Born to hunt Soviet submarines, Grumman’s S-2 Tracker or Stoof has been adapted to do several jobs over the years. From the C-1A Trader COD to the Stoof with a Roof E-1 Tracer AEW platform and the ubiquitous US-2 utility transport, the aircraft has done everything asked of it. Nowadays a few Stoofs and CODs fly in civilian hands as warbirds. Over the years Trackers were also adapted for use as aerial firefighting tankers. Today, the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection or Cal Fire operates 23 turbine-powered S-2T aerial firefighting, or fire-hunting, tankers.
Built by Grumman Aerospace at their Bethpage plant on New York’s Long Island at least one generation ago, the S-2Ts were mostly S-2E or S-2G variants while operated by the US Navy. Cal Fire acquired the S-2 airframes in 1996 and Marsh Aviation in Arizona converted them to aerial firefighting tankers. The Turbine Trackers are faster than stock S-2s but their Garrett TPE331-14GR turbine engines only put out about 100 more horsepower each than the original Wright R-1820-82WA radial engines did. The S-2Ts are also usually crewed by a single pilot and can haul up to 1,200 gallons of retardant or water.On 7 October 2014 at 1630 local time, 13-year veteran S-2T pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was killed when the aircraft he was flying, Tanker 81, struck trees and crashed while flying a retardant drop on the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite National Park in California. The loss of the S-2T, Navy Bureau Number (BuNo) 152838 and registered as N449DF, left Cal Fire’s fleet of S-2Ts at 22 aircraft. A replacement S-2T, Tanker 79, has now entered service. The tanker tail number 81 was retired by Cal Fire in memory of Hunt, a former Navy P-3 Orion pilot and 20-plus year Reservist. The video Load and Return was uploaded to YouTube by Alan Simmons.