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The article below was written and supplied by Rick Pisio
End Of An Era; Auction at Greybull
Driving west on Wyoming’s Highway 14, a few miles past the town of Greybull,
sits the small and unassuming South Big Horn County Airport. On an August day in years past the field would have been bustling
with taxiing aircraft, the arrival and departure of aerial water tankers, and the sound of the maintenance run-ups of radial
engines. Today the airport sits in relative quiet with only the sounds of the blowing winds and the nearby highway with cars
and motorcycles on their way to and from Yellowstone National Park.
Nearing the airport the tails
of C-97 Stratofreighters, C-130 Hercules, C-119 Flying Boxcars, P2V Neptunes, and PB4Y Privateers are clearly visible in the
field on the far side of the airfield. Closer, on the tarmac, are the more recently active aircraft painted in the white and
red colors of the Hawkins & Powers Co.
Turning off the highway and into the airport you are greeted by a pair
of C-119’s, a P2V-7, and a C-45 Expediter that are on display in front of what was once the H&P office buildings.
To the left is a Wyoming Department of Highways rest area, and to the right is a small 10x14 foot log cabin with no running
water or electricity.
The log cabin was built in 1902 but today it is the temporary home of
the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting. Mr. Ralph Reiner, an energetic man in his 80’s, along with his wife Lorraine
work tirelessly trying to raise funding and generate local interest in order to keep the museum afloat. Despite pain in his
back that would require an operation on his spinal column a mere two weeks before the Hawkins and Powers assets were to be
auctioned off, Ralph was still working diligently to secure funding to purchase some of the historically significant H&P
The museum may be working in sparse conditions today but Ralph hopes that
in the future it will be in a large building that is suitable to display many of the aerial firefighting artifacts currently
in storage. When the museum was founded in 1987 it was housed and supported by Hawkins & Powers and it was always assumed
that retired firefighting aircraft would one day make their way into the museum. When the fortunes of H & P changed so
did those of the museum.
For nearly 40 years Hawkins & Powers flew and maintained a fleet of aircraft
for fighting the West’s seasonal forest fires. Their formula was simple; take an aircraft designed to carry heavy loads,
retrofit it with water drop capabilities, and be available when needed. The business also housed the facilities to support
and maintain their fleet of aircraft as well as provide maintenance and refurbishing services to others.
The formula worked for H&P until one fateful day in June of 2002 when
a C-130A Hercules fighting a fire near Walker, California, had a catastrophic wing failure resulting in the loss of the aircraft
and the 3 crew members. Another aircraft, a PB4Y Privateer, was lost along with its 2 crewmembers a month later near Estes
Park, Colorado, while making a retardant drop. The net result was a grounding of heavy air tankers throughout the firefighting
The cause of the accidents was suspected to be undetectable metal fatigue,
and H&P was cleared of any wrongdoing, but with its key assets grounded debt grew and it was only a matter of time before
the business that was founded by in 1969 by Dan Hawkins and Gene Powers was forced to declare bankruptcy. H&P shut their
doors at the end of 2005 and sold off their assets to the Great American Group to satisfy nearly $15 million that it owed
On August 23rd & 24th of 2006 a multitude of bidders gathered at the Big
Horn County Airport to purchase what remained of the H&P assets. Many airworthy assets had already been sold to other
aerial firefighting companies but there were still enough aircraft and parts left to excite many aviation collectors, engine
rebuilders, and aviation museums.
Still available for bid were the only airworthy C-82 Packet, PB4Y Privateers,
an A-26C Invader, a C-97 that flew in the Berlin Airlift, as well as the C-119 Flying Boxcar that was used in the 2004 remake
of the movie “Flight of The Phoenix” that starred Dennis Quaid.
The C-82 Packet fetched one of the highest bids, $127,000, and was purchased
by the Hagerstown Aviation Museum in Hagerstown, Maryland. The museum was a fitting destination for this unique sixty year
old aircraft since it was originally manufactured at the Fairchild plant in Hagerstown along with 222 others just like it.
Another fitting destination was the C-119 Flying Boxcar, which along with
the A-26C Invader, was purchased by the Lauridsen Aviation Musuem in Glendale, Arizona. Glendale is 5 miles north of Phoenix
and the C-119L is the same aircraft that was used in the remake of the movie “Flight of the Phoenix.” While the
A-26 fetched $112,500 the C-119 was sold for $70,000 which also included 2 spare engines.
