The 302nd Airlift Wing, based at Peterson Air Force Base, will partner with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies in a joint wildland firefighting training exercise next week.
The training will take place Tuesday through Friday, weather permitting, and will center around the use of the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, or MAFFS. The MAFFS is a portable fire retardant delivery system that can be inserted into a C-130 aircraft, effectively converting the cargo plane into an air tanker that can provide air support to firefighting efforts on the ground. A MAFFS unit can hold up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant.
The joint training session comes as ongoing drought conditions signal the possibility of another difficult wildfire season.
Last year, Colorado had an unprecedented fire season that included the three largest blazes in the state’s history. The Cameron Peak, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch fires destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings and scorched more than half a million acres of land.
“This training couldn’t come soon enough,” said Kim Christiansen, U.S. Forest Service deputy director of fire operations. “The training is critical to make sure that we can integrate the MAFFS into our fire suppression operations in a seamless, safe and effective manner.”
The training group, which will include the 153rd Airlift Wing based in Cheyenne, Wyo., will operate primarily out of Peterson Air Force Base and the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Jefferson County. Four C-130s and several smaller civilian aircraft will conduct flight operations in various areas along the Front Range, practicing communications, navigation, and water drops.
The smaller aircraft serve as lead planes, which guide the tankers to the drop zones.
“They’re the experts in getting us where we need to go,” said Lt. Col. Brad Ross, operations group commander. “So we work with them during our training exercises to facilitate the coordination and communication that’s needed to be effective in an actual fire.”
Ross, a veteran MAFFS pilot, said the tactics, weights and flying speeds of a firefighting operation are different than what C-130 pilots are used to, which is why annual certification flights are necessary.
“We fly slower and lower than normal for firefighting operations,” said Ross. “Since it is a fairly significant difference from our day-to-day flying, the training is important to make sure we’re as ready as possible to execute the mission if and when it’s required.”