SACRAMENTO, Calif.–As temperatures heated up in northern California, aerial firefighters from four C-130 airlift wings operating the U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, started a weeklong training April 23, 2018, in anticipation of summer blazes.
The year’s training, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service at McClellan Reload Base in Sacramento, Calif., includes four military airlift wings that make up the Air Expeditionary Group: three Air National Guard units from California, Nevada and Wyoming, and one Air Force Reserve unit from Colorado.
“Training with all four MAFFS wings alongside the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE and other wildland firefighting agencies here in Sacramento provides a significant opportunity as we prepare for wildland fire season,” said Col. James DeVere, MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group and 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve commander. “Training collectively ensures overall standardization of operations while continuing to build working relationships with the key players in the wildland firefighting community. It is rewarding as guardsmen and reservists to stand alongside our agency partners, knowing that we help make a difference protecting our citizens and their property.”
The USDA Forest Service’s large MAFFS equipment — rolled into the back of a C-130 aircraft — can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in six seconds through a nozzle on the rear left side of the plane.
The certification training includes classroom sessions and flight operations for military flight crews, lead plane pilots and other support personnel from the U.S. Forest Service and other wildland firefighting agencies.
“Wildland fire management agencies have relied on MAFFS for more than 40 years to provide surge capacity when commercial airtankers are fully committed or not readily available, as they frequently are during periods of high wildfire activity,” said Kim Christensen, U.S. Forest Service deputy assistant director for operations. “Training that includes all of the military and civilian personnel that work together when MAFFS are mobilized is critical to ensure that military aircraft fly safely and effectively and that they can be seamlessly integrated into wildfire suppression operations.”
Participating airlift wings include three Air National Guard units — 146th Airlift Wing from Port Hueneme, Calif.; 152nd Airlift Wing from Reno, Nev.; 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyo. — and the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
Training water drops will be executed on lands within the Tahoe and Shasta-Trinity national forests. California residents in these areas may see low-flying U.S. Forest Service lead planes and C-130s dropping water April 24 through April 27.
In the past decade, military C-130s equipped with MAFFS delivered more than 8 million gallons of fire retardant to aid in the suppression of wildfires around the U.S.
MAFFS aircraft are activated to supplement commercial airtankers contracted by the USDA Forest Service during periods of high wildfire activity throughout the nation. They are also activated by governors to assist with wildfire suppression in states where the Air National Guard units that provide the C-130s are located, including California.