Military C-130 air tankers continue to assist with firefighting in the southwest

MAFFS C-130 Las Conchas 6-27
MAFFS C-130  Las Conchas 6-27
MAFFS C-130 makes a drop on the Las Conchas fire, 6-27-2011. Photo: Jayson Coil

Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) equipped military C-130 aircraft continue to supplement the fleet of privately-owned air tankers fighting wildfires in the southwest. Initially four were activated on June 15, and two are still working out of Kirtland Air Force base at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here is an excerpt from a July 8 news release from the U.S. Northern Command:

Since being activated by the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho June 15, the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group has performed 242 airdrops, dropping 559,993 gallons of fire retardant to help contain wildfires in the Southwest. Recent MAFFS efforts have been concentrated on the Las Conchas fire near Los Alamos in New Mexico.

Under the direction of the Joint Forces Air Component Commander for Air Forces Northern, four C-130 Hercules aircraft equipped with fire fighting capabilities deployed to Kirtland AFB, N.M. as part of the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group. Command and control of the aircraft is being provided by the 302nd AEG from Boise, Idaho.

The 302nd AEG is comprised of personnel from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing, Colo., the California Air National Guard’s 146th AW, Wyoming ANG’s 153rd AW and North Carolina’s ANG’s 145th AW.

MAFFS-equipped aircraft and crews from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing, the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, and the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing have been flying the aerial containment missions for the last three weeks. On Thursday, the 145th AW aircraft and crews were released from duty. Personnel and two C-130s from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd AW will remain at Kirtland AFB, N.M. available to support U.S. Forest Service fire containment efforts.

MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system, which can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, drawing lines of containment that can cover an area one-quarter of a mile long by 60 feet wide. Once the load is discharged, the MAFFS system can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

The MAFFS units are owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, one of several federal and state government agencies and organizations with roles and responsibilities in wildland fire suppression that make up the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The Department of Defense is flying at the request of NIFC.


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

24 thoughts on “Military C-130 air tankers continue to assist with firefighting in the southwest”

  1. If this picture is any indication how high these guys are dropping from, they might as well stay home and not waste the time, retardent, or fuel.

  2. Hey ex-pilot, check with some of the current pilots. The MAFFS guys are doing themselves proud down there. Been out of the loop long?

  3. Been out for about nine years there Kelly, but unless they’ve changed gravity in that time, that drop in that picture IS high.

  4. I would urge caution to anyone considering judging the effectiveness of the MAFFS program based on this one snapshot.

  5. Looks like a high drop based upon the known length of the tail height on C-130, but it could be just the camera angle.

    Everything I’ve heard so far is that the MAFFS II is pretty effective and a welcomed tool in the tool box..

  6. Wasnt judging their effectiveness. I stand by my statement that THIS IS A HIGH DROP.

  7. Regardles if a drop is high, low under shot or over shot we might enjoy what may be the only fixed wing air tankers (MAFF) pictures on federal lands during the next decade. One thing the military is very good at is following a leader. There is a high probablity that a USFS/BLM “lead” (airspeed and altitude) is just out of the picture.

  8. looking at the landscape, it appears he might have come over a ridge and the slope is dropping down toward the left and out of bottom of the photo- just a possible observation. I’m not a pilot, and I don’t even play one on TV, but judging from the size of that buggy, I can’t imagine they’re that easy to make cuts and dives like a smaller plane might.

  9. It is a shame that they are being used to put the VLATs out of business. They are supposed to be the back up but those close to the scene can tell you that they are also taking work from the P3s and P2vs. It is just not right. Ask your leads why they always have to double up the MAFFS line. Too thin in any kind of wind. Pilots are great though.

  10. The Lead plane or AT are the only ones that can evaluate the drop. Yes I am afraid we are going the way of the hammer and sickle. MAFFS are going to be used to get rid of all commercial tankers no matter the cost to you. It is happening.

  11. oh please.

