Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) aircraft and personnel from four bases are gathering this week for their annual training. They are being hosted by the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Ventura County, California, the 146th Airlift Wing. Each base can mobilize two C-130 aircraft with the slip-in fire retardant system. Usually they will send a third C-130 on each deployment with additional equipment and personnel.
Global Supertanker has started airborne drop tests of the 747-400 Supertanker they have been working on since last year. The first drop occurred Sunday, May 1 near Marana, Arizona, and it was described by the company as a “successful test flight”. Most air tanker companies do the initial tests with water, which is far less expensive than fire retardant, and does not have as many restrictions about where it can be dropped — 19,600 gallons at a time.
Most of the retardant delivery system was taken from Version 1.0 of the 747-100 Supertanker that was built and used for several years by Evergreen. When that company declared bankruptcy Global Supertanker bought the system and the intellectual property. They refurbished the hardware and upgraded parts of it, then installed it in an upgraded aircraft, a 747-400. It was first seen by the general public at the Aerial Firefighting Conference March 22 at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado says drones could be used to fight fires. Here is an excerpt from an article in The DAily Sentinel:
..Drones could be equipped with fire suppression equipment that could be used on small, remote fires, limiting the growth of the blazes and possibly circumventing the need to call in firefighters, Tipton said.
Firefighters could “see a fire start up, send in a drone and maybe stamp it out,” Tipton said.
The vehicles would have to be modified to deliver retardant and will need to withstand heat, Tipton said.
Drones also could be used to provide better information to firefighters on the ground, especially in smoky areas that limit visibility and inhibit radio transmissions, he said…
There is little doubt that drones could be used on fires. Lockheed Martin and K-Max demonstrated that in October when an optionally-piloted K-Max helicopter hauled cargo to a designated spot and dropped water on a simulated fire. As of October, 2013 two unmanned K-Max helicopters had flown more than 1,000 missions in Afghanistan and hauled more than 3 million pounds of cargo that would have otherwise been transported by trucks, which are vulnerable to roadside bomb attacks. One goal is to save lives by reducing Marines’ exposure to improvised explosive devices on cargo convoys.
The biggest issue for using unmanned aircraft on fires is getting the FAA and land managers to address the issue of safely incorporating the systems into the fire aviation environment.
They tried dropping from airplanes thin-walled glass spheres filled with water from the mid-1940s until 1953.
This is a post from an Instagram account that frequently reports on smokejumpers and other wildland firefighters in Russia. Dropping glass spheres filled with water to slow down a fire is new to me. I can understand why they shelved the idea in 1953.
Above: This S-2 was scavenged from the aircraft boneyard in Arizona and will eventually replace the CAL FIRE air tanker that crashed in 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert at McClellan Air Field, March 23, 2016.
The video covers work being done on an S-2 that will replace Tanker 81 that crashed in 2014 killing pilot Craig Hunt.
This year the annual certification and refresher training for the Modular FireFighting System (MAFFS) crews from all four Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve bases will take place at one location, the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Ventura County, California (map) beginning May 1. That will begin the transition for the Reno base that recently became a MAFFS unit, a process that is expected to take three to five fire seasons according to the National Guard Bureau. The other two MAFFS bases (other than Reno and Channel Islands) are at Cheyenne and Colorado Springs.
The 146th Airlift Wing, below, is based at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in southern California.
In this video civilians on some kind of aviation adventure discover and report what turned out to be the Washington Fire southeast of Lake Tahoe near Markleeville, California. They reported it on June 19, 2015 and by June 23 the fire had burned over 16,000 acres.
The map below shows heat from the fire detected by a satellite on June 21, 2015.