Photos of all three activated MAFFS aircraft

Above: MAFFS 1, normally based at Cheyenne, on approach at Fresno International Airport August 5, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.

(Originally published at 7:40 p.m MDT August 6, 2017)

L.S. Braun took photos of all three Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) aircraft that are currently activated. The C-130’s were approaching Runway 29R at Fresno International Airport on August 5.

Thanks L.S. Braun!

C-130’s can be converted temporarily to a 3,000-gallon air tanker in a few hours by installing the MAFFS unit. In the United States they are used in a surge capacity when additional air tankers are needed to supplement the existing contracted aircraft.

MAFFS 5, based at Colorado Springs, but is seen landing at Fresno, August 5, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.
MAFFS 8, based at Reno, but is seen landing at Fresno, August 5, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.

A variety of C-130 air tankers at Medford

On June 30 there was a variety of C-130 air tankers working out of Medford, Oregon, and Tim Crippin was able to capture them on celluloid an SD card. It kind of boggles the mind to see three C-130 air tankers at the same air tanker base, all operated by completely different organizations.

There was one privately owned tanker, Coulson’s T-132, and two government-owned. T-116 will eventually, one of these days, way down the road, perhaps, be officially transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. And MAFFS 5 is from the Colorado Springs Air Force Reserve base.

Two other MAFFS C-130’s are also activated — one each from Air National Guard units at Cheyenne and Reno.

Tanker 116 Medford Oregon
Tanker 116 at Medford, Oregon, June 30, 2017. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Coulson T-132 Medford Oregon
Tanker 132 at Medford, Oregon, June 30, 2017. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Air tankers at Fresno

air tankers at Fresno 9-1-2015
MAFFS 1 (with a non-standard yellow number) and MAFFS 5, at Fresno, September 1, 2015.

Mathew Kirkpatrick took these photos at Fresno Air Attack Base on September 1. Thanks Mathew!

(Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

air tankers at Fresno 9-1-2015
Tanker 45, MAFFS 4, another MAFFS, and some single engine air tankers at Fresno, September 1, 2015.

Photos of activated MAFFS aircraft

MAFFS air tanker
Members of the 39th Aerial Port Squadron along with C-130 loadmasters assigned to the 731st Airlift Squadron push a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System unit onto a 302nd Airlift Wing C-130 [MAFFS 5], Aug. 2, 2015. It takes about three hours to load and then configure the MAFFS unit in a C-130 aircraft. MAFFS units were loaded onto two Air Force Reserve C-130s in response to the U.S. Forest Service MAFFS activation in support of wildland firefighting efforts in California and the Northwestern U.S. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathan Federico)

The military is always proactive in publicizing their activities when they support fighting wildfires —  which is great. Taxpayers like to see how their money is spent. As expected, photos have been released of the C-130s that have been loaded with the self-contained, transportable firefighting apparatus that can be inserted into the cargo bay of the aircraft in just a few hours. The equipment, owned by the U.S. Forest Service, is called a Modular Airborne FireFighting System.

Four of the C-130s have been activated. Two from the California Air National Guard at Channel Islands, and two from the Air Force Reserve at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

These photo captions were written by military personnel.

MAFFS air tanker
A C-130J Super Hercules, [MAFFS 4]assigned to the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, taxis to a reload “pit” to take on nearly 3,000 gallons of fire retardant at McClellan Air Tanker Base in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 4, 2015. The aircrew received a tasking to provide support to the growing Rocky Fire north of San Francisco, which had consumed approximately 65,000 acres as of Aug. 4. The crew was joined by three other C-130s from both the 146th AW and the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing to combat the Rocky Fire. The aircraft contain the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System which allows them to support wildfire containment in conjunction with fire crews on the ground. The 146th AW is based in Channel Islands, while the 302nd AW is stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Stephen J. Collier)

Ten things to know about MAFFS, military air tankers

MAFFS 5 Peterson AFB Colorado, 9-9-2011
File photo of a MAFFS II unit being loaded into a C-130 at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, September 9, 2011. Air Force Reserve photo.

Military C-130s can be used as surge resources when the privately owned contracted air tankers are committed to going fires or initial attack. They are transformed into air tankers when outfitted with the 3,000-gallon slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS).

Here are ten things you may not have known about MAFFS air tankers.

  1. Operating one of the eight MAFFS aircraft costs $5,000 to $6,000 per hour. This is paid by the U.S. Forest Service or is charged to the fire.
  2. After the crash of MAFFS 7 on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota in 2012, the  “MAFFS 7” number was retired.
  3. Since one of the MAFFS slip-in units was destroyed in the crash, MAFFS 9, a new number, is using what was the spare ninth unit. Now there is no spare unit.
  4. The U.S. Forest Service supplies the ground-based marshaling and retardant loading personnel when MAFFS are activated.
  5. Maintenance and repairs of the MAFFS slip-in units are performed by a crew of six technicians supplied by the USFS. Some of them are former Aero Union employees. The MAFFS units were made for the USFS under contracts awarded to Aero Union.
  6. The Aero Union company, after going through bankruptcy, now consists of one person who is dealing with the remaining financial issues until the doors are closed for the last time. If any new MAFFS units are manufactured, it would likely be done by another company.
  7. The USFS has copies of the technical and engineering documents and they believe they have the rights to have additional MAFFS 2 units manufactured if they desired, according to what we were told by a person who is very knowledgeable about the system. The bank that now owns Aero Union may or may not agree.
  8. The retardant is pumped out of the 3,000-gallon tank by compressed air stored in two tanks at 1,200 psi. The compressed air tanks on the new MAFFS 2 units are refilled by two onboard air compressors which can fill the tanks in 15 to 20 minutes. Or, they can be refilled by one of six portable USFS air compressors on the ground (in about 14 minutes) that are moved around to air tanker bases as needed when the MAFFS aircraft are activated. The first generation MAFFS 1 units, no longer used, did not have onboard air compressors and had to be refilled on the ground. The contracts for the MAFFS 2 units specified that the air tanks had to be refilled by the onboard air compressors in no more than 30 minutes.
  9. The military personnel working on a MAFFS aircraft typically fly for seven days, and then are relieved by a replacement crew.
  10. The USFS has no plans to ever again use the first generation MAFFS 1 units.
MAFFS compressor
A MAFFS air tanker is being refilled with compressed air and water during training at Cheyenne, Wyoming, May 7, 2013. The compressor (on the left) is one of six owned and operated by the USFS, and is moved around to air tanker bases as needed when MAFFS are activated. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Photos of the MAFFS aircraft taken during annual refresher training at Cheyenne, Wyoming May 7, 2013.