Robins Air Force Base supports MAFFS aircraft

 

MAFFS Cheyenne

A MAFFS unit inside a MAFFS 8, a Charlotte, North Carolina Air National Guard C-130 at Cheyenne, Wyoming, May 5, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

We ran across the following article in an Air Force newsletter published June 21, 2013 at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

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Robins supports fire suppression capabilities

BY JENNY GORDON
jenny.gordon at robins.af.mil

While the Black Forest, Colo., fire was small when it started June 11, it eventually scorched more than 14,000 acres and took the work of more than 600 people to get it under control.

The Air Force was among those listed to help.

It’s efforts included the use of the U.S. Forest Service-owned program known as MAFFS, or Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System.

MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system that fits inside special C-130 aircraft without requiring structural modification, which allows them to be loaded quickly.

At the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, one of its missions is programmed depot maintenance of C-130s. In all, four Air Force units have aircraft equipped with the firefighting system, including the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

The MAFFS program is supported in another way at Robins by way of engineering support and troubleshooting.

“Our responsibility is to ensure the air-worthiness and safety of the C-130s using the MAFFS system,” said Barry Bunn, Tactical Airlift Division chief engineer.

That responsibility includes making sure the equipment is safe and in proper working condition, including its tubing and tanks.

A small team of engineers here can go out to an aircraft to test the equipment, but most of the oversight is done through up-front design reviews and testing which ensures the system can operate safely and is properly secured within the plane.

A recent example of a project was the addition of grounding wires to the MAFFS-equipped C-130s. When fire retardant is discharged out of the system, a nozzle extends. To err on the safe side, previous restrictions had been placed on how close a plane could fly to a thunderstorm. This is important because there are times when a plane may have to fly near a storm in order to quickly get to a fire.

The new grounding wires now provide additional safety measures which allow the aircraft to safely fly closer to storms as needed.

Robins also successfully performed a permanent modification to radios that are used on the aircraft when communicating with emergency personnel and Forest Service.

The project involves 32 aircraft, and provides a standardized installation, according to Robert Siperko, C-130 Modification program manager.

Aircraft that use MAFFS will soon be equipped with the same layout for all radios; all the wiring will be the same and radios will be installed in the same location.

Two Air Force Reserve Command C-130s and air crews from the 302nd Airlift Wing supported the Colorado firefighting efforts out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., earlier this month.

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Air Force evaluates MAFFS activity in 2013

MAFFS and Chinook on Black Forest Fire June 12, 2013

Military aircraft, a C-130 MAFFS and an Army CH-47 Chinook, work the Black Forest Fire at Colorado Springs, June 12, 2013. Photo by Travis Leland.

The Air Force held a three-day after action review earlier this month to evaluate the use of the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or “MAFFS”-equipped C-130 aircraft in their fire suppression role this year. Below is a report from Mary McHale, AFNORTH Public Affairs.

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12/10/2013 – TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Representatives from across the United States wildfire fighting enterprise met for a three-day after action review of the 2013 season Dec. 3-5 at the Heritage Club at Tyndall AFB, Fla.

During his opening remarks welcoming the group, Lt. Gen. William Etter, CONR- 1 AF (AFNORTH) commander, praised their efforts of the past season and encouraged the participants to engage in candid conversations about how to improve current practices and procedures.

“This meeting is really needed because this is such an important mission,” Etter said. “It’s vital we continue to refine our lessons learned and this gathering is the perfect opportunity to do that.”

According to Col. Al Wimmer, A3 director, this was one of the busiest modular airborne firefighting season in 41 years of operations.

“This After Action Review is a vital step in closing out the season for MAFFS,” said Wimmer. “The team in attendance not only captured lessons but applied them in the form of revised publications, orders and deployment plans for the upcoming season. The Air Component often acts as the central point of focus, bringing together many different groups from the whole of government to make a mission happen for the American people.”

After the initial greetings, participants broke into working groups for the rest of the meeting to study and discuss those lessons learned and develop a way ahead for the 2014 season.

“It was three days packed full of activities and hard work from everyone,” Lt. Col. Dawn Junk, meeting facilitator from the AFNORTH Operations Directorate. “The results of everyone’s hard work produced positive way aheads.”

At the outbrief for Etter, she presented those way aheads. Primary among them was using incident awareness and assessment assets during an event because there’s such a large variety of variables that apply to their use.

“We studied this carefully and determined we need to come up with a systematic, across the board process to present this option,” Junk said. “We want to develop a concept of operations that clearly presents the capabilities of an IAA asset, no matter its source or whether it’s manned or unmanned.”

Other group accomplishments included reviewing the AFNORTH operational order and training requirements as well as examining the financial elements of the season.

