All CalFire Pilots are highly trained and specialized in aerial firefighting. You must have a passion for fire, as this is a career, not a hobby. All the pilots are firefighters first and pilots second. Both the OV10 and S-2T are tools used to assist ground crews and save communities.
What it takes to become part of the team:
An extensive background in multiple facets is typically what it takes to excel in this field. The following hours are basic minimums required by our contract for an Air Tactical Pilot which is the typical entry pilot position. Again these are the bare minimums and most new hires have two or three times the minimum hours required. Above all, the ability to always fly an aircraft with extreme precision and strive to serve the communities of California is imperative. Backgrounds of the current pilot group is highly diversified, many had previous aerial firefighting experience but a large part of our pilot group did not.
Hold an FAA commercial license with Multi-Engine land and instrument ratings
1800 Hours PIC
800 Hours Multi-Engine PIC
200 Hours Mountain (typical terrain)
75 Hours Instrument PIC
100 Hours Night
One or more of the following:
Aerial Firefighting 500 Hours
AME > 6,000lbs 100 Hours
AME > 12,500lbs 50 Hours
AME Turbine powered 50 Hours
We are not state employees. We work for DynCorp International (now Amentum) which contracts with the state of California to provide maintenance personal and pilots. We are unionized and follow a seniority system. When a pilot is hired they typically start as an air attack pilot flying an OV10 or a King Air. New hires may spend many years in an OV10 before they have the opportunity to bid a tanker trainee position. Base location assignments are bid by seniority. Some have spent more than 10 years waiting for the base they want. Most spend their first years in temporary positions before gaining enough seniority to bid a permanent position.
Once you bid and are awarded a permanent position, it is yours until you give it up. Pilots work a 10 day on and 5 day off schedule throughout the fire season, at their assigned base. The pilots and their aircraft are located at 14 different Air Attack Bases across the state to allow for a quick response to any corner of California. Occasionally pilots overnight away from their assigned base.
The normal work day runs from 10am to a half hour before sunset. Pilots are on call from sunrise to 10am. During fire season, you must reside within a 45 minute drive from the base you are stationed at, except in the case of relief pilots. Currently, about half our pilots live near their base and the other half find temporary accommodations near their base during fire season and live elsewhere in the off season. The assigned season can be anywhere from 4 months to year round, depending on the base you bid. Northern bases have the shortest fire season, while the longer seasons are in the south. Pilots annually fly between 50 to 300 hours depending on base location and season activity.
The road to an interview starts with reaching out to one of our pilots in the CFPA. From there, it is best to visit a few of our bases to get a better understanding of the job and the lifestyle. Hiring by Amentum is done at the end of the calendar year. An online application window typically opens in the fall with interviews in December. Annual/Recurrent training, including new hire initial training, starts the first week of March.