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Some tasks proved exceptionally interesting. He helped improve fish planting by developing a tank system that, with the pull of a lever, released fingerlings without shutting off the engine instead of hand-spooning the slippery creatures into new habitat. Ayers also dropped “short term retardant” (water) into forest fires from seaplanes with modified floats. In earlier years, duties brought him into direct contact with ground-based fire fighters.

Working one-on-one with fire crews provided a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when we took the guys in, got them oriented and then picked them up,” he said. “Times changed and you became a number with somebody telling us where to dump a load but that sense of accomplishment was still there because we were part of the team.”

Ayer’s accident-free record testifies to his skill and foresight. It mattered little whose airplanes he flew or what season; he weighed his loads and kept “back door” in mind by preparing to turn around or land in poor weather. He admits to a few errors in judgment and sometimes wondered, “Holy smokes, how am I ever going to get out of here?” Takeoffs occasionally required several abortive attempts. Nevertheless, he always returned to base undamaged. ...

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