Military crews and C-130 aircraft are training in Colorado so that they can assist with wildfires.
Members of the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, and other firefighting agencies today began a weeklong aerial wildland firefighting training and certification session hosted at the air tanker base at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) near Denver, Colorado.
The 302nd Airlift Wing and 153rd Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules aircraft are equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS), which can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. The system slides into the back of the military aircraft and retardant is sprayed under pressure through a nozzle in the troop door on the left side. MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the civilian airtanker program to slow the spread of wildland fires.
Training drops with water will be conducted in the nearby Arapaho and Roosevelt and Pike-San Isabel National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands using potable water. Residents in those areas may see low-flying C-130 aircraft and U.S. Forest Service lead planes throughout the week. MAFFS aircraft will load water from Jeffco and will start and end their days at their home units.
The three Air National Guard wings tasked with conducting MAFFS missions 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 from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, is the only Air Force Reserve unit tasked with the MAFFS mission.
Each base has two MAFFS units that can be activated for firefighting, usually in pairs with a third C-130 carrying additional personnel and equipment. The Forest Service or other land management agencies have to reimburse the Department of Defense for the costs of the three aircraft and personnel.
The certification training sponsored by the US Forest Service includes classroom sessions, as well as flying and ground operations for Air Force aircrews, civilian lead plane pilots, support personnel from the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other state and federal firefighting agencies.
Having military C-130s that can be converted into airtankers provides a “surge” capability to augment wildfire suppression efforts when there are not enough privately owned air tankers available on Forest Service contracts.