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Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS)

A C-130 Hercules, equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, drops fire retardant April 27, 2011, above West Texas. MAFFS is capable of dispensing 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than 5 seconds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

A C-130 Hercules, equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, drops fire retardant April 27, 2011, above West Texas. MAFFS is capable of dispensing 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than 5 seconds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

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 Air 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 146th AW in Channel Islands, Air National Guard Base California the 152nd AW based in Reno, Nevada and the 153rd 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.

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.

The 302nd AW has flown the Air Force Reserve portion of the mission since 1993. The 302nd AW has supported fire suppression in most of the western states and 2002 was the first year the airlift wing fought fires in its home state of Colorado.

MAFFS RECENT HISTORY

The 2013 fire season was an active season for 302nd Airlift Wing MAFFS-equipped C-130s and aircrews. It began with the wing's MAFFS activation in support of the Black Forest, Colorado fire on June 11. The 302nd Airlift Wing continued its support of wildland fire containment efforts in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, California and Oregon through August 30. The 302nd AW MAFFS contributed to the combined MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group's 2013 employment totals of 541 MAFFS drops releasing 1,387,881 gallons of retardant.

The wildland fire season of 2014 was notable as only two MAFFS-equipped C-130 aircraft were activated by the U.S. Forest Service. This request for assistance was met by the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard throughout the entire season. The 302nd AW did not activate any MAFFS-equipped aircraft but did supply Airmen for aircrew, mission commander and Air Expeditionary Group support.  MAFFS AEG totals for 2014 were 249,854 gallons of retardant released during 133 drops in four states: Utah, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. An aircrew aboard a WYANG C-130 that included a co-pilot assigned to the 302nd AW, received the Air Mobility Command Chief of Safety Aircrew of Distinction Award for its efforts in safely landing the MAFFS-equipped C-130 following a landing gear malfunction while fighting fires in southern Utah.

In 2015 DOD MAFFS’ firefighting surge capability was activated on Aug. 2 and supported U.S. Forest Service operations until Sept. 12 with all four MAFFS wings participating. Most of the firefighting was conducted out of McClellan Air Force Base, California with another base set up at Channel Islands, California towards the end of the season. MAFFS-equipped C-130s flew on approximately 15 different fires in California. MAFFS AEG totals for 2015 were 842,979 gallons of retardant released in 338 drops and 372 sorties.

The 2016 MAFFS activation began with a Request for Assistance by the National Interagency Fire Center based in Boise, Idaho on Aug. 2. The RFA requested two MAFFS-equipped C-130s along with appropriate command, control and support personnel to assist in wildfire suppression efforts in the Western U.S. Aircraft and aircrews from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. and the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, Cheyenne, Wyo. provided the requested MAFFS capabilities, supporting suppression efforts to fires in Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Utah Aug. 3 to Sep. 3. The MAFFS-equipped C-130s based out of Boise Air Tanker Base, Idaho made 165 retardant drops, releasing 395,632 gallons of retardant.  In addition to the U.S. Forest Service MAFFS RFA, the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing supported a state activation of MAFFS providing aerial firefighting suppression missions throughout California. Their efforts resulted in 112 drops, releasing 288,000 gallons of retardant.    

In 2017 the 302nd AW began Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System operations after receiving a request for assistance from the National Interagency Firefighting Center, Boise, Idaho July 27. The NIFC request was made due to elevated fire activity throughout California, the Great Basin, the Northwest and Northern Rockies geographic areas. Together, the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd AW and activated Air National Guard MAFFS wings supported fire suppression missions that took them to more than two dozen fires throughout California. Together, the MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group C-130 crews flew 293 sorties in 2017, dropping more than 820,000 gallons of retardant in 315 drops, all on California fires. The 302nd AW also supported MAFFS efforts with aircrew members providing MAFFS instruction to Nevada ANG personnel who in 2017, were going into their second year of MAFFS missions. The 302nd AW also provided command and administrative support to the MAFFS AEG in Boise. The 2017 MAFFS activation ended Sept. 16.

In 2018, the Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 302nd AW will mark 25 years of supporting the MAFFS program at Peterson AFB, Colorado.  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 943rd AG was deactivated, the MAFFS units were transferred to the 302nd 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.

(Current as of December 2017)