CHANNEL ISLANDS AIR NATIONAL GUARD STATION, Port Hueneme, Calif. --
U.S. Air National Guard pilots and ground crew from the 146th Airlift Wing (146 AW) began their annual week long MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System) training and certification requirements to operate and support aerial firefighting requests at the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Port Hueneme, California. Aug. 22, 2019.
Each year during annual training recertification procedures and expectations are refined and established for each of the military aircrews assigned to the MAFFS mission.
Partnering with the U.S. Forest Service and CALFIRE personnel, the 115th Airlift Squadron (115 AS) conducted ground training covering the MAFFS system, pit operations, command and control, retardant properties, fire tactics, fire behavior, emergency procedures, and crew resource management.
Inside the command center MAFFS personnel ensure information flows to the California Joint Force Headquarters (CAJFHQ) in Sacramento, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), and the U.S. Forest Service National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC).
Outside on the flight line, personnel from the 146 AW Aerial Port Squadron and the 146 AW Maintenance Squadron help load MAFFS units into the C-130J aircraft while sharing logistical best practices learned from working with the pit crews from the U.S. Forest Service and CALFIRE.
146 AW MAFFS crews partnering with U.S. Forest Service and CALFIRE lead planes, perform three days of aerial training immediately after completing ground training, as they fly over the Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Clarita, California.
During aerial training, 146 AW pilots operating the retrofitted C-130J aircrafts containing the MAFFS II unit, are guided given feedback during flight from the lead plane pilots. As they continue flight operations the lead planes simultaneously cover a variety of maneuvers to include steep drops, emergency go-around procedures, and overrun situations.
In the moments leading up to a water drop, lead plane pilots create a small line of smoke above where they want the C-130J to drop the water. The C-130J then releases pressurized ground water from the MAFFS II unit through the “pintle” which sticks out of the left parachute door near the rear of the aircraft, releasing water in increments of up to 3,000 gallons in under five seconds.
Retrofitted C-130J aircraft carrying the MAFFS II unit maneuver at low altitudes of 150 feet above the ground flying at slow speeds of 120 knots, with pilots troubleshooting geographical challenges that come with navigating a fiery mountainous terrain, with poor visibility due to smoke and flames.
Because of these factors, creating a MAFFS certified pilot is a long process that comes with the training as California Air National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Miller, MAFFS Chief Pilot with the 115 AW Squadron explains.
“Before you could even sit in the co-pilot chair for MAFFS you would first have to become an Air Mobility C130J Aircraft Commander, which typically would mean you have about four to five years of flying experience. To become a MAFFS Commander you’d have to be a seasoned C-130J Instructor Pilot, which all in all takes about eight years or so before you could be considered seasoned,” said Miller.
Miller who has flown on MAFFS missions with the 146 AW since 2014, sees the annual training as a valuable way to best mitigate the risks MAFFS crews face when fighting fires.
“Seasoned loadmasters and pilots have all experienced the risks that come with flying this mission. Ensuring that our newer pilots feel empowered to make safe and purposeful decisions to accomplish the mission, while building rapport with the lead planes, the air tanker base personnel, and all firefighting agencies we are partnered with during this training is paramount,” said Miller.
Col. Keith Chikasawa, 146 AW Vice Wing Commander and the 2019 MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group commander, believes the training also strengthens the cohesiveness between the firefighting agencies participating.
“We’ve forged strong relationships through the many years of executing the MAFFS mission together. Building that trust and interagency partnership is essential to accomplishing the mission as safely as possible. When it comes to a mission like MAFFS it’s all about mitigating risks and taking care of each other,” said Chikasawa.
“We’re very proud of the successful missions our wing and the many other firefighting wing’s across the country have accomplished while working together with our partners in CALFIRE and the U.S Forest Service. All of that success can be attributed to the type of training we accomplish here and it’s created from all the years of experience and trust,” said Chikasawa.