By Master Sgt. Daniel Butterfield
302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Reservists and active duty Airmen from the 302nd Airlift Wing recently completed their 2014 aerial firefighting training held May 16-20 here. The certification and re-certification of the aircrews ensures the wing will be ready to respond with their Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System-equipped C-130Hs when called upon.
The training consisted of classroom instruction and aerial water drops on federal lands, simulating the terrain and flying conditions the crews will face when fighting actual wildland fires. This year the drops were made around the Tarryall Mountains, Hackett Mountain, 39 Mile Mountain, and several areas of Bureau of Land Management land in Park, Teller, and Fremont counties. And even though being certified is the main purpose of the training, it is also meant to push the aircrews a little.
“We worked out some drop runs with the leads [U.S. Forest Service aircraft] that are a little more challenging, to make the pilots work a little more getting the plane to the drop, so I think it’s a little more ramped up training this year in general,” said Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd AW chief of aerial firefighting.
In all, 33 MAFFS training sorties were flown over four days, certifying 62 crew members in all C-130 aircrew positions.
Tech. Sgt. Shannon Memmelaar, a C-130 loadmaster assigned to the 731st Airlift Squadron, is in her second season of MAFFS certification. “It’s a great experience. And being part of this unit, to be part of MAFFS is a huge privilege. Knowing that you could possibly save someone’s home is also very rewarding. It’s definitely a mission you want to get on.”
The U.S. Forest service owned MAFFS units fit inside the C-130H without requiring structural modification. This allows the units to be loaded on short notice. MAFFS units can drop either water or fire retardant. The retardant is made of 80 to 85 percent water, 10 to 15 percent ammonium sulfate, a jelling agent and red coloring. The red in the retardant helps aircrews see where they have dropped previous loads. Along with containing the fire, the retardant also acts as a fertilizing agent.
It takes approximately two hours to load and configure a MAFFS unit in the C-130. A MAFFS unit can discharge its load — 3,000 gallons weighing 28,000 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.
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 the National Interagency Fire Center and the U.S. Forest Service. NIFC determines firefighting needs and strategies. 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 AW is the only Air Force Reserve unit with the aerial firefighting mission. The Air National Guard units supporting MAFFS include the 153rd AW in Cheyenne, Wyo., the 145th AW in Charlotte, N.C. and the 146th AW based at Channel Islands, Calif. Each flying unit stores and is ready to activate two of the MAFFS units for a total of eight nationwide.
In 2013 the 302nd AW MAFFS-equipped aircraft and MAFFS aircrews made 187 drops in six states dropping 503,622 gallons of retardant.