PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., Aug. 4, 2016 —
On the flight line here, Air Force Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, with the Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing, describes being at the controls of an aircraft carrying the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, during a firefighting operation as “the mission where you get the most feedback [and] immediate feedback.
The firefighting system is owned by the U.S. Forest Service and can carry about 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant, Thompson explained. It can discharge the load in less than five seconds, and cover an area of one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide, he said.
"You see immediately what you're doing -- or sometimes not able to do," the pilot, a dual military-civilian Air Reserve Technician, said last week while standing in front of a MAFFS-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft. "Because it's literally there's fire [and] there's maybe some houses and you're dropping in between. That's a pretty good feeling."
Once the water or retardant is dropped, the plane can go to a military or civilian tanker base to refill, he said. The load can be replenished in minutes.
Ready for the Call
The 302nd Airlift Wing is busy with many other missions, including global deployments, but the MAFFS crews are always ready to support the U.S. Forest Service in the firefighting efforts, Thompson said.
"We're just waiting for the call if they get to the point where they more assets," Thompson. "We're the surge capability."
Case in point: a MAFFS-equipped C-130 and crew departed yesterday from Peterson Air Force Base to support firefighting efforts in the western United States. The 302nd received a request earlier in the week from the National Interagency Fire Center, according to a news release from the 302nd Airlift Wing public affairs office.
During this current deployment, which is their first firefighting mission of 2016, the 302nd reservists are expected to fly missions from Boise, Idaho, and other western U.S. locations as needed. A MAFFS crew from Wyoming is also taking part in the deployment.
Unique Mission, Rewarding Work
The firefighting missions are harder on the aircraft than other missions, so the C-130s in the MAFFS deployments are inspected more often than other aircraft, explained Senior Master Sgt. Tye Taylor, a maintenance flight chief with the 302nd Airlift Wing.
A mission with MAFFS would typically include 28 to 30 people -- six crewmembers for two planes and 14 maintenance personnel and a few operation workers, Taylor said.
While there are no nighttime MAFFS flights, the firefighting efforts can still mean busy days for the crews, he added.
"When things are breaking, we'll be working probably a 14-to-16-hour day," Taylor said.
The mission is unique, the 302nd Airlift Wing release said. The Defense Department, through U.S. Northern Command, provides the military support to firefighting efforts when requested by the National Interagency Fire Center and approved by the secretary of defense.
"These diverse mission assets are prepared to respond quickly and effectively to protect lives, property, critical infrastructure and natural resources, and can include, but are not limited to, MAFFS, military helicopters and ground forces capable of supporting the firefighting efforts," the news release said.
MAFFS-equipped C-130s are operated by four military airlift wings: the 302nd Airlift Wing, U.S. Air Force Reserve Command; the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; and the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard.
Each airlift wing has two MAFFS-equipped aircraft, for a total of eight nationwide.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoDNews)