About 300 aviation personnel from the Air National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, and other firefighting agencies are participating this week in aerial wildland firefighting training and certification for Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) personnel. It is hosted by the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We are eager to join with our civilian and military partners this week and prepare for another challenging wildfire season,” said Col. James DeVere, 302nd Airlift Wing commander. “Training together is vital. We are able to battle wildfires as one seamless interagency team working with the U.S. Forest Service because of the training we do together.”
Training drops will be executed in nearby forests west of Colorado Springs using potable water. Rural residents in those areas may see low-flying C-130 aircraft and U.S. Forest Service lead planes throughout the week.
The 302nd Airlift Wing’s C-130 Hercules aircraft are equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s MAFFS, which is capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant or water in less than 10 seconds along a quarter-mile line. The system slides into the back of the military aircraft, and retardant is released through a nozzle on the left side through a modified paratroop door. MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the U.S. Forest Service and the civilian air tanker program to slow the spread of wildland fires across the nation.
The three Air National Guard wings tasked conducting MAFFS missioned include: the 146th Airlift Wing from Channel Islands, California, 152nd Airlift Wing from Reno, Nevada, and the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyoming. The 302nd Airlift Wing is the only Air Force Reserve unit executing the MAFFS mission. Each of the four wings usually have two slip-in MAFFS units in order to mobilize two firefighting C-130s along with a third C-130 hauling equipment and additional personnel.
The certification training, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, includes classroom sessions, flying and ground operations for Air Force aircrews, civilian lead plane pilots, and support personnel from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other state and federal firefighting agencies.
“Wildland fire management agencies have relied on MAFFS for 46 years to provide a surge capacity when commercial air tankers are fully committed or not readily available, as they frequently are during periods of high wildfire activity,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for operations for the U.S. Forest Service. “Training that includes all of the military and civilian personnel that work together when MAFFS are mobilized is critical to ensure that military aircraft fly safely and effectively and that they can be seamlessly integrated into wildfire suppression operations.”