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Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System

FILE PHOTO -- Air National Guard C-130 Hercules equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, similar to this one, are dropping thousands of gallons of retardant on the wildfires in Southern California.  The fires have destroyed more than 830 homes and burned out more than 500,000 acres.  California officials said the fires are responsible for at least 15 deaths.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daryl McKamey)

Air National Guard C-130 Hercules equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, similar to this one, are dropping thousands of gallons of retardant on the wildfires in Southern California. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Daryl McKamey)

Approximately 3,000 gallons of fire retardant is deployed Oct. 24 over the Poomacha Fire in North San Diego County, Calif. The C-130 Hercules and crew are assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The aircraft launched from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif. Air Force Reserve Command officials sent two of its designated firefighting C-130H3 aircraft to help battle the raging wildfires in Southern California. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Roy. A. Santana)

Approximately 3,000 gallons of fire retardant is deployed Oct. 24 over the Poomacha Fire in North San Diego County, Calif. The C-130 Hercules and crew are assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The aircraft launched from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif. Air Force Reserve Command officials sent two of its designated firefighting C-130H3 aircraft to help battle the raging wildfires in Southern California. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Roy. A. Santana)

C-130 Hercules Modular Airborne Firefighting System aircraft No. 5, or MAFFS 5, sits on the flightline at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif., after deploying 3,000 gallons of fire retardant over the Poomacha fire Oct. 24 in North San Diego County, Calif. The C-130 and crew are assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Air Force Reserve Command officials sent two of its designated firefighting C-130H3 aircraft to help battle the raging wildfires in Southern California. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Roy. A. Santana)

C-130 Hercules Modular Airborne Firefighting System aircraft No. 5, or MAFFS 5, sits on the flightline at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif., after deploying 3,000 gallons of fire retardant over the Poomacha fire Oct. 24 in North San Diego County, Calif. The C-130 and crew are assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Air Force Reserve Command officials sent two of its designated firefighting C-130H3 aircraft to help battle the raging wildfires in Southern California. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Roy. A. Santana)

The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, Program provides emergency capability to supplement existing commercial tanker support on wildland fires.  MAFFS aids the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. When all other air tankers are activated but further assistance is needed, the Forest Service can request help from the  Air Force's MAFFS units.  MAFFS is a mission that highlights interagency cooperation.

MAFFS units fit inside C-130 airplanes without requiring structural modification. This allows the units to be loaded on short notice.  It takes about two hours to load a MAFFS unit onto the C-130. The C-130s drop retardant from an altitude of about 150 feet through a discharge tube located in place of the left rear paratroop door of the aircraft.
A MAFFS unit can discharge its load -- 3,000 gallons weighing 28,000 pounds -- in less than five seconds. The retardant covers an area one-quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide. After the plane discharges its load, and returns to an air tanker base, it can be refilled and airborne again in less than 20 minutes.

MAFFS units can drop either water or retardant called "slurry."  Slurry is made of 80 to 85 percent water, 10 to 15 percent ammonium sulfate, a jelling agent and red coloring. The red in the retardant helps pilots see where they have dropped previous loads. Along with retarding the fire, the slurry acts as a fertilizer. Because the MAFFS discharges the agent in a mist, slurry does not cause damage to buildings.  

Crews who fly MAFFS missions participate in annual re-currency training. Each wing is required to have five certified crews for each MAFFS unit.

In the 1970s, Congress established the MAFFS system after a major fire burned into Long Beach, Calif., destroyed hundreds of homes, and overwhelmed the civilian tanker fleet's ability to respond. Today, one Air Force Reserve Command and three Air National Guard locations participate in the MAFFS Program. 

The 302nd Airlift Wing in Colorado Springs, Colo., is the only Reserve unit. The Guard units include the145th AW in Charlotte, N.C.; the 146th AW in Channel Islands, Calif. and the 153rd AW in Cheyenne, Wyo. The 302nd AW has two of the MAFFS units and the Guard has two units each for a total of eight systems nationwide.

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