USA — 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, months before the next fire season.
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 today 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. 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.”
The airborne system slides into the back of a C-130 and is made of pressurized tanks with dissemination tubes that hang out over the cargo ramp.
The MAFFS’s orange-colored retardant/water mixture coats fuel sources such as dry grass, brush and trees to keep a fire from spreading.
The system’s steel tubing, tanks, levers and gauges look like some mad scientist’s contraption from a bygone era, officials say. But its impressive firefighting capabilities are hailed by ground firefighters and governors alike.
Colonel Condit said they hope to have seven aircrews certified and trained on the new system by Jan. 30. The Forest Service’s certifiers also were working to help make that goal.
“So those aircrews are ready to assist in California as the state needs.”
MAFFS II eventually will replace all the wings’ older systems, Colonel Condit said.
“We hope that throughout this 2009 wildfire season, we will fully integrate the new equipment on all MAFFS aircraft,” Colonel Condit said. He added that the older systems will be stored and kept ready to use on a moment’s notice.
To bring MAFFS II to the fire line, officials here said it took a lot of cross-agency coordination and cooperation between MAFFS II designers at Aero Union, the Forest Service, the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard.
“Huge amounts,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Stoddard, an Air Guard MAFFS spokesman, about the agencies working to bring MAFFS II online.
“This capability is going to increase our nation’s ability to protect itself against wildfires,” he said.
California has not had a firefighting capability on C-130s there since late 2006, which caused public concern over the ability to protect the state from wildfires, officials said.
In 2008, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a letter to President George W. Bush asking that the state’s Air Guard have MAFFS II for its wildfire response:
“This (MAFFS) asset is an important federal resource that we have relied upon in the past,” wrote Governor Schwarzenegger.
That year, California “suffered severe fires … driven by high temperatures, dry conditions, and strong Santa Ana winds,” according to National Climatic Data Center reports. “Mid-November fires ravaged much of Southern California, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of dwellings,” the report said.
In support to the state, the three remaining MAFFS wings, including the Wyoming Air Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, the North Carolina Air Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing and the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing in Colorado flew numerous fire-retardant drops.
Colonel Condit said the arrival of MAFFS II in California will add to the state’s critical wildfire assets.
“Having that extra key member back again and fully capable is a big plus for the organization,” he said.
The 2009 wildfire season officially starts this spring and continues through the summer, officials said.