Air Spray Ltd. was originally incorporated in 1954 as a crop spraying company in the Wetaskiwin, Alberta area. It later expanded into mosquito control with a contract awarded by the City of Edmonton in 1956. However in the mean time, the aerial wildfire suppression industry was in its infancy with government agencies seeking a solution to the ever growing problem of controlling wildfires destroying timber and threatening communities. In response to this need, Air Spray Ltd. was one of a handful of companies in North America that shut down its crop spraying operations and converted its aircraft to fight wildfires.
With the conversion of two Stearman bi-plane aircraft to the Airtanker role, Air Spray Ltd. was awarded the first ever aerial wildfire suppression contract issued by the Alberta Government. This contract continued until 1961, when Air Spray Ltd. switched to the larger and faster TBM Avenger aircraft to provide Alberta with Airtanker services.
While the TBM Avenger was a relatively effective Airtanker, the industry was looking to a next generation alternative in the form of a faster, medium sized, twin engine aircraft. The A26 was identified as the ideal aircraft to become an airtanker. Built in the United States between 1944 and 1945 and used extensively during the Korean war, its powerful twin Rolls Royce engines provided the aircraft with speed and the ability to carry a large payload of fire retardant. It also came equipped with a bomb bay ideal for the installation of a tank to hold the retardant. Several companies throughout North America saw the potential of the A26 and the industry rapidly grew with dozens of A26s converted to airtankers during the 1960's and 70's.
Unfortunately, the conversion cost of the A26 was high and while the company could afford to purchase the aircraft, Air Spray needed cash to complete the project. The person to provide the cash turned out to be Alberta bush pilot and entrepreneur, Don Hamilton.
Having experience flying throughout Northern Alberta throughout the 1950's, Don Hamilton saw the devastation wildfires caused to vast areas of forests and saw the incredible benefit of using aircraft to fight the wildfires. Don also had savings from his air transport business flying between the Edmonton Municipal Airport and northern communities and thought an investment in the company looked like a good opportunity. With the investment, the A26 conversion was completed in 1970 and Air Spray (1967) Ltd. was awarded a contract with the Alberta government to fight fires with the newly converted A26 - Tanker #1 - CF - PGF. The first year turned out to be a huge success and Don offered to buy the whole company. The purchase was agreed and now as sole owner, Don began in earnest to develop an Airtanker fleet.
The company continued to grow over the years with contracts awarded for fighting fires in the Yukon Territories and other provinces and territories throughout Canada. During the 1970's Air Spray (1967) Ltd. owned and operated 22 A26 aircraft as Airtankers. However while the aircraft were successful throughout the 1970's and into the 1980's, Air Spray's government customers began requiring newer and faster aircraft able to carry larger loads of retardant to fires at longer distances. Don eventually retired the B26s and replaced them with the four engine turbo prop L188 "Electra" currently operated by Air Spray today..
Throughout the years, Don grew the business with a dedication to providing safe, innovative and reliable airtanker services to all of Air Spray's customers. Unfortunately, Don Hamilton passed away in 2011 at the age of 86 - just two months after induction into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame. With his passing, the ownership of the company passed to his daughter, Lynn Hamilton. Lynn is proud of the history of the company and dedicated to continuing the success of Air Spray as it expands beyond its Canadian roots and looks to new aircraft and tank systems that meet the ever increasing need for effective aerial wildfire control.
To learn more about Don Hamilton, click here.