Calfire honors retiring pilot with water salute

The water salute is shown.

Last week, Calfire celebrated the retirement of their veteran pilot Russ Looney by surprising him with a traditional water salute. With a fire truck on each side, the department formed an archway of water over the taxiway as Looney took the plane in for a landing.

Although it is not unheard of for a retiring pilot to receive a water salute, it is typically only done for large commercial aircraft carriers, such as 747 passenger planes. In fact, this may be the first water salute done by Calfire and was “definitely a first for the department,” said Calfire Chief Mark DiTullio.

The department managed to keep the planned water salute a secret all the way up to the event. Looney took his last flight to empty the water tanks in the plane, a typical task before the cold winter weather starts. When he circled back toward the runway for landing. That’s when “he saw that something was up,” according to DiTullio.

Looney actually began his flying career in the Marines. There, he piloted OV-10 Broncos, one of the military’s premier counter-insurgency (COIN) aircrafts, for 20 years. When Calfire announced the need for pilots, Looney answered the call. His participation literally made it possible to get the Calfire program off the ground. He flew for Calfire for 12 years, eight of which were spent with the Hollister station where he piloted the S2 Tanker. He will be spending his retirement with his family on his farm in Ohio.

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