For nearly 50 years, Ryan Air Attack Base has played a vital role in wild land fire suppression efforts in Southern California and Riverside County.

Ryan Air Attack Base, November 2003 Ryan Air Attack Base is named after the late Claude T. Ryan who is most famous for having designed the Spirit of St. Louis airplane and who began the Ryan School of Aeronautics in Hemet during World War II.  Through contract with the federal government 14,000 Army cadets were trained to fly.  With the end of WWII and the need for pilots diminishing, training ceased.  The facility eventually became a public airport owned and operated by Riverside County.

In 1957, the United States Forest Service commenced air tanker loading operations, and in 1959 California Division of Forestry (now the California Department of Forestry) began their operation at Ryan Field.  Both agencies maintained separate parking, loading and mixing areas but the initial stages of a joint base operation had begun.  In 1969, the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the California Division of Forestry (CDF) truly merged into a joint agency air attack base sharing the base operation, responsibilities and facilities. The joint base concept successfully continued operation until 1998 when the USFS moved their air tanker base operation to the larger and recently vacated Norton Air Force Base.

Ryan Air Attack Base is one of 19 tanker bases strategically located throughout California.  Because of climate, weather, fuels, geography and fire occurrence, Ryan is strategically located.  The base provides initial attack aircraft service to over 17,000 square miles of private, state, and federally owned lands.  Up until 1998, Ryan was statistically the busiest air tanker base in the United States delivering an average of 1.5 million gallons of retardant annually.  With the USFS moving to San Bernardino, these statistic have dropped dramatically.

TBMs assigned from the late 1950s From the beginning of Ryan Air Attack Base, CDF and the USFS used privately-owned, contracted WWII vintage aircraft. The type and sizes of aircraft varied based on vendor, availability of flyable airframes and spare parts.  As the years counted off and the flight hours increased these airplanes became static museum displays or were robbed for parts to keep the dwindling fleet flying.  Because of the dwindling air tanker fleet, CDF acquired excess U.S. Navy Grumman S-2A submarine hunting aircraft.  These planes were converted from military use to firefighting aircraft using a design developed by Hemet Valley Flying Service.  The first two aircraft build-ups were completed by Hemet Valley Flying Service and tested at Ryan Air Attack Base.  The basic aircraft design has been in continuous state service since 1975.

Bell UH-1F, early 1980's In 1977, CDF began a two-week pilot helitack program utilizing a contracted helicopter.  Headed up by Captain Emil Derdowski and two firefighters, the program was extended to a total of four weeks.  The success of this pilot program brought on line Hemet-Ryan Helitack Base using a full time contract helicopter staffed with three captains and nine firefighters operating out of Ryan Air Attack Base.

In 1981, CDF acquired Bell UH-1F Hueys helicopters through the Federal Excess Property Program (FEPP) leasing them from the Air Force through the USFS for one dollar a year.  This program now allowed CDF to operate and manage its own fleet of fixed wing and rotor wing aircraft.

Tanker 73 providing support on
the Melton Fire In 1992, CDF acquired several of the larger Bell UH-IH helicopters through FEPP with Hemet-Ryan Helitack stationed at Ryan Air Attack Base receiving one of the first build-ups.  These helicopters were further upgraded with larger engines, main rotor and tail boom assemblies making them the "Super Huey" model.  CDF now has 11 of these helicopters in service with nine based throughout the state.  In 1993, theOV-10 replaced the older Cessna 337 as Air Attack 310 base at Ryan.  In June of 2001, CDF replaced the older S-2A's at Ryan with Tanker 72 and 73, both new S-2G Grumman  models.  The upgrades include constant flow 1,200 gallon tanks and turbine engines allowing for better capabilities and performance.

Hemet-Ryan Airport Today

Location and Amenities
Hemet-Ryan Airport is located in the San Jacinto Valley of Riverside County and provides convenient access to the mid-county region, including the cities of Hemet and San Jacinto. Highways 74 and 79 provide easy access to neighboring communities and Interstates 10, 215 and 15. San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties and the balance of the Inland Empire are within an hour's drive.

Fixed-base operators at Hemet-Ryan Airport offer

  • Ground support services
  • On-field fuel services
  • Maintenance and aircraft storage
  • Ground transportation
  • Ground support for the recreational flyer

Hemet-Ryan is home of one of the nation's busiest sailplane centers and offers

  • Sailplane instruction
  • Sailplane maintenance and storage

Recreational aviation at the airport will flourish as the proposed sports and entertainment parks at nearby Diamond Valley Lake are completed.

The San Jacinto Valley boasts clear skies, clean air and an average temperature of 75 degrees with 342 days of sunshine annually. The Valley is home to a thriving retirement community. In the winter the population swells as "snowbirds" visit from across the nation and Canada.

The Valley is a veritable playground for the outdoor enthusiast, providing access to such activities as sailplaning, fishing, boating and camping. Diamond Valley Lake is the largest reservoir in Southern California. Lake Perris and Lake Skinner are located nearby, and the adjacent San Jacinto Mountains, including Idyllwild and Lake Hemet, offer a variety of outdoor activities and a unique shopping experience.

The Diamond Lake Project and the affordable housing in the area have spurred development opportunities in the San Jacinto Valley, and Hemet-Ryan Airport is poised in the center of activity.

Within the airport boundary, there are 415 acres. Outside the aircraft operating area, there are more than 200 acres available for development. Land is available for the following uses

  • Aviation commercial
  • Commercial/light industrial
  • Aviation noncommercial
  • Aviation service

The Riverside County Economic Development Agency manages the airport and also provides development assistance to relocating or expanding businesses in the unincorporated areas of Riverside County.