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MAFFS training successful in South Carolina

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kimberly Holman
  • 146AW
The skies above the Nantahala Forest in South Carolina were filled last week with a special kind of air show as Air National Guard and U.S. Forest Service planes trained together to fight fires. It was a magnificent sight--the massive military C-130s dwarf the tiny King Air lead planes they follow, as they fly just above the treetops spraying a white tail of water along the ridge crests. While the dense Carolina forests offer some of the most picturesque terrain found in the country, it also serves as some of the greatest and most challenging topography aircrews fly in to prepare for the upcoming fire season.
The 146th Airlift Wing performed their week-long annual certification and training event with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, known as MAFFS, alongside nearly 400 pilots, loadmasters, and ground and support crews from around the country. The firefighters conducted classroom training, inter-agency coordination and about 75 training drops per day.
"The personnel of the 146th AW are looking forward to MAFFS certification training in South Carolina this year," said Col. Paul Hargrove, 146th Airlift Wing Commander and this year's commander of the Air Expeditionary Group. "This inter-agency training sharpens our proficiency and is crucial for proper preparation for the upcoming fire season. We will be ready when called to execute the mission safely."
The MAFFS mission is a coveted and special one amongst all other missions in the firefighting community, perhaps because of its rich, 30-year history and the relationships formed between the agencies over the years.
Other units participating in the training were the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard (ANG), based in Cheyenne, the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina ANG, based in Charlotte, and the 302nd Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve Command, based in Colorado Springs.
MAFFS mission support specialists and aviators from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, North Carolina Forest Service, and CAL FIRE were participating alongside the military.
MAFFS is a portable fire retardant delivery system that is rolled into the back of the C-130 cargo compartment. The system is capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of retardant or water on wildfires. They can discharge their entire load in under five seconds or perform variable drops as needed.
MAFFS-trained Air National Guard and Reserve units are available to supplement civilian firefighting assets when needed during periods of high wildfire activity. MAFFS can be activated directly for use on state fires by the Governors of the states where the Air National Guard flight crews that operate them are based (California, Wyoming, and North Carolina). They can also be activated for use on federal fires when the civilian contract airtanker fleet needs augmentation to meet requirements for initial or extended attack, or for large fire support.
The number of MAFFS flights each year varies with wildfire activity. Over the last 10 years, military C-130s equipped with MAFFS systems delivered a total of approximately 9.1 million gallons of retardant on wildfires, an average of about 910,000 gallons per year.
The U.S. Forest Service currently owns eight MAFFS systems and is in the process of transitioning from systems developed in the 1970s, known as "Legacy" systems, to new systems, known as "MAFFS 2." Last year the 146th Airlift Wing was the first unit to transition to this MAFFS 2 system and remains the only unit flying the new system on the new C-130J aircraft. Together this system and airframe combine to provide the state of California with the best firefighting technology available. MAFFS 2 systems incorporate new design features and technology that provide a number of advantages over the Legacy MAFFS systems, to include improvements in retardant coverage level, improved safety features, reduction of corrosion of the aircraft, and an on-board compressor.
"The MAFFS 2 with its built-in on-board compressor system saves time and money by eliminating the need for ground support compressors, adding flexibility to where aircraft can land to reload retardant before their next drop," said Lynn Ballard, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. In addition, engineering designs have reduced the amount of retardant splashed on the exterior of the plane during aerial drops, which saves time and money previously allocated to cleaning the excess highly-corrosive retardant from the plane, he said.
Since 1974, National Guard and Air Force Reserve pilots have flown 6,500 firefighting missions, dropping 167 million pounds of fire retardant around the western United States, officials said.