152nd Airlift Wing (Nevada Air National Guard) and 153rd Airlift Wing (Wyoming Air National Guard) participated in Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System spring training April 11-16, 2023, at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in California.
Several flight crews from the units flew continuous rotations of sorties during daylight throughout the week-long exercise. Each flight crew spent about an hour and a half per sortie, traveling to nearby mountainous areas and conducting water drops like they would if there were an actual fire.
The training allows the C-130 crews to become MAFFS certified to respond to aerial firefighting missions when requested.
“[MAFFS] augments our capabilities when our aircraft and commercial aircraft are fully committed,” said Kim Christensen, deputy director of operations with the U.S. Forest Service and MAFFS liaison officer.
Many of the air, ground, and support personnel who make this training possible are U.S. Forest Service personnel.
This year’s training was split over two weeks to accommodate the four military units participating in the MAFFS program across the western United States. Nevada and Wyoming Air National Guard members trained here this week, and the Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing (California) and Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing (Colorado) will train in May.
“Right now, we have two units, four aircraft, training for our upcoming fire season. We call this spring training,” said Maj. Kyle Zust, 152nd Airlift Wing pilot. “We get our proficiency back and all of our aircrew current before we go out to the real environment during a fire.”
The Air National Guard is not the only unit training and certifying this week. The U.S. Forest Service flies the lead planes, which direct the military C-130s into the proper flight pattern when dropping retardant or water, which was used during this training. Support staff from several federal and state agencies, including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, CAL Fire, and others, train alongside their military counterparts to be prepared to fight wildfires together.
“What we want to do is create that symbiotic relationship between the MLO and the military mission commander, the ramp personnel, and the pilots,” said Robin Patterson, MLO Forest Service trainee. “It’s a very dangerous mission. By the time MAFFS is requested, generally speaking, we are in a situation where resources are running thin and there is no time to learn to speak each other’s language.”
Patterson has been with the MAFFS program for more than 15 years.
“There is a lot of work behind the scenes, the operations, logistics, finance, lodging, transportation, pulling all of these people together,” said Patterson.” It’s not nearly as exciting as seeing the retardant drop, but without these support people, it wouldn’t be possible.”
Throughout the week, aircrews flew 53 sorties totaling 78 hours of flight time while dropping 102,500 gallons of water over 242 practice drops. During the annual training, funded by the Forest Service, 100 aircrew members were certified for the MAFFS mission.