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.