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.
The extended drought and a siege of wildland fires has brought to light the fact that Chile does not have any large air tankers or an infrastructure for supporting the aircraft. However the bomberos (firefighters) have done an outstanding job creating a very elaborate temporary water system for refilling the 747 SuperTanker at Santiago. Now that the the aircraft has been in the country since January 25 and proven to be a valuable tool in the firefighters toolbox additional air tankers are reportedly enroute to assist those on the ground. Most of the following information is preliminary and subject to change.
Russian Ilyushin IL-76
There is no doubt at least one Russian IL-76 is en route but we have not confirmed the number. It appears there will be two of the planes with a slip-in 11,574-gallon tank (43,812 liters) with each aircraft bringing two helicopters in their cavernous cargo holds. Instead of working out of Santiago along with the 747 it may be based at La Araucanía International Airport, also known as Temuco Airport, in southern Chile.
On July 1, 2016 an IL-76 working on a fire in Russia was reported missing. Two days later the wreckage was found. Ten people died in the crash.
An aviation publication in Chile, TallyHo, is reporting that the Brazilian Air Force is sending a C-130 with a slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS). From the description, it must be a MAFFS Version 1.0 since it has multiple retardant tanks, no built-in air compressor, and the retardant exits through two tubes sticking out of the rear cargo ramp. Brazil is also bringing a second C-130 carrying a compressor and portable water tanks.
(UPDATE 1446 January 30, 2017: the Brazilian C-130’s arrived Sunday and are expected to move to Concepción today.)
Coulson’s Tanker 132
Coulson’s Tanker 132, an L-382G commercial variant of the C-130 platform, has worked in New South Wales Australia during their last two summer bushfire seasons. Their current contract began September 6, 2016 and was extended for a month and since then has been extended week by week. Amid reports in Chile that T-132 was going to be working in the country, we checked with Britt Coulson who told us that their company has been contacted about sending one of their C-130 class air tankers to Chile but they are still under contract. He said “it’s really heating up in Australia” and it seems unlikely they will release them. The company’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, is also under contract in Australia, in Victoria.
There has also been talk about bringing in Air-Crane helicopters, but nothing is confirmed yet.
Earlier this month in Charlotte the 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard finalized the transfer of their Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) mission to the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing. On September 7 the equipment was loaded into a C-130 from Nevada Air National Guard and arrived at Reno the next day.
The previous week the Nevada Airlift Wing had completed its first training activation operating the U.S. Forest Service’s MAFFS. The other MAFFS units are at Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, and Channel Islands in California.
The USFS has 8 MAFFS units that can be slipped into a C-130 in just a few hours, converting it to a 3,000-gallon air tanker. Usually two of the units are at each of the four bases, but one is now being temporarily used in an HC-130H that was transferred from the Coast Guard to the USFS.
Above: The first 152nd C-130 equipped with a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne FireFighting System arrived Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. The unit completed its first fire fighting mission as co-pilots augmented with the Air Expeditionary Group the previous week. The 152nd was selected to become the new MAFFS unit in April. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus September 8, 2016.
The Air National Guard unit at Reno completed its first training activation operating the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne FireFighting System last week and the first of the unit’s C-130s equipped for MAFFS arrived at the base Thursday, September 8.
In recent weeks, 12 aircrew of the 152nd activated as part of the Air Expeditionary Group fighting wildland fires in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.
The AEG – made up of military C-130 units operating MAFFS – flew 142 sorties, 125.5 flight hours, dispensing more than 3.5 million pounds of retardant on 165 drops during the month-long activation that began in early August.
“Nevada crews have fully embraced the MAFFS mission and are committed to getting full up as quickly and safely as possible,” said Col. David Herder, deputy AEG commander. “They have been stepping in to get training with the other units whenever possible. They have been a welcome addition to the MAFFS community.”
This fire season effectively started the 152nd’s co-pilot certification clock. Co-pilot certification could be completed prior to the 2018 fire season when the unit would enter certification as aircrew commanders. Once the aircrew commander certification is complete, they then begin certification as flight instructors and could begin autonomous fire fighting missions.
“The actual drops have been challenging and exhilarating,” said Lt. Col. Tony Machabee, acting 152nd Operations Group commander and the first member of the unit to co-pilot a MAFFS mission. “It’s a great feeling to see your immediate results whether we are dropping a protective line of retardant between the fire and someone’s property or dropping ‘mud’ (retardant mix) directly on flames leaping from the tops of trees in an effort to slow the fire’s progress.”
The California Governor’s office has activated two Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems aircraft. The C-130s will be supplied by the Channel Islands Air National Guard base in southern California. Earlier this month the National Interagency Fire Center activated two other MAFFS from the Wyoming Air National Guard at Cheyenne. Initially they were staged at Boise.
Governors have the authority to activate MAFFS aircraft within their states at the three Air National Guard bases that have the units at Channel Islands, Reno, and Cheyenne. The Air Force Reserve MAFFS at Colorado Springs is a different story, however.