In the 1970s, Congress established the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) Program to aid the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Typically, when all other civilian air tankers are activated but further assistance is needed, the U.S. Forest Service, through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), can request the aid of the U.S. Air Force's MAFFS flying units.
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 NIFC and the U.S. Forest Service. NIFC serves as a focal point for coordinating the national mobilization of resources for wildland fire. 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 Airlift Wing in Colorado Springs, Colo., 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.
Crews who fly MAFFS missions participate in annual currency/re-currency certification. Each wing is required to have five certified crews for each MAFFS unit. The 302nd AW has more than 10 qualified crews.
The U.S. Forest service owned MAFFS units fit inside the C-130 Hercules 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 27,000 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.
In February 2009, a new generation MAFFS unit was declared fully operational. Known as MAFFS II, the system evolved into a single-tank platform with a self-contained system to pressurize the retardant tank. This enables MAFFS II to operate without a ground based air compressor and access many more reload bases, reducing the amount of ground support personnel needed as well as allowing more fire fighting missions to be flown on any given day.
Other additions to the system include the removal of one discharge tube, moving all discharge to the C-130's left paratroop door. This move helps to significantly reduce the threat of corrosion to the aircraft's tail section.
The 302nd AW has flown the Air Force Reserve portion of the mission since 1993. The 302nd has fought fires in most of the western states and 2002 was the first year the airlift wing fought fires in its home state of Colorado.
MAFFS RECENT HISTORY
In 2011 the 302nd Airlift Wing was the lead MAFFS wing for the MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group. For the first time in history, U.S. Northern Command through its Air Force Component Command, Air Forces Northern, deployed the 302nd AW MAFFS for international response to a 245,000 acre wildland fire in northern Mexico in April of 2011. 302nd AW MAFFS crews were also activated to fight fires in Texas, New Mexico, and Idaho and contributed to a MAFFS AEG total of 441 sorties and 495 drops in 2011.
In 2012, the first year since 2008 all four participating MAFFS units were activated simultaneously, MAFFS crews performed a record 1,011 drops in 10 states to include dropping on the Waldo Canyon fire, one of the costliest fires in Colorado history. The Waldo Canyon fire garnered national media attention and personally impacted 80 members of the 302nd AW, with one member losing his home to the fire. The 2012 season proved to be the second most active MAFFS season in MAFFS history.
The 2013 fire season was again an active season for 302nd Airlift Wing MAFFS-equipped C-130s and aircrews. It began with the wing's MAFFS activation in support of the Black Forest, Colo. fire on June 11. The 302nd Airlift Wing continued its support of wildland fire containment efforts in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, California and Oregon through August 30. The 302nd AW MAFFS contributed to the combined MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group's 2013 employment totals of 541 MAFFS drops releasing 1,387,881 gallons of retardant.
The wildland fire season of 2014 was notable as only two MAFFS-equipped C-130 aircraft were activated by the U.S. Forest Service. This request for assistance was met by the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard throughout the entire season. The 302nd AW did not activate any MAFFS-equipped aircraft but did supply Airmen for aircrew, mission commander and Air Expeditionary Group support. MAFFS AEG totals for 2014 were 249,854 gallons of retardant released during 133 drops in four states: Utah, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. An aircrew aboard a WYANG C-130 that included a co-pilot assigned to the 302nd AW, received the Air Mobility Command Chief of Safety Aircrew of Distinction Award for its efforts following a landing gear malfunction while fighting fires in southern Utah.
In 2015 DOD MAFFS’ firefighting surge capability was activated on Aug. 2 and supported U.S. Forest Service operations until Sept. 12 with all four MAFFS wings participating. Most of the firefighting was conducted out of McClellan Air Force Base, California with another base set up at Channel Islands, California towards the end of the season. MAFFS-equipped C-130s flew on approximately 15 different fires in California. MAFFS AEG totals for 2015 were 842,979 gallons of retardant released in 338 drops and 372 sorties.
(Current as of April 2016)