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Bridger Aerospace


Company provides aerial firefighting support using CL-415EAF and CL-215T “Super Scoopers,” Pilatus PC-12s, Daher Kodiak 100s, a de Havilland Twin Otter 300, and a Twin Commander.

By Rafael Henríquez
Managing Editor

A CL-415EAF “Super Scooper” drops its load of water to keep a wild fire under control.

Bridger Aerospace is nestled amid sweeping landscapes in the heart of Montana. The idea of establishing a company that provides aerial firefighting support in the US was conceived 10 years ago by Tim Sheehy.

Sheehy has always been a man of the skies. His passion for flight was ignited at an early age by a neighbor who was a US Navy pilot from the Korean War.

Under his mentorship, Sheehy took to the skies like a natural, earning his wings before he could even drive a car. His experience was enriched when he joined the military to become a US Navy SEAL team leader.

Although Sheehy didn’t fly in the military, his love for aviation remained steadfast, as he witnessed firsthand the crucial role that aircraft played in supporting ground troops, providing surveillance, close air support, and medevac operations.

It was this realization that sparked a new vision within Sheehy – a vision to bridge the gap between air and ground operations and perfect the integration of aerial assets in firefighting efforts. “When I got discharged, I decided to start a company to really try to perfect that air-to-ground integration of assets,” says Sheehy.

And so, Bridger was born – a company dedicated to providing unparalleled aerial support to firefighters battling blazes across the globe. He adds, “The vision and mission of Bridger Aerospace has always been to support ground firefighters as well as the citizens who are affected by the fires.”

CEO Tim Sheehy is always ready to take on firefighting missions.

Company origins

With humble beginnings in Sheehy’s barn, Bridger Aerospace started operations in December 2014 with a government-surplus  Twin Commander equipped with a camera into which Bridger integrated specialized infrared sensors that would prove useful in mapping terrain where fires were developing.

“Our first year in business was really 2015,” Sheehy explains. “Then the business started to take off, so we bought a few more aircraft.”

As Bridger’s mission grew, Sheehy and his team acquired aircraft capable of scooping water from lakes and rivers to douse raging infernos. “We just grew the business organically for a while until we eventually brought in some outside investment.

And we did this because we really wanted to grow into the realm of Super Scooper aircraft,” he declares. Each plane was meticulously outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, from infrared cameras to specialized tank systems designed for firefighting missions.

Daher Kodiak 100 in air attack configuration. Bridger operates 4 Kodiak 100s for firefighting and transport.

Flight operations

While Bridger Aerospace’s headquarters are located at BZN (Bozeman Yellowstone MT), most of their operations are out of state, and even overseas.

The company’s purpose-built fleet includes 10 “Super Scoopers” (6 Viking CL-415EAFs and 4 Canadair CL-215Ts), and a mix of air attack and support aircraft, consisting of 4 Daher Kodiak 100s, 3 Pilatus PC-12s, a de Havilland Twin Otter, and a Twin Commander.

In addition, Bridger operates unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for infrared fire surveillance and tactical awareness of fire behavior to assist firefighters.

“The Super Scoopers are built with water tanks, while the surveillance planes all have infrared cameras and a lot of radios,” Sheehy points out. “Some of our planes have up to 8 radios so that pilots can listen to a lot of different frequencies.”

Bridger Aerospace uses 3 Pilatus PC-12 turboprops for fire mapping and air attack missions.

Most of Bridger’s flying is visual. “The vast majority of our operations are 100–150 ft off the ground,” explains Sheehy.

“Our pilots fly in close proximity to many aircraft. And, obviously, they’re flying through smoke and ash, in low-visibility environments, and close to mountains that are on fire.”

In spite of flying in trying conditions, Bridger pilots do approximately 100 landings and takeoffs in 8-hour shifts to scoop up water to put out fires. Sheehy adds, “These are very demanding missions, and our pilots are in the critical phase of flight the whole time.”

When Bridger Aerospace is called into action, those in need of help go to bridgeraerospace.com, and the company will send out air units, depending on the type of mission. Once on a mission, because pilots don’t know where they may end up due to the nature of the operation, they are responsible for procuring products and services such as airports, FBOs, fuel, and water sources.

However, pilots are not alone out there, as ground support units are deployed whenever they’re needed.

Senior Director Barrett Farrell still gets to fly “Super Scoopers.”


