Back in the day, they flew some planes.
While strolling around Pima Air Museum's back lot, out behind the hangars on the far side from the rest of the outside collection, I found some sad-looking old military derelicts that will hopefully be restored someday. Most of them were marked up as Forest Service fire bombers, indicating how they finished their flying lives.
The first was this Grumman AF-2, which was originally built as a torpedo bomber and then repurposed as an anti-submarine aircraft.
Aero Union and used to fight forest fires.
Also back there, this Lockheed P-2 Neptune, another Maritime Patrol and ASW aircraft that flew primarily with the Navy but also the Army and Marines and the CIA well up into the 1980s.
Also cool to fly: This DC-7.
There was a Fairchild C-119 in that lot too, also with a single jet engine attached to it's roof.
This one ended her days as a fire-bomber, but who knows what she did while flying for the Air Force. Like the others here, these were warplanes before they were fire-bombers, and they flew countless thousands of hours between them, probably all over the world in both peacetime and war.
when it's left wing suddenly tore off during a fire drop. That aircraft's N number: N13742. This one:
Sadly, that's not an unknown occurrence in a firefighting fleet made up of surplus aircraft, some of which date back to World War Two. In 2002, Tanker 123, a Consolidated P4Y-2, went down for a similar reason in Colorado, also with the loss of her crew.
Yeah, it wasn't without risk, and still isn't, but what I wouldn't give for a flying job like that, especially in those old warbirds.