By Senior Master Sgt. Paula Macomber, 152nd Airlift Wing
/ Published June 24, 2021
152nd Airlift Wing C-130 sits on the ramp at McClellan Air Tanker Base, Calif. during the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training last year.
The National Interagency Fire Center has requested one C-130 aircraft and aircrew from the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, to aid firefighting efforts around the western U.S.
“This activation highlights the important role the military plays in assisting federal, civilian firefighting efforts, especially with that need coming much earlier this year than past years to combat increased fire activity across the American West,” said Col. Jeremy Ford, 152nd Airlift Wing commander. “The 152nd Airlift Wing embraces this incredibly vital domestic operations mission and our ability to help save life and property threatened by wildland fires.”
The initial request lasts through July 26. The 152nd Airlift Wing activated last firefighting season on July 29. That activation lasted through Oct. 3, the longest firefighting activation in the unit’s history. However, even with last year’s extended firefighting season, this season’s first activation for the unit arrives more than a month earlier than in 2020.
The aircraft, operating the USDA Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, will depart Reno this Saturday for its initial deployment location at CAL FIRE’s McClellan Reload Base in Sacramento, California. From there, they will assist federal and private firefighting assets around the region as needed.
Given the military’s non-compete clause with private industry, contracted air tankers receive first request for largescale, wildland firefighting. Military units have provided a surge capacity with MAFFS since 1974, but are only activated after private contracted assets are exhausted and the forest service deems additional support is necessary.
The 152nd Airlift Wing, known as the High Rollers, is one of four military C-130 units around the nation equipped with MAFFS for largescale wildland firefighting. The Reno unit will join the 146th Airlift Wing out of Channel Islands, Calif. for firefighting efforts in the region.
Fire managers from federal, state, tribal and local agencies continue to prepare for wildland firefighting activity. So far, 50 largescale wildland fires have burned 543,099 acres in 11 states, the National Interagency Firefighting Center reported this week. New large fires were reported in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho and Nevada. More than 9,180 wildland firefighters and 17 Type 1 and Type 2 Incident Management Teams are assigned to incidents, according to NIFC.
So far this year there have been 29,362 fires reported burning 1,164,555 acres across the nation, NIFC said.
MAFFS equipment, loaded into the cargo compartment of a C-130 aircraft, can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in six seconds through a nozzle on the rear left side of the plane. The U.S. Forest Service owns MAFFS equipment and supplies retardant, while each of the four military units provide C-130 aircraft, maintenance, support personnel and flight crews to fly the missions.
The 152nd Airlift Wing recently became the first “combat coded” guard unit in the nation to upgrade their entire C-130 fleet with the NP-2000 propeller modification. This modification swapped out four-bladed propellers with eight-bladed modular NP-2000 propellers. This increased performance and flying capabilities of the whole fleet, adding throttle responsiveness and reliability to each of the C-130s in the 152nd Airlift Wing’s fleet.
“This is especially important for the extremely challenging MAFFS mission, while flying in extreme hazards including flying low slow and heavy while dropping water or retardant,” Ford said.