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New owners of Aero Union’s assets intend to sell or lease the P-3s

P-3 Orion air tanker

A P-3 Orion drops on a fire near Cedar City, Utah in 2006. From zionhelitack.blogspot.com

When we wrote on October 15 that the eight P-3 Orion air tankers formerly owned by Aero Union had been purchased by a company that primarily deals in supplying and overhauling spare parts for aircraft, it was unknown what the fate of the planes was going to be. The company that bought them and the other assets, United Aeronautical (UAC), was not disclosing their plans and there was concern among those who would like to see the big four-engine turboprops back in the air that they would be parted out or scrapped. While that still could happen, a new development raises the possibility of a continued life for the P-3 air tankers.

Aero Union logoUAC has partnered with a second company, Blue Aerospace, in an effort to sell or lease the eight aircraft. Blue Aerospace made a presentation last month at the Hercules Operators Council in Atlanta promoting the air tankers, and proudly displayed the Aero Union logo. They intend to:

  • Work with the customer community to ensure that the appropriate maintenance is conducted;
  • Provide legacy support for older systems, RADS II and Mobile Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS I); and,
  • Regenerate the capability to supply new fully operational MAFFS II units.

Blue Aerospace said in their presentation, “we are not an operator, but seek to make the highly effective assets of UAC available to those who are”.

A pdf of their presentation can be found HERE.

Over the last few years we have received calls from a variety of people asking where they could buy new MAFFS units or arrange for maintenance or parts for existing systems. So there may be a market for new MAFFS and even the Aero Union P-3s.

There are varying reports of how much work and how many dollars would be needed to bring the eight aircraft back into flyable shape. Six of them were still being used on fires when the U.S. Forest Service cancelled their air tanker contract with Aero Union in July of 2011, saying safety inspections were not being completed. Shortly after that the company laid off most of their employees and eventually sold all of their assets to a bank.

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Aircraft on the Rim Fire

MAFFS C-130 drops on Rim Fire

MAFFS C-130 drops on the Rim Fire August 29, 2013

Mike McMillan took these photos of aircraft working on the Rim Fire in California on August 29, 2013 for the U.S. Forest Service. Earlier we posted some photos of UH-60 Blackhawks and HH-60 Pave Hawks arriving at Columbia Airport to be used on the fire.

OV-10 on Rim Fire August 29, 2013

OV-10 on the Rim Fire August 29, 2013

CD-10 Rim Fire drops

DC-10- drops on the Rim Fire below Pilot Peak August 29, 2013

Below are two videos posted by J N Perlot showing the DC-10 dropping on the Rim Fire. In the first one, on August 24, the approach to the drop begins at about 1:50.

In the next video, shot on August 31, the approach to the drop begins at about 1:00.

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MAFFS videos, Rim Fire

These videos were shot by crews on MAFFS 4 and MAFFS 6 while dropping on the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in California August 18, 19, and 22. The first one has spectacular views of the fire from a vantage point seen by very few people. If you only watch one, watch the first one.

If you’re not familiar with the “Landing Gear” audio warning, it comes on automatically when the lady in the dashboard senses the terrain and thinks the crew is landing without lowering the gear. The MAFFS folks are working with Lockheed on a way to disable it while dropping retardant, but it will not be available until 2014 at the earliest.

 

Thanks go out to Michael

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Air tanker status update, August 20, 2013

As we move into national Preparedness Level 5 today for the first time since 2008, and we have more than 48 uncontained large fires, it’s a good time to see what air tankers are available. These numbers are provided by Mike Ferris, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.

Today, not counting 2 air tankers that are on their days off and five that are down for maintenance, there are 13 in service.

Overall, if none were on days off or down for maintenance, we would have:

  • 7 P2Vs on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 2 BAe-146s on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 2 DC-10s on Exclusive Use Contract
  • 4 CV-580s borrowed from Canada and Alaska
  • 5 MAFFS borrowed from the military

This amounts to 11 that are on federal contract and 9 that are borrowed, for a total of 20.

Six of the seven air tankers that received “next generation” contracts, and the 747 that will be under a CWN contract, are weeks or months away from being physically ready and fully certified. However, these are counted when the USFS distributes misleading stats claiming, “Overall, we could have up to 26 airtankers available for wildfire suppression.”

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Video of MAFFS drop

This is a video of MAFFS 4 from the 146 Air Wing of the California Air National Guard making a drop on the American Fire, August 17, 2013 in northern California. The audible gear and altitude warnings are normal for MAFFS drops. The MAFFS folks are working with Lockheed on a fix so that they can disable them while dropping retardant.

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