    The MAFFS units have never threatened the private contractors who own airtankers. They are their own threat. Ask anybody who remembers the AAP conference when the pilots pitched a fit about how the Alaska contract was awarded to Conair and the Alaska contracting agent explained they didn’t get a single bid from any operator in the lower 48. That kinda shut the AAP up.

    It’s not that I side with the military here, nor the federal agencies … I don’t. But it’ll be a cold day in hell when the MAFFS units put any private tanker company out of business.

  12. p.s.

    California had a couple of S-2s up in Oregon recently for a little fire out of Roseburg. I wondered where Butler was … not quite on contract yet. Those Douglas ships, deemed unworthy and uncontractable by the USFS, have been flying fires on Oregon contracts since the big CYA shutdown by the FS about 7 years ago. Oregon does like their DC-7s … and I’ll bet the Butler folks were chapped when they couldn’t go hit that fire near Roseburg, which if I remember right, is flyable from both Redmond and Medford.

    Yay for CDF (oops, CalFire) for sharing their S-2s.

  13. well, since “ex-tanker pilot” took a poke at his fellow fixed wing-ed bretheren, i may as well throw two cents in… current SK-64 and CH-54 Cranes can drop between 600 and 1600 pounds of retardant (per drop) and are only limited to the proximity of the nearest retardant tank. (usually much, much closer than fixed-wing bases… MEAN-ing, the Cranes are still the cheapest dispersing agent of either water or retardant.

    “Fly Rotary-Win” cheers, rotor-head.

  14. Kim – as a former ATGS (Air Attack), I have to question your comment about “putting the VLATs out of businness”: they were never “in” the business, just wannabees. We have a process in place thru the Tech Centers to certify air tankers, and these folks have been less the “top of the class” in their performance. Lots of performance/costs/safety and politics to factor in. Bottom line: MAAFS is also a political “weapon”: read back to the 1995 Sunrise Fire story on Long Island, NY for a classic case study!

  15. Gary – be sure to check under your bed tonight; the Commies may still be hiding there. Where is Joe McCarthy when we need him? Actually, a “Hammer & Sickle” would be a pretty cool logo on the tail of an Air Tanker!Let’s all get behind the IL-76.

  16. Rileymon, the enemy is in plain sight and it appears as if you are gonna vote for him again. So much for the land of the free….dont worry the goobernment will take care of you. If you really believe a hammer and sickle would be a cool logo, you are a twisted individual. Every take a history class?

  17. I guess 6 years in California and other spots around the world were my imagination. Maybe the “tech center” should review the IATB grid test comparisons. I am sure that Cal Fire also made a mistake when they found the Dc 10 to be cheaper per gallon than a seat and in some cases their own S2s. Sorry to be so cynical but people are not looking at all the facts. The last Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing on tankers sure showed me the USFS has no idea what they are doing with regard to tankers.

  18. My poke was at military protocal which prevents them from flying at an appropriate altitude for effectiveness. A minimum descent altitude of 400AGL is just too damn high.

    I also flew cranes. No doubt effective, but DAMN expensive.

  19. … believe that, price-per-gallon of retardant / water dropped, Cranes are cheaper than fixed wing… given their turn-around time, proximity to the fire, and availibility. but hey, someone much closer to the music is making those calls. i’ll just keep pay’n my taxes, and hope USFS makes wise choices. yikes!

  20. Rotor-head: good point about the cost per gallon of delivered product — water, retardant, or gel. I would be interested to know what the actual costs are for various types of aircraft.

    On May 18, 2011, we wrote about the costs of the Martin Mars, the amphibious air tanker that can hold up to 7,200 gallons of water, and carries tanks of Class A foam and gel concentrates which it can mix into the water as it scoops from a lake. Here is an example of their costs:

    During a 25-day period in 2009 in California [the Martin Mars] worked on 6 fires, flew 36.33 hours on the fires, made 40 drops (of water and gel), dropped 193,758 gallons, for a total cost of $3.52 per gallon dropped, including the cost of the gel, fuel, and contract charges. That works out to 0.9 hour per drop, with each drop averaging 4,843 gallons.

    Anyone have similar data for other fixed or rotor wing aircraft?

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