Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS)

In the 1970s, Congress established the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) Program to aid the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Typically, when all other civilian air tankers are activated but further assistance is needed, the U.S. Forest Service, through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), can request the aid of the U.S. Air Force's MAFFS flying units.

MAFFS is a mission that highlights interagency cooperation. The 302nd Airlift Wing is a federal force belonging to the Department of Defense, yet works in concert with NIFC and the U.S. Forest Service. NIFC serves as a focal point for coordinating the national mobilization of resources for wildland fire. When it is determined MAFFS will be utilized, NIFC through U.S. Northern Command requests the DoD, U.S. Air Force resources.

One Air Force Reserve and three Air National Guard locations participate in the MAFFS Program. The 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the only Air Force Reserve unit supporting the aerial firefighting mission. The Air National Guard units supporting MAFFS include the 146 AW in Channel Islands, Air National Guard Base, California, the 152 AW based in Reno, Nevada, and the 153 AW based at Cheyenne, Wyoming. Each flying unit stores and is ready to activate two of the MAFFS units for a total of eight nationwide.

In 1993 the Air Force Reserve Command portion of the MAFFS mission was moved to the 302nd Airlift Wing from March Air Force Base, California. When the 943 AG was deactivated, the MAFFS units were transferred to the 302 AW and the wing performed their first training with the U.S. Forest Service in Boise, Idaho, in May. On Oct. 28, 1993, two aircrews from the 731st Airlift Squadron and maintenance personnel from the 302nd Maintenance Group departed for Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center, California, for their first MAFFS activation.

Crews who fly MAFFS missions participate with the U.S. Forest Service in annual currency/re-currency certification. Each wing is required to have five certified crews for each MAFFS unit.

The U.S. Forest Service-owned MAFFS units fit inside the C-130 Hercules aircraft without requiring structural modification to the airframe. This allows the units to be loaded on short-notice. MAFFS units can drop either water or fire retardant.

It takes approximately four hours to load and install a MAFFS unit in the C-130. A MAFFS unit can discharge its load - 3,000 gallons weighing 27,000 pounds - in less than five seconds. The retardant can cover an area one-quarter of a mile long and 100 feet wide. After the plane discharges its load, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

In February 2009, a new generation MAFFS unit was declared fully operational. Known as MAFFS II, the system evolved into a single-tank platform with a self-contained system to pressurize the retardant tank. This enables MAFFS II to operate without a ground based air compressor and access many more reload bases, reducing the amount of ground support personnel needed as well as allowing more firefighting missions to be flown on any given day.


2018 marked 25 years of support from Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 302 AW for the MAFFS program at Peterson SFB, Colorado. The 302 AW was first activated on July 2, 2018, to support fires in the Colorado area. Both MAFFS 2 and 5 were tasked to support these operations from July 2 through July 9. The tasking consisted of 46 sorties, 49.1 hours, 54 drops delivering 123,284 gallons of retardant weighing 1,106,607 pounds supporting 6 different fires in Colorado and Wyoming. One plane each from the 152 AW and the 153 AW also supported the operation starting on July 5 and deactivating completely on July 12. 

MAFFS was tasked again shortly after conclusion of the first 2018 RFA. USFS requested support for 2 aircraft at McClellan Air Park, California, starting July 23. This tasking was initially fulfilled by the 146 AW, joined by the 152 AW and 153 AW on July 30. The 302 AW joined the operation on Aug. 8. During this activation the 302 AW provided 1 aircraft/crew at McClellan Air Park and flew 14 sorties, 16.0 hours and 15 drops totaling 41,108 gallons and 368,738 pounds of retardant supporting 6 fires in California.

Due to low fire potentials in 2019 across the Western U.S., and elevated conditions isolated to the Northwest and California, MAFFS was not mobilized. The 302 AW did participate in an airborne aerial firefighting demonstration at the AirVenture Oshkosh Airshow and provided a MAFFS static display at Feria Aeroespacial México - FAMEX 2019, the largest airshow in Latin American, held at a Mexican Air Force Base in Mexico City.

In 2020, MAFFS was mobilized on July 23 to support firefighting activity in California. The original RFA was for 2 tails and the 302 AW was tasked with providing 1 MAFFS aircraft at McClellan Air Park, Cali., from July 29 through Aug. 12. On Aug. 15, the RFA was amended to 4 tails. On the same day, the 302 AW experienced a significant hail storm at home station that rendered its C-130 fleet grounded due to hail damage. However, the 153 AW loaned MAFFS 1 to the 302 AW to fly MAFFS missions at McClellan Air Park, CA, from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2. The 934 AW at Minneapolis, Minn., loaned a tail to the 302 AW which was quickly prepped for MAFFS and deployed as MAFFS 2 to McClellan on Sept. 2 through Sept. 17. On Sept. 30, several 302 AW crew members “rainbowed” with 152 AW and 153 AW crews on their tails until the RFA was terminated on Oct. 3. The 302 AW performed 60 drops on 17 different fires in California, flying 73.3 hours, and delivering 166,713 gallons of retardant weighing 1,500,417 pounds. 

Despite an ongoing worldwide pandemic, COVID-19, MAFFS training was completed in May, 2021, and mobilized on June 26 to support firefighting activity in California. The original RFA was for 2 tails, and quickly amended to 3 tails on July 2. By July 27, the RFA was increased to 5 tails, and on Aug. 9 it increased to 6 tails. The RFA was further increased to 8 tails on Aug. 26. It was curtailed to 4 tails on Sept. 22 and ended on Sept. 29.

The 302 AW deployed MAFFS 2 to McClellan on July 20 with MAFFS 5 joining the fight on Aug. 4. Due to conflicting requirements levied on other MAFFS wings, the AEG made a rare request that the 302 AW provide a third MAFFS aircraft to the fight. On Aug. 24, an additional 302 AW aircraft and crew marked as MAFFS 8 deployed to McClellan to meet the 8-ship RFA. The 302 AW maintained 3 MAFFS aircraft and required personnel at McClellan through Sept. 22, when MAFFS 8 was released. MAFFS 2 and 5 stayed in-service until Sept. 29. In total as of Oct. 7, 2021, the 302 AW has performed 259 drops on 26 fires in California, flown 251.3 hours and delivered 730,261 gallons of retardant (over 6.5 million pounds). 

On Apr. 23, 2022, 302 AW's MAFFS 2 and 5 departed for and arrived at Boise Air Tanker Base with all-instructor crews. The main body arrived via organic airlift on Apr. 24 with academic training being conducted Apr. 24-25. All required annual training on MAFFS systems and USAF procedures was accomplished, along with biennial USFS training events. The 302 AW also provided instructor pilot support for the Reno ANG, 152 AW, during their mobilization Sep. 14 with two drops and a total dispersion of 2,786 gallons of retardant. They also supported the Pikes Peak Regional Airshow with a MAFFS demonstration flyover Sep. 24-25. 

(Current as of October 2022)