vendor, availability of flyable airframes and spare parts. As the years counted off and the flight hours increased these airplanes became static museum displays or were robbed for parts to keep the dwindling fleet flying. Because of the dwindling air tanker fleet, Cal Fire acquired excess U.S. Navy Grumman S-2A submarine hunting aircraft. These planes were converted from military use to firefighting aircraft using a design developed by Hemet Valley Flying Service. The first two aircraft build-ups were completed by Hemet Valley Flying Service and tested at Ryan Air Attack Base. The basic aircraft design has been in continuous state service since 1975.

In 1977 Cal Fire began a two-week pilot helitack program utilizing a contracted helicopter. Headed up by Captain Emil Derdowski and two firefighters, the program was eventually extended to a total of four weeks. The success of this pilot program brought on line the Hemet-Ryan Helitack Base using a full time contract helicopter staffed with three captains and nine firefighters operating out of Ryan Air Attack Base.

In 1992 Cal Fire acquired several of the larger Bell UH-1H helicopters with Hemet-Ryan Helitack receiving one of the first buildups. A year later, the OV-10 replaced the older Cessna 337as Air Attack 310 based at Ryan. In June 2001, Cal Fire replaced the older S-2As at Ryan with Tanker 72 and 73. The new tankers are S-2F3AT Turbine Tanker conversions with upgrades including constant flow 1200 gallon tanks and turbine engines allowing for better capabilities and performance.

Future of Ryan Air Attack

In June 2007, The Hemet-Ryan Airport was approved $2.5 million from the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and over $25 million from the state for the redevelopment of the air-attack facilities. The upgrades would include extending the runway from 4,300 feet (1,300 m) to 6,000 feet (1,800 m) to accommodate heavier firefighting aircraft such as the MAFFS C-130. The runway expansion would take place on the south-west portion of the complex and require re-alignment of bordering Stetson Ave. and Warren Road. The new base would also include a 5,842-square-foot (542.7 m2), 22-bed barracks building, a 4,812-square-foot (447.0 m2) three-bay vehicle storage facility and shop; a 4,646-square-foot (431.6 m2), two-story operations building containing pilot facilities, administration and dispatch center; a 15,300-square-foot (1,420 m2), two-bay open-shade canopy and an 8,211-square-foot (762.8 m2) helicopter/ OV-10 enclosed hangar. Also planned are new public and secured staff parking areas, six fire-retardant loading pits to handle inter-agency aircraft, along with equipment tanks, pumps and piping used to mix and deliver fire retardant.

Because of critical need, the strategic location of the base and proven performance and handling of large wildfires, Cal Fire and the state consider the project top priority in the list of firefighting capital improvements.

Construction of the new facility was set to begin in 2008, however, as of 2010, Cal Fire is still waiting for the promised state funds to become available. Meanwhile, Cal Fire has been drawing plans and preparing to open the project to contractor bidding, and the Riverside County Economic Development Agency has agreed to manage the project.
Information cited from wikipedia.

Photos were taken during the fire season of 2007.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

One Response to Hemet Ryan Airport

  1. Pingback: “Three meals for under a dollar a day” … and men in white | Bow and Stern: A First Mate's Adventures

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