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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Above: A MAFFS II recently acquired by the Colombian Air Force is installed in one of their C-130H aircraft.
In the video below, Bradford Beck, the President and COO of United Aeronautical, describes the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS II) that his company recently manufactured and sold to the Colombian Air Force. It was recorded in Villavicencio, Colombia.
Above: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelsey Herzfeld, assigned to the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, prepares to attach the nozzle apparatus to the main body of the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems in one of two Wyoming Air National Guard C-130H aircraft April 12 at the WyANG Base in Cheyenne. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class James McGuire, Wyoming National Guard.
All four military bases that operate Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) are scheduled to bring their C-130’s to Boise the week of April 17 for annual recertification training.
A MAFFS can be loaded into a C-130 in just a few hours, converting it into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. They are used as surge resources when the wildfire activity in the U.S. exceeds the capacity of the privately owned air tankers that are on contract with the federal government.
The training includes classroom and airborne sessions, dropping water instead of the much more expensive fire retardant. Lead planes usually attend and work with the C-130’s. We’re not sure if any ground-pounding firefighters are ever incorporated into the training, simulating requesting drops and communicating with the lead planes, air attack, or tanker pilots.
The seven or eight C-130 MAFFS don’t always assemble in one place and in some years conduct it at locations with only one or two bases represented. When MAFFS 7 crashed in South Dakota on the White Draw Fire July 1, 2012 the two previous annual training sessions had not included all eight aircraft from the four bases. The crash report did not specifically state that the lack of joint training for those two years was an issue, but it did say this:
Local training did not include different terrain conditions, density altitudes and congested pit operations, all of which are essential components in order to comprehend what live MAFFS operations entail. Additionally, all four MAFFS units were not integrated in order to provide a more realistic learning environment for new and seasoned MAFFS crewmembers.
At the time of the crash the U.S. Forest Service had nine of the MAFFS units — two each for the four military bases, and one spare. The one on MAFFS 7 was heavily damaged and has not been replaced. We were told that some parts could be salvaged off the unit.
Now one of the remaining eight systems is being used by the USFS in an HC-130H aircraft the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard, leaving seven available for the military aircraft. The MAFFS personnel at Reno have just one this year, while Colorado Springs, Cheyenne, and Channel Islands (in southern California) each have two.
Some of the photos below were taken by Bill Gabbert at the March 29 ceremony where the government officially accepted the MAFFS unit. Others were taken by professional photographer John Daniel Russell over the previous one to two weeks. (John’s web site is not active now, but is expected to debut later.)
After you click on one of the thumbnails below, the gallery view will open. Captions, if available, are above the images.
Above: A Colombian Air Force C-130H makes a water drop at Apiay Air Force Base in Colombia, March 29, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Colombia is now on the list of countries that are using Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) to help firefighters on the ground.
Yesterday, March 29, in a ceremony at Apiay Air Force Base near Villavicencio the Colombian government officially took possession of a new MAFFS II retardant delivery system. A C-130 with the new hardware made two demonstration drops with water in front a crowd of dignitaries, many of whom made speeches, including Colombia’s Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas Echeverri.
It is the first of the second generation MAFFS to be sold outside the United States. The U.S. Forest Service has eight MAFFS II’s that can be slipped into a C-130 converting it in a matter of hours to a 3,000-gallon air tanker.
A private company, MAFFS Joint Venture based in California, purchased the intellectual property from the now bankrupt Aero Union (that designed and built the MAFFS) and is now manufacturing the second generation systems for sale around the world, with the one in Colombia being their first one delivered. Bradford Beck, the President and COO of MAFFS, said they have a second unit in production for an undisclosed buyer.
Mr. Beck said there are nine MAFFS 1 units outside the U.S. — Brazil, Tunisia, Morocco, and Turkey each have two, and there is one in Thailand.
The main differences between the two versions is that the MAFFS II has onboard air compressors, the retardant exits the aircraft through the paratroop door on the left side rather than out the rear cargo ramp, it has the ability to inject foam concentrate, it can produce coverage levels 1 through 8, and it is more controllable for split drops (starting and stopping the flow). The coverage level refers to the number of gallons per 100 square feet.
Colonel Rodrigo Zapata of the Colombian Air Force said the MAFFS unit will primarily be based at the very busy El Dorado International Airport near Bogota at 8,300 feet above sea level, but it can work out of lower elevation airports as needed. They will be installing a fire retardant plant at El Dorado.
Major General Jorge Borbon said the Air Force has been using helicopters with water buckets for decades, but they have never used fixed wing aircraft to drop water or retardant on wildfires.
We have many photos that we will add later, as well as videos of interviews with key players, including the Colombian Minister of Defense.