Without a doubt, the true backbone of Bridger Aerospace has always been its pilots, and Sheehy believes that selecting the correct applicants is paramount. The company currently employs 70 pilots, and while this may seem like a large number, they are not your typical airline or charter airmen.

The company hires former military aviators and seasoned bush pilots who are drawn to the call of the wild blue yonder and thrive in the adrenaline-fueled chaos of firefighting operations.

They need to possess not only exceptional flying skills, but also the ability to think on their feet, adapt to rapidly changing conditions, and make split-second decisions in the heat of battle.

More importantly, however, Bridger pilots have to have the desire to be there. This is the case of Bridger Aerospace Senior Director Barrett Farrell. Although he officially began his flying journey in 2008, his desire to take to the skies has been ingrained in him since childhood. “I knew I wanted to be a pilot from a young age,” he recalls, reminiscing about the airshows, sea planes, and model airfields that fueled his love for flying.

VP of Mx Andrew Hill (L) and Dir of Mx Jeff MacLean with a CL-415EAF “Super Scooper.” Bridger takes care of all aircraft maintenance needs in-house.

Despite not flying solo until the age of 17, Farrell’s commitment to aviation never wavered, even as he briefly explored other interests, like fire science.

As fate would have it, his studies on fire science would be instrumental in his career. Farrell’s path led him to Bridger Aerospace. Initially, he fell short of the qualifications, but he persevered, gaining the necessary experience to join the team a year later.

“When I first applied at Bridger, I was like 15 hours short of the minimum multi-engine time required,” he says. “So I went out there, got the hours I needed, and then came back the next year because I wanted to do this.” Farrell continues, “When I joined Bridger in 2016, we were still a very small company. I joined as pilot number 5 at the time.”

In 8 years with Bridger, Farrell has flown all aircraft types owned by the company. However, these days he describes his role as being more of a support person. “If anyone needs help with anything, I’m usually the person helping out,” he says.

“Whether it’s writing a policy or doing some scheduling, I’m the one doing it.” However, Farrell is much more than that. He flies the “Super Scoopers” in firefighting missions, and
is also a company check airman for the Kodiaks.

During the off-season, Bridger pilots are allowed to get other jobs so they can continue to fly and keep their instrument skills sharp while earning supplemental income. Still, they all get paid 12 times a year at Bridger, and have benefits such as a 401(k) plan and health insurance.

However, it is during the off-season that pilots need to attend recurrent training, which is provided by Bridger. The company is an FAA-certified Part 142 Training Center, and it takes care of its own pilot development needs. “When it’s not the fire season, it’s training season,” says Farrell.

Mechanic Kyle Kulseth services a tire at the company’s hangar in BZN.

Aircraft maintenance

Bridger Aerospace holds a Part 145 Repair Station certificate and employs 30 technicians, so the company handles most maintenance events in-house.

VP of Maintenance Andrew Hill is responsible for overseeing the work done on the company’s fleet. Hill explains, “Our ‘Super Scooper’ aircraft are enrolled in a maintenance  with the OEM. This provides AOG support year round. And it’s especially fast during the fire season, when  our aircraft are busier.”

Hill continues, “We also have direct support from Daher and Pilatus. We work very closely with Daher now that they manufacture Kodiak turboprops, and their Sandpoint ID production facility is pretty much next door. And Western Aircraft in Boise ID takes care of our PC-12s.”

In-house maintenance capabilities for Bridger include heavy checks, annual inspections, parts replacement, and troubleshooting. “Everything on our fleet says just when we do have to reach out to Western Aircraft for engineering support, such as installing a new antenna, or if we’re looking to get a set of landing gear overhauled,” says Hill.

Air attack units stored inside the company’s maintenance hangar.

Avionics maintenance is also performed by Bridger techs. The company is a Garmin dealer, and has even performed work on external aircraft. As might be expected, Bridger’s Kodiaks and PC-12s are equipped with upgraded Garmin avionics.

Bridger also has ground support units that can take are of aircraft maintenance while the planes are away on a mission. “As long as our aircraft are in the western part of the continental US, we can have a service truck there within 12 hours,” says Hill.


Especially when surrounded by chaos and destruction, Bridger Aerospace pilots have a sense of pride and purpose – a shared mission to protect lives, homes, and the fragile ecosystems threatened by nature’s own fury. For Sheehy, Farrell, Hill, and their team, every flight is a testament to their dedication, their skill, and their unwavering commitment to the firefighting cause.

Bridger Aerospace is not just a business. It is a beacon of hope in the darkest of times.