Other notable purchases made during the auction were the 3 KC-97 Stratofreighters,
a transport aircraft based on the fuselage of the B-29 Superfortress, were purchased by aviation entrepreneur and pilot Clay
Lacy. Two of the aircraft are expected to be made flyable while a third will be used for its parts. Also up for auction was
truckloads of radial engines, propellers, and other parts that were hauled away by engine builders and museums.
the aircraft that were in long term storage may not fare as well. Two of the P2V-7 Neptunes, a 1950’s era Navy Patrol
Bomber, sold for less than $6,000 each which was far below the scrap value of the aircraft.
Ralph Reiner and the Museum Board were left to wonder what, if any, of the
H&P legacy would remain in Greybull. Falling short of his original goal of raising $900K in order to purchase 6 historically
significant firefighting aircraft, the museum instead had to accept whatever was left over or not bid upon.
Once the dust had settled the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting Museum
was left with the two C-119’s, C-45, and the P2V-7 Neptune that were on display at the entrance. The museum will also
retain one of the KC-97 Stratrofreighters, a C-130 Hercules, as well as at least one of the PB4Y Privateers that was not placed
on the auction block.
Ralph has big plans for the future. The museum has acquired a lease from the
Big Horn County Airport for land directly behind the Wyoming Highway Department Rest Area where he hopes that a large display
building will be constructed as well as cement pads for the aircraft that will be on display.
With the museum located
on a major tourist route between Interstate 90 and Yellowstone National Park he thinks that many tourists will want to stop
and visit the museum as part of their vacation travels. Ralph is in negotiations to procure a P-3 Orion, a P2V-7 Neptune,
and a DC-7 from another aerial tanker company that was not able to re-certify them for firefighting. He also intends to spend
the winter applying for grants to purchase surplus aircraft that are currently located in Arizona and New Mexico.
When Hawkins & Powers closed their doors an era of aviation ended. Many
of their aircraft are now scattered across North America either to complete their life as aerial firefighters, on display
in museums, or into the hands of private collectors. The parts cache that they maintained to support their air operations
are now bringing new life to other warbirds.
Ralph Reiner and the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting are hoping
that they can preserve a small piece of the legacy that Hawkins & Powers brought to the Greybull area as well as the science
of aerial firefighting.
Serial #: 44-34520
Name: Lu Lu
Last info: 2006
Manufactured by Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach,
Delivered to USAF as 44-34520, June 22, 1945.
- Transferred to storage, Sacramento Air Materiel Center, McClellan
AAF CA, June 1945.
- Transferred to Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach, CA, Nov. 1950.
-- Converted to B-26C standard.
Transferred to Ogden Air Materiel Area, Hill AFB, UT, Feb. 1951.
- Transferred to 452nd Bombardment (Light) Wing (Far East
Air Forces), Miho AB and Pusan AB Korea, April 1951.
- Transferred to 17th Bombardment (L) Wing (FEAF), Pusan AB and Miho
AB, May 1952.
- Transferred to 6408th Maintenance and Supply Group (FEAF), Kisarazu AB, Japan, July 1952.
to Sacramento Air Materiel Area, McClellan AFB CA, Sept. 1952.
- Transferred to Ogden Air Materiel Area, Hill AFB, UT,
- Transferred to 461st Bombardment (L) Wing (Tactical Air Force), Hill AFB (deployment to Wendover AFB, UT),
- Transferred to 2347th Air Reserve Flying Center (US Air Force Reserves), Long Beach AFB, CA, July 1955.
Transferred to Davis Monthan AFB, AZ for storage, Feb. 1957.
Jul 1958 Dropped from inventory as surplus A.S. Wilstrom Inc,
New York, NY, 1963-1972.
- Registered as N9420Z.
- Converted to executive configuration by LeTourneau Co, TX.
Aviation Ltd, Abbotsford, BC, Apr. 1974-1988.
- Registered as C-GHCF.
- Flown as tanker #28.
Hawkins & Powers Aviation, Greybull,
WY, Nov. 1988-2000.
- Registered as N94207.
- Reregistered as N126HP, July 1989.
- flown as tanker #28.
Inc, Greybull, WY, Aug. 23, 2000-2006.
- Displayed at Greybull, 1999-2000.
- Displayed in red white tanker #28 scheme
on right side.
- Displayed in USAF/434520/BC-520/K Lu Lu on left side.