We will miss you Walt.

I received word that Walt Darran passed away yesterday. His flying experience is the stuff of legends. Without Walt’s support and ability to bring people together for a common goal, this website would not be in existence in its current form.

To me Walt was someone who would not BS you for a second; he had strong opinions, but also had an open mind for other ideas. Walt was generous with his time, and we had many long conversations, not only about the website, but about music, the aviation industry and life.

Walt was a force – a force for the good, for integrity, for promoting safety, and for advocating and creating a forum for communication to continue the brotherhood of aerial firefighters.

The world, particularly the aerial firefighting world, is dimmer today.

I will miss Walt.

Godspeed Walt Darran.


  1. Jerome says:

    Uncle Walt, we miss you.
    You inspired and helped so many of us in this industry. Always happy to welcome to “new” guys, share the knowledge, research new concepts, try new stuff.
    You kept AAF going for many years trying to get more Aerial Fire Fighters to join.
    You enjoyed life to the fullest, traveled the world with your loving wife Chris.
    You’d probably wish for us to raise a glass and say a funny story…
    Fair winds and blue skies my friend! To Walt! AARRR!
    Load and hold…


  2. Bob Forbes says:

    I met Walt Darran about 20 years ago when he and Mike Pinketh showed up at our annual AAP meeting. Colonel Buzz Blaylock looked up from his podium and greeted them both. “Hi Walt, Hi Mike what are you guys doing here”. Walt and Mike were both former tanker pilots that had gone on to become airline pilots. “We heard about the formation of the AAP and we want to help”. We greatly appreciated their offer and immediately took them up on it.

    And so it was that Walt tried to help the air tanker industry and the people in it starting from that day and ending about two weeks ago when he was too sick to continue. His motivation, as always, was to promote the air tanker industry and help people in need from families that had lost a loved one in a crash to helping and encouraging young pilots who wanted to pursue a career in aerial firefighting.

    Walt’s vision was to provide a clearinghouse of ideas that could be presented in an open forum without prejudice and to provoke discussion on new developments that all stake holders could participate in.

    He was an easy guy to like and we soon became great friends. But it was years before I knew that as a young Naval Aviator flying an A-1E Skyraider over Vietnam he had participated in a rescue attempt for a Navy flyer shoot down deep in enemy territory. He stayed on station until his ordinance was expended, his fuel state was critical and his plane was shot to hell. Showing complete disregard for his own safety, Walt was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this heroic action.

    Walt Darran was a great tanker pilot. He flew the single engine TBMs and was one of the first S-2 airtanker pilots in the early 70s. From the beginning he was an organizer trying to better the plight of Aerial Firefighters. Meeting great resistance in those early days from the industry companies and the Agencies Walt’s frustration and his great energy lead him into flying with Air America in South East Asia. He then flew for TIA famous for their involvement in “special projects”. In attrition he flew transports in the Kwajaline islands for the Army and became an Airline Pilot Flying with Air Cal And American Airlines where he finished his career as Captain of a DC-10.

    Finally he returned to flying tankers for CALFIRE as Captain of the old radial engine S-2 and soon the S-2T. Walter worked tirelessly in the AAF always trying to inflame the passion of the young pilots. We often talked about the future of the AAF and finally decided if only he and I showed up at the Reno meeting we would continue as long as we were having fun. Now that I have lost my dear friend I plan to recommit myself to carrying on the work he so believed in.

    Walt had a great life. He was fiercely proud of his two sons and he and his wonderful wife Chris always knew how to have a great time together. Chris was one of his greatest gifts in life and they had great love for each other.

    I still have trouble grasping the gravity of his loss

    This was written by Jimmy Barnes, but it says the same for me.

    • James Stuart says:

      Nice comments, Fanny. It was an A-1H, though. Not much difference except that the H only had one seat. The E had more. The pilot, though, was the best, as you say.

