Above: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelsey Herzfeld, assigned to the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, prepares to attach the nozzle apparatus to the main body of the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems in one of two Wyoming Air National Guard C-130H aircraft April 12 at the WyANG Base in Cheyenne. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class James McGuire, Wyoming National Guard.
All four military bases that operate Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) are scheduled to bring their C-130’s to Boise the week of April 17 for annual recertification training.
A MAFFS can be loaded into a C-130 in just a few hours, converting it into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. They are used as surge resources when the wildfire activity in the U.S. exceeds the capacity of the privately owned air tankers that are on contract with the federal government.
The training includes classroom and airborne sessions, dropping water instead of the much more expensive fire retardant. Lead planes usually attend and work with the C-130’s. We’re not sure if any ground-pounding firefighters are ever incorporated into the training, simulating requesting drops and communicating with the lead planes, air attack, or tanker pilots.
The seven or eight C-130 MAFFS don’t always assemble in one place and in some years conduct it at locations with only one or two bases represented. When MAFFS 7 crashed in South Dakota on the White Draw Fire July 1, 2012 the two previous annual training sessions had not included all eight aircraft from the four bases. The crash report did not specifically state that the lack of joint training for those two years was an issue, but it did say this:
Local training did not include different terrain conditions, density altitudes and congested pit operations, all of which are essential components in order to comprehend what live MAFFS operations entail. Additionally, all four MAFFS units were not integrated in order to provide a more realistic learning environment for new and seasoned MAFFS crewmembers.
At the time of the crash the U.S. Forest Service had nine of the MAFFS units — two each for the four military bases, and one spare. The one on MAFFS 7 was heavily damaged and has not been replaced. We were told that some parts could be salvaged off the unit.
Now one of the remaining eight systems is being used by the USFS in an HC-130H aircraft the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard, leaving seven available for the military aircraft. The MAFFS personnel at Reno have just one this year, while Colorado Springs, Cheyenne, and Channel Islands (in southern California) each have two.