CHANNEL ISLANDS AIR NATIONAL GUARD STATION, Calif. --
Activity bustled this week on the flightline, at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Port Hueneme, California, as nearly 400 military and civilian personnel came together for MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems) annual certification and training. The inter-agency training hosted by U.S. Forest Service takes place each year and frequently combines all participating wings to train concurrently in order to ensure fluid processes during firefighting operations.
In addition to the 146th Airlift Wing's two MAFFS-equipped C-130s here on station, an additional six from three other wings around the country moved in for the week of May 2-6, as well as nine lead aircraft from the Forest Service.
"This year's MAFFS training and recertification event is unique because we are gathering all five military wings together for training," Col. David Bakos, commander 146th Airlift Wing, said. "The large group training only occurs every five years, so we are super excited here at Channel Islands to be hosting this event."
Military flight instructors trained alongside U.S. Forest Service aircrew flying in mountainous terrain in the Southern California Angeles Forest over simulated fire lines, while ground crew members honed their skills servicing the aircraft and reloading the MAFFS units at the tanker base. The MAFFS aerial firefighting fleet was composed this week of the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Air National Guard's 153rd Airlift Wing, located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the 152nd Airlift Wing in Reno, Nevada and the 145th Airlift Wing in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"Each participating organization is unified by a single vision tied to a single mission...to prepare and train to fight America's fires," Bakos said. "We are certifying and validating a combined civil/military operation that protects property and saves lives."
MAFFS is a portable fire retardant delivery system that can be easily rolled into the back of C-130 aircraft converting the vessel into an air tanker when civilian fleets have been fully committed. Retardant is dropped from the C130 with careful direction of Forest Service lead plane pilots who are in direct communication with incident commanders on the ground. MAFFS units can drop up to 3,000 gallons of retardant per run on wildfires. Retardant lines are typically dropped ahead of the fire line in an effort to slow its spread, and to give ground crews a critical edge in gaining the upper hand on the blaze. The retardant's bright red color helps aircrews determine the accuracy of their drops.
Kim Christensen, National Interagency Fire Center deputy assistant director of operations for fire and aviation management, said the 2016 wildland fire potential could be significant.
"There are two areas that are pointing to above average fire potential out west, including the Great Basin in Nevada and areas throughout Southern California," she added.
The MAFFS program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense. The Forest Service owns the MAFFS equipment and supplies the retardant, while DOD provides the C-130 aircraft, flight crews, and maintenance and support personnel to fly the missions.
"Our role as a DoD asset is to support both state and national civil firefighting agencies as a surge capability," Bakos said. "This week is another outstanding opportunity to not only train like we fight but also to build relationships and make new friends as well."
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