ARLINGTON, Va. – Air National Guard crews from two states were dousing wildfires from the air in three western states this week as the National Guard marked its 40-year anniversary flying aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System.
MAFFS-equipped C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft and support personnel from the California National Guard’s 146th Air Wing and the Wyoming National Guard’s 153rd Air Wing were dropping retardant or water on six wildfires in California, Idaho and Nevada.
The Colorado Springs Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Air Wing also was engaged with the fires, adding a fifth MAFFS-equipped C-130 to the mix as wildfires raged in the West.
Three Air National Guard units and one Air Force Reserve unit can contribute up to eight MAFFS to support the Forest Service’s annual wildfire battle. The third MAFFS-equipped Air National Guard unit is the Charlotte, N.C., 145th Airlift Wing.
Airmen started flying the Congressionally-established MAFFS mission to assist the Forest Service in wildfire suppression in 1973. Through Monday, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve crews had flown 10,294 sorties, logged 10,945 flying hours and dropped more than 28.2 million gallons of water or retardant in 40 years of service.
“Since the program started in 1973, service members have provided MAFFS support during 29 of those years,” said Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Air National Guard MAFFS crews have fought wildfires in the United States, Europe, Africa and Indonesia, and we are proud of this unique contribution to civil authorities’ firefighting efforts.”
According to National Guard Bureau officials, MAFFS crews average 251 sorties, fly 267 hours and drop 688,292 gallons of water or retardant. The last three years have seen significant wildfire activity and been far from average for the MAFFS mission.
With four months left in the year, 2013 already had seen crews log 378 sorties through Monday, dropping 904,631 gallons. Air National Guard crews flew 884 sorties and dropped more than 2.3 million gallons in 2012. In 2011, crews flew 443 sorties and dropped 1.2 million gallons.
“We implemented a new system in 2011,” Grass explained. “MAFFS II has given us improved capability. It’s less reliant on ground equipment and personnel. Onboard compressors have reduced downtime and allowed us to make multiple drops on each mission. The new system provides better coverage and is cleaner and more environmentally friendly.”
The MAFFS mission brings defense support to civil authorities after the capabilities of commercial and contract air tankers have been exhausted.
Guided by Forest Service aircraft, the C-130 Hercules releases water or retardant in less than five seconds from special tanks through two tubes at the rear of the airframe, saturating an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide, which can provide critical fire breaks on the leading edge of fires.
The aircraft require only minor electrical modifications. The MAFFS is loaded from specially designed trailers at each operational unit.
The National Guard also supports civil authorities with UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and UH-72 Lakota helicopters that use water buckets to extinguish wildfires, in addition to numerous other capabilities the Guard can bring to the Forest Service’s fight, including medevac support and ground-based troops providing firefighting, traffic control and other support.
“Our contribution to Forest Service wildfire suppression is a significant domestic operation that greatly helps civil authorities in the 54 states and territories,” Grass said. “We are proud to be a part of the team of local, state and federal agencies engaged in this vital mission.”