MAFFS Today: 302nd AW achieves special mission milestone, continues surge support to wildland fires

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg
  • 302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Flying low and slow, Air Force Reserve C-130 Hercules special mission aircraft drop bright orange fire retardant in lines that split the blackened and burning earth from the unblemished green landscape. The aircrew on board works to help build containment lines to assist the firefighters on the ground with their efforts in stopping the wildfire before it reaches the structures they see filling the windows of the aircraft.


For the last 25 years, this has been the task for the 302nd Airlift Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen when they are federally activated for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System mission.


When called to action, the 302nd AW aircrews aboard aircraft marked with bright orange “2” and “5” numbers on their tails and fuselage are on 12 hour shifts for 7-12 days, said Master Sgt. Thomas Freeman, 731st Airlift Squadron evaluator MAFFS loadmaster, who has been part of the MAFFS mission throughout its tenure at the 302nd AW. Depending on the distance to the fires, weather conditions and U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service needs, a single aircrew can complete a dozen or more retardant drops in a day.


Along with aircrews, C-130 aircraft maintainers assigned to the wing’s maintenance group also work long hours during an activation. They are not only on standby to resupply and check the aircraft in between drops but also at the end of the day they check over the aircraft and prepare it for the next day.


“Supporting the MAFFS mission for 25 years is a milestone we take great pride in,” said Col. James DeVere, the 2018 MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group and 302nd AW commander. “It’s a whole team effort on the ground and in the air to support the U.S. Forest Service needs and the 302nd AW Reserve Citizen Airmen perform it with excellence.”


In addition to the wing’s pride, the U.S. representative for Colorado Congressional District 5, the district Peterson Air Force Base resides in, recognized the reserve wing for achieving this milestone as part of the House of Representatives Congressional Record on April 26, 2018.


“We honor all who work tirelessly to support and make this special mission possible both in the air and on the ground,” stated U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in the Congressional Record recognizing the 302nd AW’s 25th anniversary supporting the MAFFS mission. 


“We recognize the hundreds of hours of labor expended by the Reserve aircraft maintenance crews who ensure the MAFFS-equipped C-130s, call-signs MAFFS 2 and MAFFS 5, are mission ready. We honor the highly-experienced Air Force Reserve aircrews flying one of the most challenging missions in the U.S. Air Force.”


The distinct bright orange numbers stamped on the sides and tails of the aircraft separate the MAFFS C-130s from others and the meaning dates back the MAFFS beginnings. The four MAFFS participating wings, each have two designation numbers which date back to the USDA Forest Service MAFFS legacy unit serial numbers. Each unit was stamped with a number and the MAFFS wings adopted the legacy system number as their MAFFS number. The 302nd AW, receiving legacy system MAFFS 2 and MAFFS 5 continues to mark its MAFFS aircraft with those numbers. 


“That’s the reason we have those huge orange numbers and flames on the aircraft so that the lead pilot can visually tell who he is talking to. They don’t go by the tail numbers during MAFFS--it’s either MAFFS 5 or MAFFS 2,” said Tech. Sgt. Tanya Keller, 302nd Maintenance Group plans, scheduling and documentation production controller.


“Now you’ll see at least two MAFFS 2s and at least two MAFFS 5s.  The reason for that is we always designate a primary and a spare for each number,” said Keller. “We keep that capability so if we have a maintenance issue on the aircraft we can swap to another that has the same number.”


So far this year, 302nd AW reservists have responded to the USDA Forest Service’s call to provide surge support in Colorado and California. As of September 2018, the four MAFFS wings have flown 307 hours, 287 sorties and dropped approximately 790,000 gallons of retardant.


“Though each fire season presents different challenges, the dedication and professionalism of our Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen continues to excel beyond expectation,” said DeVere. “The fire season is not over yet but we standby ready to answer the call.”

Editor’s note: This story is part three of a 302nd AW Public Affairs three-part series recognizing the 302nd Airlift Wing’s MAFFS mission during the 25th anniversary year of the wing’s support to this C-130 special mission at Peterson AFB, Colorado.