Partnerships forged during aerial firefighting training

  • Published
  • By Sgt. Nicholas Carzis,
  • 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – In the dry heat of the high desert, the California and Nevada Air National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and multiple other firefighting agencies across the United States are performing their annual certification training for the aerial firefighting mission with MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System).

The success of this training is built on the trusted partnerships between the firefighting agencies, having forged their tactical expertise suppressing wildfires since the early 1970s.

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 collaboration she describes fondly for the members’ commitment and professionalism on both sides.

Christensen also says this year’s certification and training are 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.”

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

For the 115 AS, it’s another successful year in a long history of aerial firefighting for the squadron.

Since its inception, the 146th Airlift Wing’s 115 AS has performed an integral part of the MAFFS mission. With a remarkable history serving California, the flying squadron’s legacy dates back to the early 1900s when the squadron performed its first mission as an observation group at the Santa Monica airfield in California.

Protecting California has always been a part of the 115 AS legacy. It continues to grow those traditions with the new pilots attending this year’s training with the U.S. Forest Service.

U.S. Air National Guard Capt. Curtis Byrd, a MAFFS pilot from the 115 AS, says the partnership with the U.S. Forest Service is invaluable, citing the organization’s rich history in aerial firefighting 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 are so important to continuing our commitment to protecting lives and property against the devastating effects from wildfires.”

Byrd added, “As aerial firefighting 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 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 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, is also part of the AEG MAFFS program and will participate 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 firefighting capability,” said U.S. Air Force 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.”