Aero Union began as Western Air Industries at Redding, Calif., in 1960 and completed the company's first fire season with one B-25. Using the profits from the first season of operations, founders Dale Newton and Dick Foy bought two Boeing B-17s. On July 28, 1961, Western Air Industries became Aero Union Corporation. In 1962, the firm moved from Redding to Chico, where they acquired Chico Aviation in 1971. In 1973, the company constructed the prototype S-2 tankers for the State of California. Over the years, Aero Union has operated a B-25, B-17s, A-26s, DC-4/6/7s, C-119s, two AF-2S Guardians, TBM Avengers, four SP-2Hs and P-3s in the air tanker role.

The prototype tanker version of the Neptune, known as the "Firestar" (N701AU ex-Buaer 145920) entered service in 1988. Conversion involved removal of the Neptune's Westinghouse J34 auxiliary turbojet engines and other military equipment, and the installation of a fire retardant delivery system consisting of a 2,000 US gallon capacity tank weighing 700 lbs and two computer controlled, electro-hydraulically actuated dispersal doors. This arrangement allows for the delivery of precisely metered flow rates from 50-700 US gallons per second. Computerized digital logic allows the pilot to select the retardant coverage level and quantity to produce the required drop pattern, resulting in drops that are continuous and uniform in density, with no overlaps or gaps. Aero Union converted three additional airframes (140963 Tanker #16, 147964 Tanker #18 and 147967 Tanker #03) bringing the total number of Firestars to four.

Close up views of the tank installation on 147964
Tanker #18 looking forward(above) and Aft(below).

Aero Union Air Tankers

Aero Union maintains a number of airframes for spares. These photos were taken at Chico, Ca.
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These images graciously provided by Bill Kistler.