Wyoming Air National Guard completes annual MAFFS training

  • Published
  • By Deidre Forster
  • Wyoming Military Department

CHANNEL ISLANDS AIR NATIONAL GUARD STATION, Calif. - In preparation for potential wildland fire support activations, 64 members of the Wyoming Air National Guard's 153rd Airlift Wing took part in the 2016 Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System certification week here, May 2-6.

The Wyoming-based airmen joined with other Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel to form the MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group. During the week, 34 aircrews took part in both ground-based training and flying operations. The Wyoming aircrews, flying the wing's MAFFS 1 and 3 aircraft, flew multiple sorties, dropping more than 300,000 gallons of water on California mountains.

As each MAFFS-equipped C-130 wing comes together, they become "expeditionary," formalizing a command and control structure that provides the U.S. Forest Service aerial firefighting support.

Maj. Neil Harlow, Wyoming's MAFFS program manager, said it's been five years since the MAFFS wings have come together for annual training.

"It's important for all of us to train together. We fly together during the season," he said. Along with the eight MAFFS-equipped C-130s, the U.S. Forest Service has 11 lead planes in town for the training.

Lt. Col. Ryan Scofield, the Wyoming wing's director of operations, agreed training with the other military wings, as well as the lead pilots, is critical.

"It's important for the mission because no two lead plane pilots fly the same," he said. "As you get to know the unique styles you look forward to flying with them and know what to expect on a real-world mission."

Kim Christensen, National Interagency Fire Center deputy assistant director of operations for fire and aviation management, said the 2016 wildland fire potential could be significant.

"There are two areas that are pointing to above average fire potential out West, including the Great Basin in Nevada and areas throughout southern California," she added.

During an activation to support wildland fire suppression, MAFFS units can drop up to 3,000 gallons of retardant per run on wildfires. Retardant is dropped ahead of a fire in an effort to slow its spread, giving ground crews a critical edge in gaining the upper hand on the blaze. The retardant's bright red color also helps aircrews determine the accuracy of their drops.

The MAFFS program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense. The Forest Service owns the MAFFS equipment and supplies the retardant, while DOD provides the C-130 aircraft, flight crews, and maintenance and support personnel to fly the missions.

The system itself is a portable fire retardant delivery system that can be easily inserted into the C-130 Hercules, converting the vessel into an air tanker when civilian fleets have been fully committed.

Along with the 153rd, the MAFFS aerial firefighting fleet is supported by the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing, based at Channel Islands, California; and the 145th Airlift Wing in Charlotte, North Carolina.