USA —The Air Force has untold numbers of missions, and for the past 40 years one of those has been helping the U.S. Forest Service fight wild-land forest fires.
In preparing for the 2012 wild-land firefighting season, Air Force reservists recently completed their annual Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems recertification and training at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., according to an Air Force news release.
Authority for the military to take part in the MAFFS program was created in the early 1970s through an agreement with the Forest Service. Today, the military aircraft used are modified C-130s.
Those C-130 aircraft are fitted with the MAFFS to use in fighting fires, and the modified airlifters can douse a blaze with retardant rather than water.
The firefighting C-130s fly just above stall speed only 150 feet off the ground while carrying a 42,000-pound payload, according to the news release. They are guided to their targets by Forest Service aircraft. Meanwhile, ground crews ensure that the firefighting system is ready to go when crews pull the trigger.
Training for firefighters involves 12 hours of ground and classroom training and 35 missions in the air. This year, 12 aircrews got their initial training and 48 crews received a refresher. During training, crews drop water, not retardant.
Training allows us to stay mission-ready and hit the target at the right time, ensuring our drop is very effective, Lt. Col. Robert Fairbanks, a firefighting instructor pilot, said in the release.
These are really experienced pilots, many with thousands of flying hours, said Lt. Col. David Condit, Air Force Reserve chief of aerial firefighting and 731st Airlift Squadron C-130 instructor and evaluator navigator. But this isnt the typical mission theyve flown throughout their careers. They really need to practice and recertify every year.
The Forest Service estimates there are about 78,000 forest fires in the U.S. each year, burning about 6.5 million acres. Aircraft are used in 95 percent of fires as part of the initial attack phase. Ground crews and bulldozers can also be used to contain fires.
All military aircraft that help the Forest Service to fight fires are requested by the National Interagency Fire Center and activated through U.S. Northern Command, which was stood up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.