MAFFS crews train for mountain fire fighting scenarios

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield
  • 153rd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
When you add heat, high elevation and mountainous terrain, you have a combination that makes an already difficult mission that much tougher. The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System trained C-130 Hercules pilots of the 731st Expeditionary Air Squadron have been dealing with these conditions since they started flying June 25, 2012 here. They are tasked with fighting fires in the Rocky Mountain area by the U.S. Forest Service.

"As far as the flying goes it's definitely the most challenging, most difficult flying we do. The terrain here is almost unprecedented," said Maj. Neil Harlow, a MAFFS-trained pilot with the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard. "Most of the time we drop on fires around 8,000 feet in elevation. We've been dropping around 10,000-11,000 feet in elevation on some of these higher fires. The terrain, especially around Boulder [Colo.], is so steep that when we do our downhill runs were dropping 1000 to 2000 feet to get a line on the side of the mountain."

And besides the terrain, the weather is playing a role in this aerial fire-fighting mission. When it is hot the engines do not function as well as they do in colder weather, according to Maj. Richard Pantusa, a MAFFS-trained pilot with the 302nd Airlift Wing's, 731st Airlift Squadron.

This week the pilots are dealing with weather in the upper 90s. "The airplane doesn't perform as well, and there is not nearly as much power as you are used to. But these are all things we train for, things we definitely take into account and discuss both on the ground in the air when we are training for it. So we're prepared for the challenges," said Pantusa.

Last year the MAFFS-equipped C-130s from the 302nd and 153rd Airlift Wings fought fires in the flatter terrains of west Texas. And, while this year the fires are occurring in higher elevations and more mountainous terrain, the MAFFS-trained aircrews are up to the challenge.

"The good news is this is the exact same terrain we flew in during MAFFS training this year. This is one of the advantages of training in Colorado. We dropped in very similar terrain, steep, same kind of fuel, same kind of sight pictures and even a lot of the same personnel are involved in this operation," said Pantusa.

MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system owned by the U.S. Forest Service that can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide. Once the load is discharged, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

In addition to the 153rd and 302nd Airlift Wings, two other Air National Guard units, the 146th AW, Channel Islands, Calif., and the 145th AW, Charlotte, N.C., possess the ability to assist federal, state and local wildland fire fighting agencies and organizations with MAFFS.

The MAFFS program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense.