By Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Carzis, 146th Airlift Wing
/ Published May 19, 2021
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mikael Sundin, Command Chief Master Sgt. 1st Air Force, tours a C130-E Hercules aircraft from the 152nd Airlift Wing during MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System) training at the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, California. May 5, 2021. Utilizing C-130 aircraft equipped with the MAFFS unit, Air National Guard aircrew from the 152nd Airlift Wing and the 146th Airlift Wing work together to accomplish their aerial firefighting certification training alongside the U.S. Forest Service and other wildfire prevention agencies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)
In the apropos heat of the high desert, the California and Nevada Air National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE and several other firefighting agencies from across the country recently completed the their annual certification training for their upcoming missions using the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System.
Pilots and aircrew from 152nd Airlift Squadron in Reno and the 115th Airlift Squadron based in Port Hueneme, California, were among the participating Air Guard units. The agencies have been teaming to suppress wildfires since the early 1970s.
Military aircraft equipped with MAFFS can be activated to supplement the U.S. Forest Service and the civilian air tanker program when needed. The Department of Defense can provide up to eight MAFFS-equipped aircraft.
Kim Christensen, the U.S. Forest Service Deputy Director for Fire Operations, said this year marks the 48th anniversary of the MAFFS partnership between the Air National Guard and the U.S. Forest Service. Christensen said this year’s certification and training are starting just in time.
“Fire season starts now much earlier than in previous decades. We are simultaneously conducting training and certification while supplementing our fleet to fight active fires burning in California right now,” she said. “While one tanker fills up to run a practice sortie, the other tanker is tasked to put out the real fires.”
Capt. Curtis Byrd, a MAFFS pilot from the 115th AS, said the military’s partnership with the U.S. Forest Service remains invaluable, citing the organizations’ combined experience in aerial firefighting as the backbone of past success.
“This training and certification are important to the agencies’ commitment to protect lives and property against the devastating effects from wildfires,” Byrd said. “We’re appreciative of the U.S. Forest Service’s professionalism and their ability to provide quality, safe training to help ensure we are prepared for the next major wildfire.”
MAFFS, which can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than 10 seconds across a quarter-mile line, features equipment that slides into the back of a C-130 military aircraft. Fire retardant is released through a nozzle on the rear left of the aircraft.
The 153rd Airlift Wing based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the 302nd Airlift Wing based in Colorado also have MAFFS capabilities.
“Certification training allows these units to refine their processes and helps cement our working relationships with the National Interagency Fire Center and other agencies. It is critical training that helps ensure the entire team is prepared to deliver critical firefighting capability,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, the Northern Command Air Forces commander. “This summer is projected to be a busy wildland fire season, so the training and command relationships are critical to our goal to protect life and property.”