Air traffic controller supports California wildfire effort

Air traffic controller supports California wildfire effort

8 July 2008

published by

USA — As a C-130 Hercules from the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group rolls down the ramp here ready to take off to fight California’s wildfires, an air traffic controller in the tower at McClellan Airfield ensures each flight takes off and lands safely.

William Grava looks over the airfield and scans the horizon to ensure that all Modular Airborne Firefighting System-equipped C-130’s are cleared to take off to begin critical missions of saving property and lives in California.

“We are here to support the air operations for the MAFFS event for the California wildfires,” said Mr. Grava, an air traffic control specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration Northern California’s terminal radar approach. “The FAA was requested by the (U.S.) Forest Service and MAFFS (unit) to operate a temporary control tower due to the increased air traffic that we have at McClellan Airfield.”

The control tower at McClellan Airfield is unmanned and only opens for special flying operations, such as airshows or firefighting missions, Mr. Grava said.

“This is an uncontrolled airfield where everybody flying in and around the McClellan airspace looks out for each other and passes that information amongst themselves,” Mr. Grava said.

Right now, the MAFFS flying mission at McClellan Airfield is the most important flying operation, and the C-130s of the 302nd AEG have priority in the airspace.

“Basically our No. 1 mission here is to support the MAFFS flying operation and to keep everyone around here military and civilian safe,” he said.

Even though Mr. Grava has never served in the military, he said he enjoys working with the military and is proud to be part of 302nd AEG MAFFS firefighting mission.

“(The 302nd AEG Airmen) are all very professional and (are) in it to accomplish the mission safely and effectively,” he said. “It’s very enjoyable working with a unit that is very cohesive.”

The 302nd AEG is made up of eight MAFFS-capable C-130 aircraft operating out of McClellan Airfield and eight Navy Reserve and Marine Corps helicopter units operating out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif.

The 302nd AEG aircraft units include three Air National Guard units — 145th Airlift Wing from Charlotte, N.C., the 146th Airlift Wing from Channel Islands, Calif., and the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyo. — and one Air Force Reserve unit — the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

The 302nd AEG provides unique capabilities and is part of a unified military support effort of U.S. Northern Command to provide assistance to the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry and Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center.

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