In the dry heat of the high desert, the California and Nevada Air National Guard, the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and multiple other fire-fighting agencies across the United States are performing their annual certification training for the aerial fire-fighting mission with MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System), from May 4 – May 7, 2021. The success of this training is built on the trusted partnerships between the fire-fighting agencies, having forged their tactical expertise suppressing wildfires since the early 1970’s. 48th anniversary of the MAFFS partnership According to Kim Christensen, U.S. Forest Service Deputy Director for Fire Operations, this year marks the 48th anniversary of the MAFFS partnership, between the Air National Guard and the U.S. Forest Service, a partnership she describes fondly for the members’ commitment and professionalism on both sides. Christensen also feels this year’s certification and training is starting just in time. Kim Christensen said, “Fire season has started much earlier than in previous years. We are simultaneously conducting training and certification while supplementing our fleet to fight active fires burning in California right now. While one tanker fills up to run a practice sortie, the other tanker is tasked to put out the real fires.” Annual certification training The 146th Airlift Wing’s 115 AS has performed an integral part of the MAFFS mission, since its inception Pilots and aircrew from the 115th Airlift Squadron (115 AS), Port Hueneme, California, and the 152nd Airlift Wing, Reno, Nevada, are participating in the first round of certification training, held by the U.S. Forest Service. For the 115th Airlift Squadron, it’s another successful year in the books in a long history of aerial fire-fighting for the squadron. The 146th Airlift Wing’s 115 AS has performed an integral part of the MAFFS mission, since its inception. With a remarkable history serving California, the flying squadron’s legacy dates back to the early 1900s, when the squadron performed its first missions as an observation group, at the Santa Monica airfield in California. Protecting California has always been a part of the 115 AS legacy, and it continues to grow those traditions with the new pilots attending this year’s training with the U.S. Forest Service. Partnership with the U.S. Forest Service U.S. Air National Guard Capt. Curtis Byrd, a MAFFS pilot from the 115th Airlift Squadron, says the partnership with the U.S. Forest Service is invaluable, citing the organization’s rich history in aerial fire-fighting as the backbone to the partnership’s success. Capt. Curtis Byrd said, “We have such a great relationship with the U.S. Forest Service, and this training and certification is so important to continuing our commitment to protecting lives and property against the devastating effects from wildfires.” Aerial fire-fighting partners He adds, “As aerial fire-fighting partners, we have overcome many obstacles and hardships together in the past. We’re so appreciative of the U.S. Forest Service’s professionalism in their ability to provide the quality and safety of our training to help ensure we are best prepared for the next major wildfire.” MAFFS, which can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than 10 seconds across a quarter-mile line, is based on a system that slides into the back of the a C-130 military aircraft, and retardant is released through a nozzle on the rear left side. MAFFS aircraft in wildland fire-fighting operations MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the U.S. Forest Service MAFFS aircraft can be activated to supplement the U.S. Forest Service and the civilian air tanker program to slow or stop the spread of wildland fires across the nation. The Department of Defense can provide up to eight MAFFS equipped aircraft, as required. The 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyoming and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado are also part of the AEG MAFFS program, and will be participating in certification training the following week in Colorado. Critical training for fire-fighting agencies “Certification training allows these units to refine their processes, and helps cement our working relationships with NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center) and other agencies. It is critical training that helps ensure the entire team is postured and prepared to deliver critical fire-fighting capability,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, Commander, Air Forces Northern Command. Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce adds, “Summer 2021 is projected to be a busy wildland fire season, so the training and command relationships are critical to our mission to protect life and property.”
California and Nevada Air National Guards brought out their heavy assets June 15-19, 2020, in preparation for each state’s biggest annual enemies i.e. wildfires. wildland firefighting training A slew of C-130 Hercules aircraft from both western states filled the skies above Tahoe National Forest in Forest Hill, California, during U.S. Department of Agriculture Forestry Service-sponsored wildland firefighting training. With multiple state and federal organizations participating, the Cal Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing and Nevada’s 152nd Airlift Wing deployed their Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS) as a means of preparing for the upcoming wildfires. Seamless training California is one of our geographic areas where we activate the MAFFS quite frequently' “California is one of our geographic areas where we activate the MAFFS quite frequently,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for operations for the USDA Forest Service. “It’s really important that we train every year so that we can seamlessly and effectively integrate those aircraft into our firefighting operations. It helps ensure our mutual preparedness.” Using Fire retardants During an actual fire, the MAFFS can discharge up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide. But for training purposes, aircraft released water over the unpopulated forest. National Guard aircraft followed lead planes that communicate with ground forces, pinpointing drop locations. Once a load is discharged, MAFFS can be refilled in less than 12 minutes. training sessions “The fire training consists of every aircrew performing simulated fire runs along with a lead plane,” said Lt. Col. Todd Morgan, the Cal Guard’s MAFFS mission commander. “It’s important for the aircrew every year to get this training for multiple reasons. One, it builds our relationships and camaraderie between us and our federal and state entities. This also ensures every aircrew can perform their tasks, and build their skills for the fire season.” Annual training California, Nevada, and Wyoming National Guards all have MAFFS capabilities California, Nevada, and Wyoming National Guards all have MAFFS capabilities. A Colorado Air Force reserve unit also houses the system, making these the only four entities in the United States to deploy MAFFS, Christensen explained. “We train annually,” she said. “We were just in Colorado last month. Now we’re here this week wrapping up our training with Nevada and California units.” Fighting fire together “It really speaks truly to the inter-agency nature of the work that we do,” added Christensen. “As you know, fire has no boundaries. We train together, we fight fires together. The fire starts on one agency and spreads to another. On a fire at any given time, you’re going to see multiple agencies working and coming together to manage that fire.” CAL FIRE as a participant The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), as well as the Bureau of Land Management, serves as lead participants in this training. Cal Guard and CAL FIRE are both prepared to unite in another year of battling blazes. Per CAL FIRE, there have been nearly 2,500 fires that have torched roughly 14,000 acres so far in 2020. And this is still early in the “fire season.” In this same span in 2019, there were only 1,400 fires that burned 11,000 acres. MAFFS program The MAFFS program has been in place since the 1970s, according to Christensen. It’s been utilized every year since then except for 13 fire seasons. “It really is a testament to the importance of inter-agency coordination and cooperation,” she said. “A lot of people come together to make this happen. MAFFS is our surge capability,” said Caleb A. Berry, aviation management specialist, USDA Forest Service. “When our contract aircraft and our retardant platforms are all fully committed and we need just a little more help, MAFFS is our go-to resource.” Certification sessions Added Berry, “What we need for them to do is to be currently trained aircrews so they can fit seamlessly into our firefighting organization. That’s what we’re accomplishing here, getting them prepared to go into firefighting mode with us.” The certification mission includes classroom sessions, flying, and ground operations for Air Force aircrews. Civilian lead plane pilots and support personnel from the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other state and federal firefighting agencies, are also trained.