With Aero Union gone, what is the future of the MAFFS?

MAFFS 5 Peterson AFB Colorado, 9-9-2011
MAFFS 5 Peterson AFB Colorado, 9-9-2011
File photo of a MAFFS II unit being loaded into a C-130 at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, September 9, 2011. Air Force Reserve photo.

The military C-130 air tanker that crashed in South Dakota Sunday, killing four and injuring two crewmembers, was carrying one of the nine Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems II (MAFFS II) that exist. The MAFFS II hold 3,000 gallons of fire retardant which is pumped out the left side paratroop door using compressed air generated by an air compressor built into the system. The U.S. Forest Service had these and the eight first generation MAFFS built by a contractor, Aero Union, which had been converting aircraft into air tankers for decades.

But after the USFS cancelled their contract for the company’s eight P3 air tankers over a safety inspection issue, Aero Union closed their doors, laid off their employees, and a bank took over their assets, including the aircraft and everything related to manufacturing the MAFFS. The bank attempted to sell them at an auction in February, but the aircraft and the MAFFS items were not bought.

The MAFFS units are very specialized, complex systems. Without Aero Union around to provide repairs and parts, now there is a question about how to maintain and repair the systems.

Mead Gruver, a reporter for the Associated Press working out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, has been closely following what I am calling the Air Tanker Crisis and the management of what is left of the air tanker fleet, down to nine full time large air tankers after being cut by 80 percent since 2002. Here is an excerpt from an article he wrote today about the MAFFS:

…Forest Service officials insist the system is and will remain viable for years to come.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service has contracted technicians in California, Wyoming and Idaho to maintain the MAFFS. An in-house engineer at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, can help troubleshoot any bugs, Fisher said.

“In any new system you’re going to have some issues come up, and we’ve been able to work through them,” [Scott Fisher, MAFFS coordinator for the Forest Service] said.

Aero Union’s last chief executive, Britt Gourley of Seattle, declined to comment on the system’s continued viability.

“I may have my personal opinions, but I keep them to myself. I don’t know. I wish the Forest Service well and wish all the folks involved well,” Gourley said.


Thanks go out to Chris and Al

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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. Google+

12 thoughts on “With Aero Union gone, what is the future of the MAFFS?”

  1. The problem with Aero Union was internal, mainly.
    The USFS and FAA concerns were legitimate.
    Now it would seem that some of Aero Union’s former Tank People would see an opportunity
    to at least work on MAFFS sytems. We’ll see…

  2. I live how people that never worked at aero union always seem to have the answers and knew how aero union worked and the problems the company did or didn’t have. Aero unions problem defiantly was not an internal issue. I’m still don’t know why the usfs cancelled our contracts? Our inspection program was on par with our continued airworthiness program and out maintenance was beyond excellent. We still had mechanics that loved what they did and took extreme pride in what they did. Looking in from the outside you can speculate what ever the media/ usfs tells you but if you where not there please don’t make ignorant responses about aero union.

    1. Mike, I didn’t mean to insult the former
      employees I was just repeating what
      I have heard from other sources. Not the USFS, BTW. I heard that the FAA
      had problems with the Maintenance
      protocol but again I wasn’t there.
      Also I have great respect for Aero Union’s Tank designs. nobody did better. If you and others can be helpful it would be better if the truth was out. Has anyone contacted their
      Congress people about this I have, actually last year when the Texas
      fires were going. When it seemed that Aero Union was being singled out If there is a political bent to all this it needs to be brought forward….

    2. Mike,

      like TG McCoy I too have heard from other sources about what happened to Aero Union and it all points to internal problems. If this is all untrue it would be helpful if the public knew what really happened.

  3. With Aero Union gone I have a feeling that the people that worked on the MAFFS II project will be hired as independent contractors to maintain the MAFFS II systems. If all else fails send the remaining MAFFS II systems to the Air Guard unit that is currently using the C-130J models and pull the original MAFFS out of mothballs and give them to the Air Guard and Reserve Units that are still operating the older C-130H models. This way there are spare MAFFS II that can be switched out with one that has a problem so the aircraft is not out of service for a long period of time, while the installed MAFFS II is being worked on. Just my thought on the matter.

  4. Without the REAL written facts….it is all pure conjecture that downed a fine operation

    FWIW…..well said Mr Gourley

  5. In light of the disasters of the airtanker program not only this year, but also in years past, I think it makes the most sense to quit using fixed wing large airtankers completely. Rarely do we ever see them in initial attack when fires are small. Aircraft full of technology does not guarantee safety, and frankly, saving property and limiting fire size is not worth getting folks killed! I say end MAFFS, and any large airtanker program. If we want effective initial attack, we need to be small, agile, and at many more airbases where the response time is < 30 minutes.

    1. Dodge you just describe the way it was in the 60’s and 70’s
      TBM’s F7F’s B-26’s and the way Calfire does it with S2’s don’t really have a problem with that concept . But, back in the days of the four engine Douglases, (I am prejudiced here) the Best in ital attack aircraft ever was a DC-4/C-54. With the DC6/7 very close behind. The Seven is still around. The CV-580 is a good
      Replacement for the DC-4 (though not much newer). I’ve done many flights just “chasing smoke” after a thunderstorm. Load up 3000 gallon
      with eight doors, an air attack, and off you go. This is initial attack at it’s best.
      Now, with even a BAE 146, this is problematical.Economics. just can’t cruise at low altitude on four fans. Good airplane but we’ll see.
      What is beautiful about the DC-7 is that it is efficent.you can get it down near 200gal/hr. per engine if the crew knows what they are doing. maybe the Dash 8 will be a good, Fairly economical replacement.

    2. your small aircraft are fine with your fast turn arounds, but as usual its always about volume of the drop.

  6. Read the latest posting on wildfiretoday.com. If you have any questions about aero union read the article about aero union.

  7. What publications are available for in service maintenance of the MAFFS and/or MAFFSII? Anything?

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