In addition to a record-setting year of wildfires, two of California’s aerial firefighting program employees have received a major tribute or award.
Pilot Lynn Flock received a traditional dousing by firefighters when he taxied under their crossed water sprays after landing one of his final flights. Flock, 66, retires this year when the extended fire season ends.
“That was a nice sign of respect,” Flock said.
“He spent his entire life fighting fires,” said Mike Venable, a fellow CAL FIRE pilot. “The tribute was well deserved.”
Flock became a U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper in 1968 after graduating from high school. He parachuted into deep woods to fight hard-to-reach blazes before hiking out. He served as an elite Army Ranger in Vietnam. After leaving the service, he earned a degree in wildlife management while working as a smoke jumper during summer breaks. He continued as a smoke jumper after graduating, and shifted from smoke jumping to flying in the early 1990s. He flew smoke jumpers to fires before shifting to lead planes, who circle above aerial tankers in fire zones and direct retardant drops. After retiring from the Forest Service at 57, Flock shifted to contract work with CAL FIRE.
Another CAL FIRE employee, Merlin Knittel, received the Charles Taylor “Master Mechanic” Award from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This award is the most prestigious award the FAA issues to certified technicians who have exhibited professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years in the aircraft maintenance profession as master mechanics.
“A career spanning 50 years of exemplary service is truly extraordinary,” said Jeff Cavarra, CAL FIRE program director. “And to win the Charles Taylor Award on top of that is the highest honor the FAA can bestow on a technician. We are very proud of Mr. Knittel.”
On CAL FIRE, DI aircraft mechanics maintain CAL FIRE’s S-2T air tankers, OV-10 air tactical aircraft, UH-1H Super Hueys and Beechcraft King Airs. Most maintenance is performed at McClellan Park near Sacramento, California. During fire season, DI maintenance personnel and pilots are stationed at 12 air attack bases strategically located throughout California.
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