      JEB Stuart

  3. Dean Talley says:

    Walter Darran departed Friday November 15th before the sun rose. He was 73. He lived his life with a passion for his loved ones and friends, the aircraft he commanded, and the boats he sailed. Christine, his wife and last love, sons Scott and Jay, two grandchildren, and a host of extended family and friends around the world will miss him. He experienced the thrill of a catapult launch off a carrier deck earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the serenity of sipping champagne after piloting lighter than air balloons. After retiring from American Airlines he returned to firefighting, flying an airtanker for Cal Fire, out of Chico where he had chosen to reside after having experienced living and traveling in a host of exotic locations around the world. Many of his contemporaries felt he lived a charmed life. In reality he charmed life. His imagination, thoughtful insights, and generosity will be sorely missed. We are helping Chris arrange for a celebration of Walters life looking at Chico facilities in December. All well wishers will be welcomed.

  4. Tim Holmes says:

    I regret never meeting Walt, but feel fortunate having had the pleasure of his conversation. He was remarkably open to my ideas…the ideas of green co-pilot. This was very telling of his respect and character, and passion for our profession. A passion we’ll surely miss.

  5. tonymorris says:

    Walt was such a giving person. He knew so much about what it takes to be a Tanker Pilot. I will forever be indebted to him. I SKYP’d with Walt whenever I could as I knew I would learn a lot. Walt was genuinely concerned about the future of Aerial Firefighting in the U.S. He had a keen BS detector and would let me know the truth as he saw it. He encouraged Air Tanker pilots to share their experiences and he had plenty of real life stories to tell. We miss Walt and will always reflect on his solid contribution to AAF.

  6. jamiesargent says:

    I first met Walt over the telephone about 20 years ago. He was on his continuous quest for knowledge and wanted to discuss scooper and seaplane operations in Canada. We stayed connected after that and eventually collaborated on a few projects. On several occasions I had the privilege of visiting him and his beautiful wife Chris at their home in Chico where they graciously treated me to wonderful meals, drinks, stories, and laughter.

    Walt was a true ambassador for the aerial fire-fighting sector. He was a relentless advocate for air tanker safety, training, and cost effectiveness. His efforts helped chart a course for positive change. He made a difference in this industry.

    He was a very special friend who I will miss dearly.

    • Dean Talley says:

      There will be a gathering to celebrate Walters life, Dec. 15 starting at noon. Air Spray has generously offered their Chico hangar for the occasion. It is located at Chico Municipal Airport, CIC, just a few hundred feet from Chico Air Tanker Base. Cal Fire is planning to leave the S-2 at Chico until after the event in honor of Walters service. There will be food and libations. If you plan to attend, participate, or otherwise honor Walters life, post a comment, give me a call, leave a message, 530 521 2583. We are trying to get a handle on how many people may come.

  7. James Stuart says:

    I met Walt 50 years ago when we were in Navy flight training, learning how to fly the great
    A-1H Skyraider (the Spad). We did our share in Vietnam together, being roommates for two deployments. After the Navy, we went our separate ways for awhile but kept in touch. A couple of years later I found myself without a job, having been furloughed from Pan Am, and was soon introduced to the air tanker industry by Walt. I was soon flying an old lumbering TBM on fires, not too much different than flying the Spad except now I was putting out fires instead of starting them. One year in the “Turkey” and I was flying the third S-2 in the business, the first out of Paso Robles. Walt and I still managed to get some more time in the Turkey, though, by making our way up to Canada and joining the big spray project in New Brunswick for a couple of seasons. Another season in the S-2 and two more in the C-119 and Walt and I decided that it was time to give the airlines a try. A few years together at Transamerica Airlines and then we drifted off into separate careers. We never lost contact with each other and would often talk, comparing our flying and life. When it came time to retire, I decided to hang up my wings, although going back to tankers had a real appeal to me. Walt, of course, would never stop flying until his body said it was time to quit. Of all the people that I have met in my flying career I never met anyone so dedicated to the joy of flying as Walt. Besides being a great guy to team up with and fly, he was my best friend and we enjoyed many excursions and trips together with our wives. I lost my wife a few years ago but I feel that losing Walt has meant losing the other most significant person in my life. Someday, we’ll be flying together again.
    Jim “JEB” Stuart

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