The Forest Fire Service has been involved with the use of aircraft designed to support our mission of reducing the occurrence and intensity of wildland fire for many years. As early as 1927, Colonel Leonidas Coyle recognized the utility of using aircraft to assist in the suppression of fire. An early State Firewarden, Col. Coyle was instrumental in orchestrating the acquisition of a square mile of land located in Burlington County, near the Ocean County border that would become the aviation facility that bears his name today. The early aircraft in this program were used for observing and mapping fires. As a map was completed, it was tucked into a sack containing sand and dropped to the firefighters below. It was not until 1937 that radios became available for use in these aircraft.
In 1961, a Stearman biplane operating out of Coyle Field managed to drop 5,220 gallons of retardant on various fires, at 100 gallons a release. This effort showed promise, and by the mid 1970's, the state had a contractor providing seven Grumman Ag-Cat drop planes capable of delivering 250 gallons of water each. In 1977, a total of 605,700 gallons were dropped on fires throughout NJ.
Today, New Jersey is heavily involved in fire aviation. In addition to the nine Ag-Cats (now capable of 300 gallons each), we contract a PZL M18B Dromader delivering 600 gallons, and through the Federal Excess Property program we have acquired two Bell 206 Jet Rangers, two Bell 205 Hueys, one Bell 47 helicopter and two fixed wing observation aircraft.
These aircraft are based at the aviation facilities operated by the Fire Service, located at Coyle Field, Aeroflex Airport, and Strawberry Field. Coyle Field is the state's primary facility for aviation maintenance and operations. Aeroflex Airport in Andover has a full-service, fixed-base operator (FBO), which offers tie-down and hangar storage, as well as fuel (100LL), maintenance and flight instruction. It has over 50 private aircraft based there, and is located within Kittatinny Valley State Park. The Forest Fire Service is in the process of relocating its North Jersey Headquarters to this location. Strawberry Field, in Mays Landing is presently being developed as the South Jersey aviation facility.