C-130’s at Fresno Saturday

Above: MAFFS 6 and Tanker 116 at Fresno, July 22, 2017. Photo by Mathew Kirkpatrick.

Mathew Kirkpatrick and L.S. Braun took these photos of four C-130 air tankers at Fresno July 22. Thanks Mathew and L.S.!

MAFFS air tanker Fresno
MAFFS 4 and 9 at Fresno, July 22, 2017. Photo by Mathew Kirkpatrick. Click to enlarge.
Tanker 116 Fresno
Tanker 116 on final approach at Fresno, July 22, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.
MAFFS 9 Fresno
MAFFS 9 on final approach at Fresno, July 22, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.

A third MAFFS C-130 air tanker activated

Above: File photo of two MAFFS aircraft at Cheyenne, Wyoming April 30, 2014 for annual training and recertification.

The Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at the National Interagency Fire Center has activated a third Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 airtanker. The aircraft will come from the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing in Reno, Nevada.

On July 10 the governor of California activated the two Air National Guard MAFFS aircraft based at Channel Islands in southern California, so this will bring the total number immediately available for firefighting to three.

There are still four others that could be activated — two each at Cheyenne and Colorado Springs.

The Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that convert a military aircraft into an air tanker can be installed in a C-130 in a matter of hours. The units hold up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant that is forced out of the tanks by compressed air.

Below is a time-lapse video of a MAFFS refilling during training at Boise April 21, 2017.

(If the video does not work, you can see it on YouTube.)

The concept behind the MAFFS is to have surge capacity. The units can be activated when ongoing wildfires reduce the ability of the 20 large air tankers on federal exclusive use contracts to respond to new initial attack and extended attack fires, as well as campaign fires.

Governors in the four states have the authority to activate their one or two MAFFS as needed. The National Interagency Fire Center can also call them up.

MAFFS 8 tail
The tail on the Reno MAFFS. Uncredited photo on the MAFFS – Expeditionary Group Facebook page.

MAFFS C-130’s activated in California

Above: MAFFS 6 being prepared for activation in California. In the foreground is an air compressor used to fill the compressed air tanks on MAFFS aircraft. Photo credit: 146 Airlift Wing.

(Originally published at 7:29 p.m. MDT July 10, 2017)

California has activated two National Guard C-130 aircraft to assist with combating wildfires in the state. The Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that convert a military aircraft into an air tanker can be installed in a C-130 in a matter of hours. The units hold up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant that is forced out of the tanks by compressed air. The two C-130’s are with the 146 Airlift Wing at Channel Islands in Southern California.

The MAFFS program consists of eight units located at four military bases in the western United States — Channel Islands, Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, and Reno. Each base has two of systems except for the new kid on the block, Reno — one of their two MAFFS is being used by a C-130 that is in the process of being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service.

The concept behind the MAFFS is to have surge capacity. The units can be activated when ongoing wildfires reduce the ability of the 20 large air tankers on federal exclusive use contracts to respond to new initial attack and extended attack fires.

Governors in the four states have the authority to activate their one or two National Guard MAFFS as needed. The National Interagency Fire Center can also activate them.

In the video below MAFFS 6 is being tested after it was installed in the C-130 at Channel Islands. Normally they drop fire retardant, rather than water.

Portable retardant plant for the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire

Above: Equipment to set up a fire retardant plant arrives at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, June 25, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Don Branum.

While I was scrolling around the internet searching for something obscure I ran across these photos taken while the Waldo Canyon Fire was burning on the west side of Colorado Springs, Colorado in June, 2012. It appears that Phos-Chek was setting up a portable, or transportable, fire retardant plant at the Colorado Springs Airport, which is the home of Peterson Air Force base and the 302nd Airlift Wing.

Peterson is one of four military bases that can each supply two C-130’s outfitted with the slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) that converts the aircraft into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. Two MAFFS-equipped aircraft from the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard at Cheyenne joined the fight along with the Colorado aircraft.

C-130 MAFFS Colorado Springs Waldo Canyon fire
C-130’s being loaded with MAFFS units and configured to help firefighters on the ground suppress the Waldo Canyon Fire which can be seen in the distance, June 24, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Ann Skarban.

On June 25, 2012 the C-130s began flying air tanker missions out of Peterson Air Force Base and the permanent air tanker base at Pueblo Memorial Airport 50 miles to the south.

On June 23, 2012 the Waldo Canyon Fire started in the Pike National Forest southwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado. On June 26 it spread into the Mountain Shadows area of the city. Before the fire was out, it had killed two people and burned 18,000 acres and 347 homes. Reports later revealed a very timid, anemic, and confused initial attack on the fire and serious mismanagement issues during the first two to three days.

Two years later the Black Forest Fire on the other side of Colorado Springs killed two people and burned 489 houses and 14,280 acres, resulting in $420 million in insured losses.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Waldo Canyon Fire.

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.

C-130 MAFFS air tanker Loadmaster Interview

Sgt. Poulsen, a MAFFS Loadmaster, was interviewed April 21 in Boise during training and recertification for MAFFS personnel.

An interview with Sgt. Phil Poulsen of the California Air National Guard about installing and operating the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) in a military C-130, turning it into an air tanker for fighting wildfires.

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.

Tanker 116 in Boise

We shot this photo of U.S. Forest Service air tanker 116, an HC-130H, in Boise on April 20. It was there to deliver the MAFFS unit it has been using so that the Reno National Guard folks can train with it and the other one normally assigned to Reno. After the training the unit will be retrieved by T-116 and hauled back to McClellan in California where that tanker is based.

Two C-130’s and their crews from each of four military bases — Channel Islands, Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, and Reno — are going through their annual training and recertification in Boise this week.