This morning the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne, Wyoming is loading their two Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) into a couple of C-130J aircraft in preparation for annual recertification of the equipment and the pilots and crews operating them. They will join six other C-130J’s at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center in Greenville, South Carolina from April 24 until May 1.
Up to 400 military and civilian personnel will participate in the recertification for the air tankers, including both classroom and flight training for military flight crews, civilian lead plane pilots and various support personnel. MAFFS support specialists and aviators from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, North Carolina Forest Service, and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection will lead the week-long training.
In addition to the Wyoming MAFFS, the other six, two from each base, will come from the 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard in Charlotte, N.C.; the 146th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard in Port Hueneme, Calif., and the 302nd Airlift Wing with the U.S. Air Force Reserve of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A few months ago the MAFFS bases began accepting delivery of a new generation of the equipment. Called MAFFS 2 (photo of MAFFS 2 test), they are also designed to be rolled into the back of C-130 aircraft, but they hold 400 more gallons, for a total of 3,400 gallons of retardant. However the main difference is that the nozzles, instead of exiting out the rear loading dock, are routed through a sealed portal (a modified paratrooper door) on the plane’s left side. This makes it possible for the plane to be pressurized; in addition, the crew and the rear door will no longer be coated with retardant. Wildfire Today wrote more about the new MAFFS 2 back in January.
MAFFS is a partnership between federal land management agencies and the military to provide supplemental air tankers to assist in fire suppression efforts nationwide during times of high fire activity. The system itself is a portable fire retardant delivery system that can be easily inserted into military C-130 aircraft, converting the vessel into an air tanker when the civilian fleet is fully committed.
Congress established the authority for the MAFFS program in the early 1970’s to support wildland firefighting through an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. The military aircraft are requested by the National Interagency Fire Center and activated through the U.S. Northern Command, based on an agreement with the Department of Defense. The most recent MAFFS mission was mobilized in June 2008.
UPDATE April 22, 2010:
The Herkybirds.com site, which is devoted to C-130’s, has more information about the benefit of pumping the retardant out the side paratroop door, rather than out the back. According to “Maxtorq”:
The glory part about the system is hardly any clean up after flights . With the old system it would just cover the tail section , beaver tail, elevators and mist inside the ramp doors. All of our birds after so many hours had to be sent to depot to have the aft end of the aircraft removed and stripped and painted.
After MAFFS during the fire season it would come home for aircraft wash, the ramps floor deck would all have to come out along with D/Rails to be cleaned.