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The Walt Darran International Award for Merits in Aerial Firefighting     

The Walt Darran International Award for Merits in Aerial Firefighting is presented biennially to recognise a significant contribution by an individual to aerial firefighting. It was first awarded in 2014 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, USA.

The Award was inaugurated in honour of the late Walt Darran, who was a pioneer and advocate for advances in aerial firefighting. Being a highly experienced S2-T airtanker pilot and former highly decorated US Navy aviator from California, Walt was a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in the international aerial firefighting community.  

The nominations and resultant winners are administered by the International Award Committee - an independent international consortium from the International Fire Aviation Working Group (IFAWG) and Associated Aerial Firefighters.

The committee invites the aviation community to nominate individuals to celebrate their achievements in aerial firefighting. Aiming to recognise a significant contribution, with aerial firefighters from around the globe honouring a fellow colleague.

The Award Ceremony to announce the winner will take place during the Aerial Firefighting North America Event Dinner on 7 March 2024 in Sacramento, USA.

To nominate your candidate, please send the completed 2024 Award Nomination Form to Kate Niven before 2 February 2024. The Award Committee will convene after this date to review written submissions and select the winner.


Previous Winners

2022 - Mike Lynn    

Mike Lynn of Conair Aerial Firefighting was a worthy winner for his outstanding work and contributions made in the aerial firefighting industry.

2020 - Bill Moody    

Bill Moody received the award in 2020.  Bill is a well-known and respected professional who began his career as a firefighter, smokejumper base manager, regional/national fire/aviation specialist and instructor.

2020 - Larry Vandersall     

In recognition of outstanding achievements in Industry Innovation &  Advancement, the posthumous award was given to Larry Vandersall and received by his family, specially invited to the dinner.  Larry had an inspiring and charismatic personality and he will be remembered for his contributions.

2019 - Kestrel Aviation / Coulson Aviation / Wayne Rigg & Riccardo Filippi    

For the first time an award for Aerial Firefighting Innovation & Advancement was presented jointly to Kestrel of Australia, Coulson Aviation & Wayne Rigg from EMV in Australia, for their ground breaking, collaborative work in developing safe and effective practices for aerial firefighting at night using helicopters equipped with Night Vision Goggles (NVG).  Foster Coulson of Coulson Aviation received the Award on behalf of the three joint winners.

An award for aerial safety was presented to Riccardo Filippi for demonstrating his incredible ability to work and fly safely in international missions.

2018 - Jim Barnes    

Jim Barnes (CAL FIRE retired) received the award in 2018, and paid tribute to the late Walt Darran as they had worked together towards a more safe and efficient industry.  It was Jim who proved that the S-2T and Initial Attack was the way to go for California. 

2016 - Jim Cook    

Jim Cook of CAL FIRE, whose substantial 10,000 flying hours of aerial firefighting led to the design and implementation of the Fire Traffic Area concept, a system of air traffic control for firefighting aircraft over an incident, was a worthy winner.

2015 - Philippe Bodino    

Philippe Bodino, French Ministry of the Interior - National Bureau of Administrative Investigation & Control.  Philippe contributed to the improvement of operational procedures in the fight against forest fires through air assets.  He participated in the development of the national strategy in massive attack of fire starts.  He constantly improved safety of pilots and first responders.

2014 - George Petterson   

George Petterson, formerly of the US National Transporation Safety Board (NTSB), was the first recipient of the Award and received it because he was instrumental in determining the cause of two fatal crashes of airtankers.



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