4:32pm

Mon April 23, 2012
Wildfires

Training Day For MAFFS C-130's At Peterson AFB

Across the country, forecasts call for a long and dry fire season. Currently, only 11 civilian firefighting air tankers are in service with the US Forest Sevice, and those are nearing the end of their usable life. However, small groups of specially modified Air Force C-130’s are on standby and ready to deploy as needed across the country.

The modified C-130’s have been training at Peterson Air force Base in Colorado Springs gearing up for fire season. During the annual training, flight crews load and drop water on remote targets in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest and military ranges. It’s a challenging mission with planes flying only 150 feet above the terrain as they release their payload.

The C-130’s have been equipped with a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System or MAFFS. The system can be slid on and off the planes and be ready for service in as little as 48 hours. Each plane can hold 3,000 gallons of retardant, foam or water and assist in creating fire lines which prevent a wildfire from moving into untouched land.

During wildfires the large planes dropping dark red retardant are the most visible part of the firefighting effort.

Lynn Ballard, military liaison for the US Forest Service, says as the current civilian air tanker fleet ages and continues to be decommissioned, the US Air force and MAFFS will play an important role in fighting fires across the country.

“In the past we had a pretty significant fleet. And that’s deteriorated because a lot of the old air tankers are too old, and they have stress cracks and they’re just not airworthy. And the air tanker fleet has decreased. If we do have a significant fire season, and those are being used, then we have that capability to bring 8 air tankers into the system.”

Ballard says the US Forest Service is working to replenish its fleet. However, according to recent reports, a firm date when that could happen is still unknown. In the meantime, the Service says the eight US Air Force C-130’s equipped with the MAFFS can adequately supplement the civilian US Forest Service planes as new faster, lighter and more efficient civilian tankers are slowly introduced into the fleet.

KUNC Digital Media Manager Jim Hill contributed to this story.