California has wheels up for new airborne firefighting system

By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith | National Guard Bureau | February 02, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. (Jan. 30, 2009) – A long anticipated upgrade to the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) that’s used to battle the nation's wildfires was recently approved for operational use.

MAFFS II was approved for use on the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing C-130J Hercules cargo aircraft, according Air Guard officials here.

The state has two of the new systems that were showcased recently to state officials and local media at McClellan Air Park in Sacramento, Calif.

MAFFS is owned by the U.S. Forest Service and are flown on Air Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130 aircraft. U.S. Northern Command, the Guard and Reserve wings, the governors and the firefighting and federal agencies team up to operate MAFFS nationwide in wildfire responses. The aircraft and air crews are always ready to deploy in anticipation of a state emergency.

"This new system is more capable; it can make a more effective [wildfire] retardant line and is more efficient," said Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Dave Condit, deputy commander of the MAFFS Expeditionary Air Group, which overseas three Air Guard wings and one Reserve wing. "For those two reasons combined, we hope it's a more effective resource for fighting wildfires."

When military support is requested by the National Interagency Firefighting Center (NIFC) during a wildfire response, USNORTHCOM provides operational coordination of these MAFFS-capable aircraft.  Air Forces Northern (AFNORTH) assumes tactical coordination under USNORTHCOM, providing on-the-ground assistance and support, usually standing up an Air Expeditionary Group to provide response coordination, aircraft maintenance and flight crew personnel.

The MAFFS's orange-colored retardant/water mixture coats fuel sources such as dry grass, brush and trees to keep a fire from spreading.

Condit said they hope to have seven aircrews certified and trained in the new system by Jan. 30. The Forest Service's certifiers were also working to help make that goal.

"So those aircrews are ready to assist in California as the state needs."

MAFFS II will eventually replace all the wings' older systems, said Condit.

The 2009 wildfire season officially starts this spring and continues through the fall.