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B.C. bomber and its captain retire after nearly 40 years of service

Click to play video: 'Happy Retirement: Water bomber and its captain make final flight'
Happy Retirement: Water bomber and its captain make final flight
One of the world's leading aerial firefighting companies is based in the Fraser Valley and this weekend, Conair is celebrating two well-deserved retirements. Catherine Urquhart reports – Sep 24, 2022

With most wildfires in B.C., a small army of bombers can be deployed.

One of the world’s leading aerial firefighting companies is based in the Fraser Valley. And this weekend, Conair is celebrating two well-deserved retirements.

Read more: Iconic Hawaii Mars, world’s largest flying water bomber, listed for sale for $5M

“55,” a Convair CV580, made its final descent after this year’s fire season.

“Sometimes I call it my girlfriend,” said Grahame Wilson, a Conair captain.

“My wife says that’s fine, as long as that’s the only other girlfriend I have.”

Wilson is also retiring after spending almost 40 years fighting forest fires around the world.

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Read more: Why B.C. isn’t using the Martin Mars water bomber to fight the wildfires

“Everything I know about fighting forest fires from an air tanker, I learned from Grahame,” Jonathan Thomson said, another Convair pilot.

Over the years, many of Wilson’s fire fights were intense and memorable.

“Experiences that you’ve shared together, risks that you’ve taken and survived. So that’s the connection. As I say, she has taken me home (safely) every night,” said Wilson.

Read more: Manitoba to upgrade water bomber fleet ahead of forest fire season

There have also been difficult days when the battles just weren’t winnable.

“I’ve seen people’s houses burn in the Okanagan despite our best efforts, and that will never leave me, seeing flames come out windows and doors of people’s houses,” Wilson told Global News.

But Wilson and his girlfriend — 55 that is — saved countless structures and lives during their time together fighting forest fires.

She’ll now be on view at the B.C. Aviation Museum and Wilson is set to be a guide there as well, the two still inseparable.

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