Interview with a Crew Chief on a C-130 MAFFS air tanker

On April 21, 2017 we interviewed Zach Havel an engine mechanic and former Crew Chief on C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System aircraft. The MAFFS converts the aircraft into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. We talked with him at Boise during the annual MAFFS training and recertification.

Video interview with the Colonel in charge of MAFFS annual training

Colonel Bryan Allen was interviewed during the annual training and recertification for the Modular Airborne FireFighting System crews at Boise, Idaho on April 21, 2017. The MAFFS converts a military C-130 into an air tanker for battling wildfires.

Col. Allen discussed:

  • How playing the recording of the C-130J audible cockpit warning “LANDING GEAR, LANDING GEAR, LANDING GEAR” over the public address system at Lockheed, helped to develop a software modification that enabled the pilots to turn off that voice while they were on final approach to drop retardant on a wildfire.
  • The number of sorties and description of the training the MAFFS personnel received during the annual session.
  • How the crash of MAFFS 7 in 2012 affected the training.
  • The origin of the MAFFS equipment.

Firehawks in Boise

I was driving by the Boise airport this week and discovered that Firehawk Helicopters has a facility in the area. They were mostly closed, only Tori the receptionist was in the building, but I talked on the phone with Director of Maintenance Josh Ricciardi who said it was OK if I shot a few photos in their hangar. The Blackhawks ships were all receiving maintenance, getting ready for the fire season. 

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

Time-lapse, refilling MAFFS air tanker

We shot this time-lapse video today at Boise during the annual Modular Airborne FireFighting System training. It shows C-130 aircraft cycling in and out of a reloading pit. During the process it was filled with about 3,000 gallons of water and possibly compressed air from an air compressor on the ground — or the crew could have used the air compressors on-board the aircraft. When the reloading hose for water is dragged out to the aircraft, a compressed air line is zip-tied to it.

Gallery of photos from MAFFS training at Boise, April, 2017

Here is a gallery of photos from the Modular Airborne FireFighting System annual training and recertification at Boise in April, 2017. We will add more photos as the training continues. It was last updated on April 20, 2017.

If there is a caption, it will be at the upper-left.

MAFFS training has started in Boise

Above: MAFFS parked on the ramp at Boise, April 20, 2017, for their annual training.

This is the second year in a row that all four military bases that operate C-130 aircraft with Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) have assembled in one place to conduct their annual training and certification. Today, Thursday, was all indoor ground school, held in the theater at the Idaho National Guard facility at Gowen Field in Boise.

On Friday their plans are to fly the aircraft and make water drops in the Boise National Forest.

Rusty, a lead plane pilot, leads MAFFS airmen in a classroom setting, April 20, 2017.

Each of the four bases sent two MAFFS-equipped C-130’s plus at least one additional C-130 with support equipment. The MAFFS bases are at Reno, Colorado Springs, Cheyenne, and Channel Islands (in southern California). Reno, last year and this year, has had just one MAFFS unit available, since the U.S. Forest Service HC-130H has been using one of the eight that are available, but this week Reno will be training with two. The USFS HC-130H is parked across the runway from the National Guard side of the airport at the National Interagency Fire Center. We’ll check, but it may have hauled the MAFFS up to Boise so that Reno could use it.

We will have much more about the MAFFS training later this week, with more photos and hopefully, interviews.

Update on single engine air tankers, fire season 2017

Above: SEATs 802 and 824 at Boise, July 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

When we discovered that the number of Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use (EU) contracts has been reduced this year by 18 percent, from 34 to 28, we started looking into the numbers of fixed wing air tankers.

The solicitation for EU Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) has closed and the award decision is in progress. According to Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land management, the agency that handles contracting for SEATs, the number of these aircraft on EU contracts is expected to be the same as in 2016 — 33 aircraft. Firm numbers will be available after the contracts are issued.

The Call When Needed (CWN) contracts for SEATs have already been awarded for 80 aircraft from 16 vendors, which is up from 67 aircraft in 2016. Mr. Eardley explained, “The increase in CWN aircraft available is due to increased capacity through new and existing vendors.”

We expect to have in the next few days information about large and very large air tankers on contract this year.

 

Air tanker strikes powerline

A single engine air tanker (SEAT) struck a powerline while on final approach for a water drop on a fire in northern Idaho. At the time the pilot was not aware of the strike but after making the drop noticed that there was some damage to the left wing. The accident occurred July 28, 2016.

You can read the entire Rapid Lesson Sharing report here. Below is an excerpt:

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“…New Approach Brings SEAT Over an Undetected Powerline

The SEAT, based out of McCall, was dispatched to the fire near Kooskia, Idaho at 1529 hours. The line strike occurred on the SEAT’s second load delivered to the fire. The first load was split and applied on two different runs prior to a Lead Plane arriving on scene.

map SEAT wire strike

On the second load, the SEAT was a little off of the line set by the Lead Plane and the SEAT Pilot was unsure of exactly where the Lead Plane wanted the drop. This prompted the SEAT Pilot to make a dry run.

At this point, the ATGS, who was circling overhead, instructed the Lead Plane to give the SEAT a target and let him work his own approach. The SEAT came back around in a fairly tight circle which created a different final approach than had previously been used. This new approach of the flight line brought the SEAT over a powerline that had not been identified prior to the strike. The Pilot identified the location of the known powerline across the draw and concentrated his attention on the approach as he was lining up for the drop.

Pilot Informs ATGS He Might Have Hit Something

The angle of the bank caused the nose and the right wing of the plane to create a blind spot, obscuring Power Pole 2 from view. The angle of the sun and the dark color of the powerlines would have made them basically invisible against the backdrop of the terrain. The Pilot was unaware of the strike at the time it occurred with the only indication being a brief sound that was not part of the “normal” sounds experienced in the aircraft. The flight was bumpy due to turbulent air that is normal on hot summer days in canyon country. Following the successful drop, the Pilot informed ATGS that he might have hit something.

Pilot Notices Vortex Generators Missing from Left Wing

The Pilot flew back over the drop area and confirmed that the known powerline was still intact. He did not locate the poles from the line that had been struck. As he was heading back to the dip location, he looked out at his left wing and realized that numerous vortex generators were missing. The vortex generators are glued on the wing and have been known to come off in flight, but normally only under extreme cold or hot weather conditions. Normal flight is not affected by missing vortex generators. Their purpose is to add stability, lift, and performance during dipping and dropping maneuvers. All controls of the aircraft were functioning normally.

At this time, it had not been established that a wire strike had, in fact, occurred. The Pilot was initially going to return to the dip site for another load when the ATGS recommended that the SEAT fly to the Lewiston Air Tanker Base to check for possible damage (56 miles with crash/rescue services). The Pilot informed ATGS that he was returning to base at McCall (83 miles without crash/rescue services).

diagram SEAT wire strike

The wire strike was first confirmed when the Pilot was on the ground in McCall and was able to see the black marks from the wire on the wing. At this time, the Tanker Base Manager in McCall alerted Dispatch to notify personnel on the fire that a wire had been struck and of the potential for hot wires on the ground…”