The 152nd Airlift Wing completed its first activation operating the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System last week and the first of the unit’s C-130s equipped with the system arrived at the base Thursday.
During the last month, 12 aircrew of the 152nd activated as part of the Air Expeditionary Group fighting wildland fires in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.
The AEG - made up of military C-130 units operating MAFFS - flew 142 sorties, 125.5 flight hours, dispensing more than 3.5 million pounds of retardant on 165 drops during the monthlong activation that began in early August.
The AEG includes three National Guard units - the 146th Airlift Wing, of California; the 153rd Airlift Wing, of Wyoming; the 145th Airlift Wing, of North Carolina - and one Air Force Reserve unit, the 302nd Airlift Wing, of Colorado Springs. As part of its new mission to replace the 145th as the fourth MAFFS unit, the 152nd, known as the “High Rollers,” augmented with the 153rd and the 302nd this fire fighting season to gain experience and meet certification.
“Nevada crews have fully embraced the MAFFS mission and are committed to getting full up as quickly and safely as possible,” said Col. David Herder, deputy AEG commander. “They have been stepping in to get training with the other units whenever possible. They have been a welcome addition to the MAFFS community.”
This fire season effectively started the 152nd’s co-pilot certification clock. Co-pilot certification could be completed prior to the 2018 fire season when the unit would enter certification as aircrew commanders. Once the aircrew commander certification is complete, they then begin certification as flight instructors and could begin autonomous fire fighting missions.
“The actual drops have been challenging and exhilarating,” said Lt. Col. Tony Machabee, acting 152nd Operations Group commander and the first member of the unit to co-pilot a MAFFS mission. “It’s a great feeling to see your immediate results whether we are dropping a protective line of retardant between the fire and someone’s property or dropping ‘mud’ (retardant mix) directly on flames leaping from the tops of trees in an effort to slow the fire’s progress.”
Since 1974, MAFFS - a fire retardant delivery system inserted into C-130 aircraft - has been a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense.
The U.S. Forest Service owns MAFFS equipment and supplies ground crew and retardant for fire fighting. The Department of Defense provides C-130 aircraft, flight crews and maintenance and support personnel to fly missions.
The equipment can discharge up to 3,000 gallons - 28,000 pounds - of retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60-feet wide. Once discharged, it can be refilled and airborne in less than 12 minutes.
The National Guard Bureau announced in April that the 152nd would receive the MAFFS mission for wildland fire fighting nationwide.
A planned conversion of the 145th Airlift Wing from the C-130 to the C-17 aircraft prompted the bureau to evaluate existing C-130 Air National Guard units for a suitable replacement for the mission. All National Guard C-130 units were considered, the bureau said in April.
The development of the MAFFS mission in Reno brings large-scale wildland fire fighting capabilities to a Guard unit located in the largest national forest in the lower 48 states - the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest - prone to massive fires in recent years.
“This is a high performing unit,” said Col. Karl Stark, 152nd Airlift Wing commander. “Over the years, the competitive nature of our business in the military has forced us to look deep into our own organization to make sure that we are being as efficient as we can, and that we are making the most out of the resources that we are given. I think, ultimately, because we’ve taken that charge the result of that has brought more opportunities our way for the High Rollers.”