Annual MAFFS training at Cheyenne

MAFFS aircraft at Cheyenne
MAFFS aircraft at Cheyenne, April 30, 2014, MAFFS numbers 0, 1, and 3

Yesterday I visited the Wyoming Air National Guard facility at Cheyenne Regional Airport during the annual training and certification/recertification for the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) units from Cheyenne, Wyoming and Charlotte, North Carolina. Each unit supplies two C-130H3 aircraft that can carry the 3,000-gallon fire retardant system when they are needed to help suppress wildfires, supplementing the United States’ atrophied fleet of large air tankers which has declined from 44 in 2002 to 9 this year.

The training includes classroom and airborne sessions, actually dropping, in this case, water, however, very strong winds required cancellation of the practice drops Wednesday. They hope the weather improves so they can get off the ground today.

MAFFS unit
Lt. Col. Alan Brown of the Wyoming Air National Guard stands at the rear of a MAFFS unit inside a C-130H3. Loadmasters sit in the two chairs to the right of Col. Brown. The retardant is pumped out of the pipe in the lower half of the orange paratroop door. The upper pipe in the door allows outside air to enter the tank as the retardant exits, if compressed air is not used to push the retardant out of the tank.
MAFFS unit Alan Brown
Lt. Col. Alan Brown, of the Wyoming Air National Guard, is seen near the two air compressors at the front end of a MAFFS unit. If the compressors are working properly, which is not always the case, it takes about 30 minutes to refill the two compressed air tanks, which push the retardant out of the tanks. A specially-built ground-based air compressor sometimes meets the MAFFS aircraft at their temporary base and can refill the tanks in about 14 minutes.
Lt. Col. Alan Brown
Lt. Col. Alan Brown of the Wyoming Air National Guard holds a MAFFS retardant release control.

In the photo above and the video below, Lt. Col. Alan Brown of the Wyoming Air National Guard shows and explains how a hand-held control can be used by the loadmasters in a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tanker to release the 3,000 gallons of fire retardant, if for some reason the pilots, who normally trigger the release with an identical controller, are unable to perform that function. The video was filmed by Bill Gabbert for FireAviation.com on April 30, 2014 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
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Deicing an air tanker

Deicing MAFFS 8 Cheyenne
Deicing MAFFS 8 at Cheyenne. @AEGMAFFS photo.

That is something you don’t see every day — deicing an air tanker. Some overnight snow at Cheyenne required deicing on the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, air tankers that are in Wyoming for training, certification, and recertification this week. C-130s from Charlotte, NC, and the base at Cheyenne are participating. These National Guard units each provide two C-130s, a portion of the eight that can be called up nationwide, if the atrophied United States air tanker fleet, down to nine now, needs supplemental aircraft. 

Ground MAFFS training at Cheyenne
Ground training for MAFFS crews at Cheyenne, April 28, 2014. AEGMAFFS photo.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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