Forged by Fire

MAFFS aerial firefighting preparations heat up in Southern California.

by Tech. Sgt. Nieko Carzis
146th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

May 7, 2021

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – 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), May 4-7.

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.

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 says this year’s certification and training is starting just in time.

“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,” she said.

Pilots and aircrew from the 115th Airlift Squadron (115 AS), based in Port Hueneme and the 152nd Airlift Wing from Reno, Nevada, are participating in the first round of certification training held by the U.S. Forest Service this week.

For the 115th, 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 1900’s when the squadron performed its first missions as an observation group at the Santa Monica airfield.

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.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Curtis Byrd, a MAFFS pilot from the 115th, 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.

“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.”

Byrd added, “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 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.

“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 Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, Commander, Air Forces Northern Command. “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.”


VIDEO: Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System equipped C-130J and C-130E aircraft from the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing and the Nevada Air National Guard's 152nd Airlift Wing participate in annual certification training hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, at the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, May 5. This year marks the 48 years of partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Air National Guard for aerial firefighting missions. (U.S. Air National Guard video by Tech. Sgt. Nieko Carzis)

VIDEO: Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System equipped C-130J and C-130E aircraft from the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing and the Nevada Air National Guard's 152nd Airlift Wing participate in annual certification training hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, at the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, May 5. This year marks the 48 years of partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Air National Guard for aerial firefighting missions. (U.S. Air National Guard video by Tech. Sgt. Nieko Carzis)

“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.”
Kim Christensen, U.S. Forest Service Deputy Director for Fire Operations
People walk to cargo plane on tarmac.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Taft O. Aujero, Assistant Adjutant General of the California Air National Guard, and Brig. Gen. Keith G. MacDonald, National Guard Bureu Director of Operations, tour a C130-J Hercules aircraft from the 146th Airlift Wing during Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training at the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, May 5. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Taft O. Aujero, Assistant Adjutant General of the California Air National Guard, and Brig. Gen. Keith G. MacDonald, National Guard Bureu Director of Operations, tour a C130-J Hercules aircraft from the 146th Airlift Wing during Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training at the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, May 5. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)

Mechanic works on airplane.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kyle George, from the 146th Maintenance Group, repairs a Nacelle Interface Unit on a MAFFS-equipped C-130J Hercules aircraft, May 6, at the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kyle George, from the 146th Maintenance Group, repairs a Nacelle Interface Unit on a MAFFS-equipped C-130J Hercules aircraft, May 6, at the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)

Detail of hands working on engine.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Ortiz, of the 146th Maintenance Group, repairs a Nacelle Interface Unit inside a C-130J Hercules Aircraft at San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, May 6. The MAFFS aircrew relies on its maintenance crew to prepare the aircraft to accomplish its aerial firefighting certification. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Ortiz, of the 146th Maintenance Group, repairs a Nacelle Interface Unit inside a C-130J Hercules Aircraft at San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, May 6. The MAFFS aircrew relies on its maintenance crew to prepare the aircraft to accomplish its aerial firefighting certification. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)

“This training and certification is so important to continuing our commitment to protecting lives and property against the devastating effects from wildfires.”
Capt. Curtis Byrd, MAFFS pilot
Cargo plane on tarmac.

A U.S. Air Force MAFFS-equipped C130-J Hercules aircraft from Cal Guard's 146th Airlift Wing prepares for takeoff during MAFFS training at San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, May 6. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)

A U.S. Air Force MAFFS-equipped C130-J Hercules aircraft from Cal Guard's 146th Airlift Wing prepares for takeoff during MAFFS training at San Bernardino Air Tanker Base, May 6. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)