Previous Awards Winners

The Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Awards winners are honoured every calendar year. Any person or oganisation that has made a significant contribution to furthering the safety and/or efficiency in aerial firefighting is eligible to be nominated.


The Awards may recognise contributions either over recent year(s) or over a sustained period.  The recipients must be of good character and good standing.


US Department of Agriculture – Forest Service (retd) – 2020 winner in Safety in Aerial Firefight

The Award in the Safety in Aerial Firefighting category was presented to Bill Moody, a well-known and respected professional who began his career as a firefighter, smoke jumper base manager, regional/national fire/aviation specialist and instructor. Bill Moody started his career in fire suppression in 1956. He devoted his life to halt and reduce the adverse consequences of landscape fires affecting our precious environment, human lives and the assets of our societies. He was an advocate for the safety of our dedicated firefighters in the air, on the ground, and between these two spheres – the smoke-jumping community.

Larry Vandersall, PHOSCHek (Perimeter Solutions) – 2020 winner Industry Innovation & Advancement (Posthumous Award)

The Award for Industry Innovation & Advancement went to Larry Vandersall and was received by his family. Larry Vandersall was a pioneer of the Firefighting Chemical Industry and served for approximately 64 years. He was a graduate chemist who began his work in the fire chemicals arena with Monsanto prior to the development of, what is known today as Long-Term Fire Retardant (LTR). The early deployment of airtankers was hugely successful for fire suppression with water, bentonite, borate and gels being the primary chemical agents dropped. It was only in the late 1950s that companies began to develop phosphate / sulphate-based products that, would not only act as a fire suppressant, but would also be effective to prevent combustion for weeks and months later. This technology has since been adopted worldwide.

Kestrel Aviation (Australia), Coulson Aviation (Canada) and Mr Wayne Rigg from Emergency Management Victoria (Australia) -  2019 joint winners in AFF Innovation and Advancement Category

For the first time the Award for Aerial Firefighting Innovation and Advancement was presented jointly to Kestrel Aviation of Australia, Coulson Aviation of Canada and Mr Wayne Rigg from Emergency Management Victoria 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. It is especially fitting to make this award jointly, as it recognises the fact it was a collaborative project where the organisations worked together to improve aerial firefighting and to deliver new capabilities. This provides a great pattern for future development projects. Foster Coulson of Coulson Aviation received the Award for the three joint winners.

Riccardo Filippi, CL-415 captain at Babcock Mission Critical Services of Italy -  2019 winner in AFF Safety Category

The Award in the Aerial Firefighting Safety category was presented to Riccardo Filippi for demonstrating his incredible ability to work and fly safely in international missions. Riccardo is a CL-415 captain at Babcock Mission Critical Services of Italy, operator for the Government-owned firefighting fleet, and for the last 15 years he has been extensively flying over wildfires, giving his contribution both nationwide and abroad, where different operational standards and procedures - together with higher risk of miscommunication - represent critical points in safety.

Jim Barnes, CAL FIRE / DynCorp (retd) -  2018 winner

Jim Barnes, as a Cal Fire air tanker pilot and instructor, was heavily involved in safety and effectiveness of aerial firefighting.  He created the AAP (which became AAF) and the CFPA to regroup and negotiate a safer and more efficient industry.  He proved the S-2T and initial attack were the way forward for California and he really believed better days would come and never gave up.


Jacques Bonneval, Sécurité Civile -  2017 winner

Jacques' numerous contributions he provided to aerial firefighting, both at home and beyond national borders. After 15 years in the French Navy Aviation, Jacques  brought his extensive operational experience to the National Aerial Fire Fighting organisation where he put in place policies and processes to further enhance air-to-ground cooperation for safer, more efficient and more effective use of waterbombers while responding to highest pilots’ management responsibilities. As a rare contributor to the furthering of safety and efficiency in aerial firefighting Jacques Bonneval fully represents what the Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award stands for and complies to the fullest extent to all standards and requirements.


Jim Cook, CAL FIRE - 2016 winner 

Jim, formerly of CAL FIRE, was recognised for his 44 years of aerial firefighting as a tanker pilot and flew more than 10,000 hours of aerial firefighting and thousands of drops, while also playing a role as tanker pilot instructor.  Jim’s most evident achievement was the design and implementation of the Fire Traffic Area (FTA). After the tragic loss of two pilots in a mid-air collision, Jim was volunteered by Walt Darran to be the driving force in addressing the problem.

Philippe Bodino, National Bureau of Administrative Investigation & Control - 2015 winner 

Philippe, from France’s National Bureau of Administrative Investigation & Control – part of the Ministry of Interior - was the second recipient of the Award.  Philippe contributed to the improvement of aerial operational procedures in the fight against forest fires.  He participated in the development of France’s national strategy in massive aerial attack when a wildfire starts.  He has constantly improved safety of pilots and first responders. 

George Patterson, National Transportation Safety Board 2014 winner

George, formerly the investigator of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), was the first recipient of the Aerial Firefighting Award in 2014.  George received the award because he was personally instrumental in determining the cause of two fatal crashes of air tankers in 2002. His actions have lifted the bar on airtanker maintenance and new programs have been implemented since to improve safety of aerial firefighters globally.