San Bernardino Air Base

White and red airplane on runway.

San Bernardino International Airport has been home to the US Forest Service Tanker base for the past 25 years. Back in 1997, the US Forest Service acquired 20 acres to build the tanker base from the Department of Defense after Norton Air Force Base was decommissioned.  The Forest Service had previously maintained the tanker base at the Hemet-Ryan airport.

The base serves as the backbone of aviation firefighting for the US Forest Service in southern California providing support for airtankers and helicopters during fire season each year. During the design phase, fire planners took several factors into play such as the intense fire seasons we experience and designed the facility to support a high volume of aircraft reloading to support several large fires simultaneously.

Southern California firefighting aviation is one of the most complex and diverse operations nationally. Operating in this environment involves close cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), CAL FIRE, county and local agencies as well as to support the national wildland firefighting efforts.

In the height of the southern California fire season the base hosts a wide range of aircraft from the Air Attack aircraft (Aero Commander responsible for the overall coordination of aerial resources) large airtankers, very large airtankers (VLAT), and BLM Single Engine Airtankers (carrying 800 gallons of fire retardant). The base also hosts large firefighting helicopters that can place up to 2000 gallons of water or fire retardant with pinpoint accuracy on a wildland fire.

The Airtanker Base provides fire retardant services each year at a minimum from May 29-November 3. The retardant plant holds 100,000 gallons of mixed fire retardant, but there is an unlimited amount of dry product that can be mixed, if necessary. In 2013, the fire activity was high and over 2 million gallons of retardant were delivered.

The Airtanker Base has bleachers at its facility and encourages the public to come and watch when they are operational. It is not unheard of to have several hundred people there at once to watch the airtankers load the retardant and return to fight wildfires.

Directions to the public viewing area:

From the Intersection of Tippecanoe Avenue and 3rd Street in San Bernardino; head east on 3rd Street, turn south (right) onto Leland Norton Way. Make a quick left and you will be on Perimeter Road. Go down about 3/4 mile and enter the open gate.


2065 E. Perimeter Rd.
San Bernardino, CA 92408