This is the best description I have seen of the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) — the crews, aircraft, retardant delivery system, and the mission. The 3,000-gallon tank can be installed in a military C-130 in a few hours when additional air tanker surge capacity is needed for assisting wildland firefighters.
In 2017 there were 20 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. This year there are 13, so we might be seeing more military aircraft fighting wildfires in 2018. In 2002 there were 44 on contract.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Nigel. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The folks from the Air National Guard unit out of Reno, the “High Rollers”, tested their Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) before the training at Sacramento McClellan Airport this week. (I almost wrote “they tested it in slow motion” but that is not exactly correct.)
Above: C-130’s line up at Sacramento McClellan Airport April 23, 2018 as MAFFS training begins. Photo by 2nd Lt. Emerson Marcus, 152 Airlift Wing/Public Affairs.
The annual training and recertification has started at Sacramento McClellan Airport for the military C-130 crews who will fly and maintain the MAFFS aircraft this year.
All four of the airlift wings that operate the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System are participating: three Air National Guard units from California, Nevada and Wyoming, and one U.S. Air Force Reserve unit from Colorado. Following the crash of MAFFS 7 in 2012 near Edgemont, South Dakota, the U.S. Forest Service and the military units have made an effort to have all four units in one place at the same time each year for the training.
“Training with all four MAFFS wings alongside the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE and other wildland firefighting agencies here in Sacramento provides a significant opportunity as we prepare for wildland fire season,” said Col. James DeVere, commander of the MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group and 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve. “Training collectively ensures overall standardization of operations while continuing to build working relationships with the key players in the wildland firefighting community. It is rewarding as guardsmen and reservists to stand alongside our agency partners, knowing that we help make a difference protecting our citizens and their property.”
The U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s MAFFS equipment — rolled into the back of a C-130 aircraft — can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in six seconds through a nozzle on the rear left side of the plane.
The certification training includes classroom sessions and flight operations for military flight crews, lead plane pilots and other support personnel from the U.S. Forest Service and other wildland firefighting agencies.
Training water drops will be executed on lands within the Tahoe and Shasta-Trinity national forests. California residents in these areas may see low-flying U.S. Forest Service lead planes and C-130s dropping water Tuesday through Friday.
MAFFS aircraft are activated to supplement commercial air tankers contracted by the USDA Forest Service when high wildfire activity requires additional aircraft. They can also be activated by governors to assist with wildfire suppression in states where the Air National Guard units that provide the C-130s are located — California, Wyoming, and Nevada.
Earlier we posted Part One of a few notes that I scribbled in a notebook at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week. Here is Part Two.
Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation, said their air tankers in 2016 averaged 180 hours while working on wildfires. In 2017, a very busy year, that number increased to 276. Their P2V’s have retired from firefighting, leaving the company with nine air tankers, all BAe-146’s.
No one outside the U.S. Forest Service knows when the agency will issue the next round of exclusive use and call when needed next-generation air tanker contracts, affectionately called Next-Gen 3.0. When forced to guess, Mr. Hooper said the aircraft receiving those new contracts may not be activated until 2019. He may know more than most, since his former job was supervising air tanker contracting for the FS.
One of the major suppliers of fire retardant, Phos-Chek, is changing hands again. In a matter of days its parent company will be Perimeter Solutions. But as in the previous four iterations it will retain the brand name Phos-Chek.
Here is the product’s history of parent companies:
2018- ???? : Perimeter
Jim Wheeler, CEO of Global Supertanker Services, said the company currently has CWN contracts with CAL FIRE and two counties in Colorado — Douglas (just south of Denver) and El Paso (Colorado Springs). Other pending contracts that they hope to sign later will be with the states of Colorado, Texas, and Oregon.
Vincent Welbaum, Colorado’s Aviation Unit Chief, said they are talking to vendors and expect to award a call when needed contract to at least one vendor that can supply large or very large air tankers. The state has been operating their own two Pilatus PC-12 Multi-mission aircraft for several years, using it to detect and map wildfires.
Colorado will have two Single Engine Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts supplied by CO Fire Aviation and Aero Seat as well as four other vendors on call when needed contracts. The state will also have two Bell 205’s on exclusive use contracts.
Helimax Aviation is one of two subsidiaries of Heligroup Holdings. The other is CHI at Howell, Michigan which concentrates on heavy lift, while Helimax, at Sacramento McClellan Airport is in involved in aerial firefighting. Helimax recently sold all of their Type 2 helicopters, and now have six Type-1’s, Chinook CH-47D’s.
Bradford Beck, COO of MAFFS Group said the company recently sold a MAFFS II system to the Tunisia Air Force in Northern Africa. The country has operated two of the original versions of the MAFFS for 10 to 15 years. They will continue to operate the MAFFS I systems on a C-130B and will use a C-130H for the new MAFFS II which will be delivered in the third quarter of this year. The most challenging wildfires in Tunisia occur in the Atlas mountains.
This is the second MAFFS II that the MAFFS Group has sold. The first is now being used in Columbia, South America.
Viking Air director of Special Projects, Sales, and Marketing Christian Bergeron said the company is currently gathering information from potential customers about what they would like to see on a new version of the CL-415 water scooping air tanker. The company expects to decide by the third quarter of this year if they will proceed with the project, which will be named CL-515. At this stage, Mr. Bergeron said, they expect it to have a larger cargo door, glass cockpit, updated avionics, and will be able to land with a full load of water. Available options will include an infrared camera system and night vision compatibility. Viking’s manufacturing facility is in Calgary, Canada.
Video of the MAFFS C-130’s and other air tankers in action
Above: Screen grab from the Air National Guard video.
This video features the 146th Airlift Wing’s C-130s which were activated to support CAL FIRE with suppression of the largest fire in California’s history, the Thomas Fire. The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS), which are owned by the U.S. Forest Service, can be loaded into the back of a C-130 and made ready for operations in as little as 3 hours, but it usually takes about a day and a half to get the unit fully mobilized.
These in-cockpit videos by the Modular Airborne FireFighting System aircraft are great. If you look VERY closely you will see two puffs of smoke from the lead plane, marking the beginning and end of the drop.
Above: The Liberty Fire east of Murrieta, California, December 7, 2017. Screengrab from the KTLA video.
(Originally published at 7 p.m. PST December 7, 2017)
KTLA shot some excellent stabilized video from a helicopter Thursday of the Liberty Fire that has burned about 300 acres northeast of Murrieta, California. This is a new fire that erupted this afternoon 17 miles north of another new fire, the Lilac Fire south of Temecula which was 3,000 acres at 7 p.m. PST.
The video, which is almost 2 hours long, has at least 8 shots of air tankers dropping. We skimmed through it quickly and noted where the drops occur, probably missing a few.