By Tech. Sgt. Stephen J. Collier
302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Despite the winter-like weather, Colorado Air Force Reservists and their active duty counterparts were re-certified April 19-23 here to respond to wildland fires.
The 302nd Airlift Wing, the Air Force Reserve’s only organization with the aerial fire fighting mission, held its annual Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System certification and training week. Throughout the week, 10 aircrews made up of AF Reservists and members of the wing’s active duty associate 52nd Airlift Squadron took part in classroom and ground instruction, held jointly with the U.S. Forest Service. Soon after, C-130 Hercules aircrews and maintenance personnel transitioned to the air, performing simulated retardant drops using water.
Describing the MAFFS training, Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd AW chief of aerial fire fighting, said, “This year, we had an updated, more in-depth ground training program. We were hampered by weather a little bit, but the end goal is about trying to get our people ready to go when and if they need us. And I think we’ve done that.”
The wing’s MAFFS program added new faces to the aerial fire fighting roster this year. These include one pilot, two navigators, two flight engineers and four loadmasters. All AF Reserve aircrews who support the MAFFS mission are volunteers, with each working to incorporate aerial fire fighting training into their required airdrop and tactical flying skill sets.
Aircrews performed water drops throughout a number of areas in and around Colorado’s Front Range. These included areas near Hackett, Cooper, 39 Mile and Tarryall Mountains, Gold Camp Road and Dawson Mountains.
The 302nd AW works in concert with three ANG wings from California, Wyoming and North Carolina to make up the Air Force’s overall aerial fire fighting fleet. With the 302nd AW certified, Wyoming ANG’s 153rd AW, N.C. ANG’s 145th AW and the 146th from the California ANG will certify in May.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the 302nd AW assuming the aerial fire fighting MAFFS mission. Since 1993, the 302nd AW has provided MAFFS support to a number of large-scale wildland fires, including Colorado’s 2002 Hayman Fire, California’s Big Sur Fire in 2008 and the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire in nearby Colorado Springs.
“I know Waldo Canyon was a big deal for many of our members; it was a horrendous event for the local community,” Thompson said. “We’re continuing to train the same way we do every year. Every fire is serious to us.”
On average, the U.S. Forest Service estimates 78,000 fires affect the United States annually, burning approximately 6.5 million acres. For May 2013, the National Interagency Fire Center projects above normal wildland fire conditions for Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and areas throughout the Midwest. Those areas are set to return to normal wildland fire risk levels in June and July, but above normal or increasing above normal projections for California, Oregon, Washington state and western Idaho are predicted.
Wildland fire seasons generally run from May 1st to November 30th each year. However, MAFFS support provided by both the AF Reserve and its ANG counterparts have been activated multiple times during off seasons.