Last month the two Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) air tankers based at the Channel Islands Air National Guard base in Port Hueneme, California participated in training for wildfire assignments. This week the two Wyoming Air National Guard MAFFS C-130s based in Cheyenne did the same thing. On Monday through Thursday they loaded the 3,000-gallon tanks with water instead of retardant, and flew 100 miles to practice dropping on the rolling terrain of Camp Guernsey in southeast Wyoming.
Besides the four MAFFS aircraft mentioned above, there are four others in Colorado and North Carolina, for a total of eight. The military C-130s are used only when the commercial air tankers on contract are totally utilized on going wildfires.
An article at trib.com has more details about the MAFFS training, and also has this about the federal fleet of air tankers:
…The number of commercial tanker planes under Forest Service contract has declined from 44 in 2002 to 11 this year. The planes are getting old and more expensive to maintain.
Western senators have taken note. Last month, four of them asked the Government Accountability Office to look into whether the Forest Service has done a good job of assessing its aerial firefighting needs.
Last week, Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado also expressed concern about the 1950s-era Lockheed P-2Vs that compose the remaining fleet.
“I am unconvinced the USFS’s current air tanker fleet is prepared to adequately address an immense wildfire or even what is sure to be a long fire season,” Udall wrote to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
The U.S. Forest Service is eager to work with Congress to develop a quicker and more effective commercial tanker plane fleet, said Tom Harbour, national director of fire and aviation for the Forest Service.
The Forest Service didn’t call on the military planes at all in 2009, he said, and it’s not a certainty it will need to in the months and years ahead.
The Wyoming National Guard produced a 2.6 minute video about the training.